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5 Common Misconceptions About Blindness

“Real Beauty Transcends Barriers” ~Stephanae McCoy

Optical illusion of a 3-dimensional hollow crate.The following is an edited version of the original article published on The Mighty on July 19, 2017.

When I lost my eyesight I quickly learned that thriving within the sighted world meant overcoming obstacles. Believe it or not, while living with sight loss isn’t easy the most difficult challenges come in the form of misconceptions. Listed below are a few I’ve encountered:

  1. Blindness is a complete lack of sight, total darkness – FALSE
    • The majority of people considered blind have some functional vision i.e. light perception, shapes/shadows, lack of peripheral or central vision, cloudy, obstructed vision, etc.
  2. People who use white canes or guide dogs are totally blind – FALSE
    • The range of sight loss is enormous and it differs from person to person. Many legally blind people who use mobility aids may ‘appear’ to see. The aids are needed for navigating safely and independently.
  3. Legal blindness is when a person can’t see after taking off corrective lenses – FALSE
    • Legal blindness refers to a specific measurement required for a person to receive government benefits.
    • Legal blindness does not define or describe the functional vision.
    • When a person is legally blind, day-to-day living is impacted and their eyesight cannot be corrected by lenses, medicine or surgery.
    • There are legally blind people who do not use mobility aids or self-identify, this is their right.
  4. There is a clear contrast between blind and sighted people – FALSE
    • Many blind people do not ‘look’ like they cannot see.
    • Many blind people walk confidently and are well put together.
    • Many blind people are highly skilled in a number of areas including, law, healthcare, technology, art, science, sports, politics, teaching, etc.
  5. Blind people cannot use smartphones, tablets, or computers – FALSE
    • Many blind people are extremely technologically savvy. 

Six assorted stones balanced on top of one another to represent balance.While this list isn’t all-inclusive many of us have encountered situations where our lack of eyesight is questioned. If there were one takeaway I would want people to understand it would be this: when meeting a person who uses a mobility device or self-identifies as having a hidden disability take it at face value.

Many times things are not as they might appear and just because we may not understand the situation does not change the fact that everyone—including people with disabilities—are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.

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When People Say ‘You Don’t Look Like You’re Blind’

Not every disability is visible

When People Say ‘You Don’t Look Like You’re Blind’

Whenever I am out & about since I still possess a residual amount of sight, I can sense people staring. But I just keep moving onward past the expectations of others and how they ‘think’ blindness should appear.

Bold Blind Beauty

Featured Article on The Mighty

Recently I became a contributor to The Mighty an online community of people who share their stories of serious health conditions, disability, disease, and mental illness. The article below is my latest entry on what caused my sight loss and life after the “there’s no more we can do for you” conversation.

Image description is in the body of the post.

It was a little over 48 years ago when I put on my first pair of eyeglasses, and the feeling of seeing clearly for the first time was indescribable. The transition was like leaving a dark movie theater and stepping outdoors on a bright sunny day. My eyes needed time to adjust to everything suddenly appearing clear and focused.

For 36 years, I enjoyed perfect vision provided I wore corrective lenses. That all changed 11 years ago with two words: macular hole. It began when I removed one of my contact lenses, and I looked in the mirror to see half of my face missing.

While I had never heard of a macular hole before, I learned the macula provides the sharp, central vision needed for reading, driving and seeing fine detail. A macular hole is a small break in the macula, which located in the retina, is the center of the eye’s light-sensitive tissue.

Though all the statistics pointed to a favorable prognosis, it didn’t work out that way for metounfortunately. I’m reduced to counting fingers, since I can no longer see the eye chart. Developing macular holes in both eyes has destroyed my central vision.

I’ll never forget the devastating news. “Ms. McCoy,” the doctor said, “I’m so sorry to tell you there is nothing more we can do for you.” Those simple words confirmed my worst fears — I was now legally blind.

The doctor told me I lived with high myopia (extreme nearsightedness) all my life. He went on to say that even though I did all the “right things,” due to the high myopia, macular holes, surgeries and glaucoma, my vision loss was irreparable.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Prior to losing my sight, I used to think that when a person used a white cane, it meant they were totally blind (no light perception). I was wrong. The range of sight loss is enormous and differs greatly from one person to the next. There really is an immense gray area.

Professional headshot photo of me
Stephanae McCoy

To give you an idea of my sight loss, imagine yourself in a dense fog with visibility being only a couple of inches in front of your face. Your equilibrium is off and your steps unsure. You feel claustrophobic, as the fog is so heavy. Stumble, fall, repeat. It’s unending, and you wish it would just go away. You wake with it, you go to sleep with it and in between waking and sleeping you have to come to terms with the fog.

Once you acknowledge the fog is not going to dissipate, you find a way to navigate through it by learning new techniques. With time and patience, you gradually adapt until you become adept at working within the fog.

To the outside world you “look” as if all is well and you can clearly see. And since you use a white cane to safely navigate the world, many times people will say to you, “But you don’t look like you’re blind.

Bold Blind Beauty

People don’t understand how I can dress stylishly or put on my makeup. The expectation that all blind people have to appear or behave a certain way is a huge misconception. Quite simply, the people we were prior to the loss of our vision, and the things that brought us joy, are still intrinsic to who we are today.

Handling the Stigma on Sight Loss

What I’ve found since losing my sight is there are so many stylish women who are blind or have sight loss that I felt it was time for a fashionable icon to represent them. Abigail, the white cane icon and mascot on my blog Bold Blind Beauty, is a beautiful image that evokes power, independence, chicness, confidence and success — a woman on the move stepping forward with purpose.

Once, an eye doctor told me that it would be a tragedy for me to learn how to use the white cane when, in fact, I believe the real tragedy is the shame many people feel when losing their eyesight. Having a visual image that evokes beauty, confidence and purpose is one way to change the stigma surrounding blindness.