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