I’m reg­is­tered blind. That doesn’t mean you can as­sume things about me

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Alex Lee

I’m stand­ing in line wait­ing to get into a night­club, bump­ing shoul­ders with peo­ple who are al­ready hav­ing a good time. As I reach the front, a bouncer looks me up and down. With­out a word, he places his hand on my shoul­der and pushes me for­ward. I’m pin­balled from se­cu­rity guard to se­cu­rity guard, fully ex­pect­ing to be led di­rectly into the club. In­stead, I’m guided out of the queue, con­fused as to why I now find my­self stand­ing be­hind the me­tal bar­ri­ers.

“What’s go­ing on?” I mean, I’ve had a few drinks but I’m cer­tainly not drunk.

He asks me to blow into a breathal­yser, and we wait a few mo­ments. All clear.

“Are you OK?” he asks me plainly. “Yes?”

Why wouldn’t I be? And then the penny drops. The first bouncer must have thought I was offmy-face drunk, sim­ply be­cause my eyes weren’t look­ing in one par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tion.

The thing is, I’m visu­ally im­paired, but I don’t nec­es­sar­ily need a cane. What fol­lows is my des­per­ate vomit of dif­fer­ent terms for blind­ness, try­ing to prove my in­no­cence.

“I’m visu­ally im­paired? Legally blind? I’m reg­is­tered blind … Je­sus! I can’t see prop­erly!”

But it is all too late. A fun night out had been soured by one tiny as­sump­tion and a judge and jury who had de­cided to put me on trial be­cause I didn’t look them in the eye.

This isn’t the first time this has hap­pened and it cer­tainly won’t be the last. But given that today is World Sight Day, I thought I’d shine a light on what peo­ple with vi­sion im­pair­ments go through on a daily ba­sis.

Blind­ness and vis­ual im­pair­ments are se­verely mis­un­der­stood. What peo­ple pre­sume is that if you’re blind, you can’t see any­thing and you’re ei­ther go­ing to be re­ly­ing on a dog or swing­ing a stick about. If you’ve got nei­ther … then hey, you’re not blind.

This is en­tirely in­cor­rect. Peo­ple who are reg­is­tered blind are sta­tis­ti­cally more likely to be par­tially sighted than com­pletely blind. In re­al­ity, only a very small por­tion of peo­ple have no sight at all. De­spite this, aware­ness re­gard­ing le­gal blind­ness is prac­ti­cally non-ex­is­tent. Two mil­lion peo­ple are reg­is­tered blind or par­tially sighted in the UK and, shock­ing as it is, we are ac­tu­ally able to par­tic­i­pate in so­ci­ety.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Royal Na­tional In­sti­tute for the Blind (RNIB) al­most half of blind and par­tially sighted peo­ple feel mod­er­ately or com­pletely cut off from peo­ple or things around them, lead­ing to a marked rise in the risk of de­pres­sion among peo­ple with sight loss. That’s why the ig­no­rance sur­round­ing vi­sion im­pair­ments needs to be ad­dressed. If a night out is a way for a visu­ally im­paired per­son to en­joy them­selves, shut­ting them out be­cause they don’t carry a stick is a sure way to keep us cut off from so­ci­ety.

There of­ten seems to be a mis­con­cep­tion that the only thing blind peo­ple do is … be blind. We don’t just sit at home decked out in our blind garb, hov­elled up in our py­ja­mas and drop­ping curry down our shirts. It’s detri­men­tal to our over­all iden­tity to as­sume that if a vi­sion-im­paired per­son says that they’re go­ing to work, they must be go­ing to the RNIB. Peo­ple with vary­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of sight are able to lead lives that don’t re­volve around blind­ness. Yes, we might have keen in­ter­ests in is­sues sur­round­ing blind­ness or want to rally around in sup­port, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to get out to a night­club now and again. It’s not only able-bod­ied peo­ple who can have fun.

I can ap­pre­ci­ate that it’s dif­fi­cult to re­ally know a per­son’s sit­u­a­tion, but mak­ing face-value as­sump­tions,

whether they’re a prod­uct of so­ci­ety or not, isn’t go­ing to help any­one. We do ex­ist in the out­side world, even if we aren’t hold­ing a cane. Like most things, blind­ness ex­ists on a scale and what you know about one blind per­son cer­tainly isn’t go­ing to ap­ply to another.

• Alex Lee is a free­lance writer

‘We don’t just sit at home in our py­ja­mas, drop­ping food down our shirts. Peo­ple with vary­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of sight are able to lead lives that don’t re­volve around blind­ness.’ Pho­to­graph: Getty Im­ages/Brand X

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