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We Need to Talk About This Photo of a Blind Woman Using Her Phone

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Editor's Note

The Mighty has blurred the face of the woman in the photo discussed in this story out of respect for her privacy.

This picture has been shared on Facebook over 40,000 times and it is still going strong. The post asks if you can see what is wrong with this picture, once you see it you are supposed to respond “got it” in the comment section. Most of the reactions to this photo are not so nice and the comments are pretty judgmental. My response to this post is disappointment, but not for the reasons you may be thinking.

What others are seeing in this picture is not what I see. When I look at this picture, I see a visually impaired woman using assistive devices to make this outing safer for herself. However, the comments on this post lead me to believe that everybody thinks this woman is faking her blindness. How could she be using a cane, one specifically used by the visually impaired, while “looking” at her phone? What most people are not understanding is that blindness does not always mean you see nothing at all.

Blindness is a spectrum. It is defined as having a visual impairment that cannot be corrected. Blindness can be the result of a birth defect, it can be caused by trauma to the eye or from a vast array of diseases. Some of these diseases are present at birth and some occur later in life. Vision loss can happen instantly or it can deteriorate over time. The blind community does not exclusively consist of people who only see complete darkness. For example, it is also inclusive of people who have central vision loss, blurry vision or loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision).

There is no way to tell where this woman falls on the spectrum just by looking at this picture. She may be using an accessibility feature on her phone to read text to her. She may be considered partially blind or she may be completely blind. Perhaps she has no peripheral vision and uses the cane so she does not bump into things. I have vision loss in one eye, so even though I am sighted in one eye, it doesn’t mean a cane would not be helpful to me.

As somebody who lives with permanent vision loss, I am frequently asked what I can actually see. It is always difficult for me to answer the question because the minute I say I can see anything at all, my blindness is often disregarded (and for the record, permanent vision loss on any level is tough). Here are some illustrations that represent what the spectrum of blindness can look like courtesy of the Perkins School for the Blind.

You cannot possibly know this woman’s level of vision loss by looking at this picture. It is never a good idea to automatically assume somebody is faking a disability. Instead, educate yourself on how everyday tasks can be made easier and safer for disabled people by using assistive devices. After all, unless you have walked in their shoes, you cannot possibly know the path they have traveled.

Originally published: November 1, 2020
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