Basic questions on blindness

Sometimes, I like typing the words “blind people” into Google to see what I come across and I get results that make me laugh out loud and some that makes me sigh in exasperation. And I understand people out there have a lot of questions about blind people they’ll most likely have unanswered. Either because they don’t know any blind people, or because they know someone, but they are too shy to ask.

Also, blind people don’t exactly put information out there on the internet for anyone to read, because, the idea of it is a little ridiculous and because the understanding of lack of knowledge on the part of the sighted are not understood. I am only recently beginning to see how much interest there is around questions on blindness and what opened my eyes to that, was my post on blindness and dating which has had loads of hits. I can see what people search for when they find that article and usually the questions are so extremely basic that I’m wondering how people don’t know better.

If you are sighted and have little or no experience with blindness, this post answering the most basic and common questions are for you. I will do my best not to be too condescending, and I hope this will help when you first encounter someone with little or no sight.

How do blind people use a computer?

We use normal computers, but we install screenreading software on it so that it either speaks to us, or displays information on a Braille display. Braille is the name of the letters for the blind invented by Louis Braille and we read it with our fingers. Because of this, we can use computers as efficiently as a sighted person. Most of us learn touch typing from a young age as well, and so blind people tend to type rather than using voice recognition software.

How do blind people manage to match their clothes?

That is a matter of learning which colours go together and which does not. When I buy clothes, I always remember the colour of each and every thing I own and can match that way. I have a little machine as well called a colour indicator which tells me what colour a certain clothing item has. It’s not accurate, but if you have two tops that feel exactly the same and you know that one is blue and one pink, you will be able to tell the difference by using that machine. Cutting the label on one of them is also a handy trick. For simplicity, I only own black socks so as not to mismatch there.

Do blind people have a concept of colours? The short answer is no. Being completely blind myself, I only classify blind as not being able to see anything at all apart from perhaps some light, so even though some people are termed as legally blind can see colour, they’re not part of this article, because I do not know anything about seeing a little bit. But I am digressing. Blind people have, if they are born blind, no proof that they have a concept of colour. However, I know for me and for some other people I’ve heard of, that we have our own image of colours in our head. So for me, if you say that the shirt is maroon, I’ll immediately understand what you mean, but whether it is the same maroon that you can see, or even the same maroon other blind people imagine, we’ll never know. I enjoyed painting when I was little, and my mum used to put different kinds of grain in the different colour pots so I could mix and match to my hearts content. I recently heard of a blind Turkish painter who uses exactly that same technique.

Are blind people able to cook, clean and do other housework?

Of course. Although I have to say not everybody have parents who are willing to teach them from a young age and so sometimes they can find it hard. But blind people can operate cookers and ovens as long as they have buttons. We can cut fruit and vegetables and all that. Of course, certain things are hard, like separating egg yolk from the white, but if you have a blind friend who cooks well, let him/her make you a gourmet meal if he or she so wish. Sometimes the fingers look as if they are a little bit too close to the knife or oven, but unless you hear a loud piercing scream or a series of swearwords, assume it’s all under control.

Laundry is not a big deal. My fully sighted parents always had one basket for the dark and one for the light clothes and this is a great tip for the blind. I’ve already talked about how we recognize our clothes, so as long as the washing machine is easy to use and have buttons, it’s all fine and hanging the clothes out is a piece of cake.

Cleaning is possible, but a blind person doesn’t always have a way of knowing whether a spot is left etc, so a cleaner is a good idea. However, maintaining a clean house in between having a cleaner is something everyone can do if they can move. And even sighted people have cleaners.

Shall I tell my blind friend if he/she has smeared make-up, a spot on their shirt etc? Yes please! You can be friendly and discreet though.

Do I always help a blind person who looks lost or who walks along and doesn’t look lost?

If someone looks lost, ask if they need help, but if they say no, leave them alone immediately. If they look fine, but you want to do a good deed, look for an old lady who looks like she may need your help more. Or an old man.

Can blind people live independently?

Yes and thank goodness for that. A blind person with no additional disability and who has learned the necessary skills all children should learn can live and maintain a pretty and happy home.

Is total blindness black?

I’ve heard some people say it must be gray, however I have know idea. I have detached optic nerves, so in my case it is colourless. Don’t try to understand it, because you probably won’t be able to and I can’t explain any further.

What is it like to be blind?

Let me ask you this: What is it like to see? I think coming up with an answer to that is pretty impossible just like it is in my case. How do I know what being blind is like? I can’t compare it to anything. It’s all I’ve ever known. Only someone who has been able to see before could maybe answer that question for you.

Do all blind people need the same kind of help?

No. And the important thing here is to let the blind person you are with tell you what he/she needs. It might be fine helping with cutting up the food for one person, while for someone else that is an insult. Some people like to hold your elbow and some like to walk next to you etc.

I cannot think of any more basic questions, but if I forgot to cover something, please leave me a comment. Let me just end by saying that blind people get educated, get jobs and careers, date, go travelling, have sex, have children, go grocery shopping, have dreams. In fact, our lives are remarkably similar to YOURS and we are as different as all the sighted people out there. Just bare that in mind when you meet a blind person for the first time. Or a person with any other disability for that matter. And by the way, you can say watch TV and see you later to a blind person. They are figures of speech and we use them ourselves.

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3 thoughts on “Basic questions on blindness

  1. It was an interesting article that I forwarded to several friends. As someone who is losing my vision, one concern that I have is how to navigate busy city streets especially traffic as the cars speed around street corners. I am less worried about bumping into pedestrians on the street although a few days ago, a very young girl wheeled her doll carriage where I was stepping and my foot got caught in the carriage and I almost fell on the sidewalk. Navigating streets and especially new locations is a concern with diminishing sight.

    I have heard about the ways that people use computer technology to match colors of clothes. Doing daily chores such as laundry and cooking is certainly manageable with some accomodations such as raised buttons or dots on ovens and microwaves. Shopping in stores for clothes or food can require some assistance from sighted people. But navigating the streets is my primary worry at this point. I will enjoy hearing about how you learned to navigate new neigborhoods and streets.

    Thanks again for an informative blog entry.

    1. That’s not such a bad idea actually. I think I’ll devote an entire post to that subject though as it’s hard to reply to in short form and would probably need more explaining. But I shall hopefully manage to get it done over the weekend.

  2. Thank you for posting this! I am going blind and your words are encouraging to me. I have multiple disabilities I have handled quite well and have had to use a wheelchair for 21 years due to car accident . Difficulties experienced in going blind are the hardest obstacles I have encountered in my life. I hope you do more inspiring and informative posts like this one.

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