What is it like to be blind?

by Romana Greene

According to the world health organization, around 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability with approximately 2% to 4% of people having severe difficulties in functioning due to a disability. For those without disabilities, it can be difficult to imagine what the world is like for those who have one. Even for those who have a disability, it is interesting to know how life is for other disabled people. With this in mind, we interviewed a blind person for their insight into life with this particular disability.

The first question our blind friend Richard is always asked is what can you see? Richard told us that the answer, of course, depends on when you became blind and to what degree you are actually blind. Richard is completely blind since birth and so for him he sees absolutely nothing. People often ask him if that means he sees jet black all the time, but that is not correct.

Instead, he actually sees nothing. To understand what Richard means it is best to close one eye and focus using the other eye. Now consider what does your closed eye sees. It doesn’t see black, it sees nothing. Another way to think of it is to ask what your belly button sees, it sees nothing.

People who have lost their eyesight during their lives do vary. Some report seeing black, as if being in a dark cave. Others say that they see flashes of light, while others still say that they see full visions like hallucinations.

Of course, there are other types of blindness too. If your eyesight deteriorates to such a bad level you can be classed as legally blind but you can likely still make out some shapes and colors. You could have tunnel vision which is blindness to the world except for a cone of vision that is about 10 degrees wide

The second question that Richard is always asked (no he said it doesn’t annoy him, he likes that people are interested and finds it fun to discuss) is what does he see when he dreams? Again for Richard, as someone blind from birth, the answer is nothing. When Richard dreams, he dreams of sounds, smells, and emotions. He finds his dreams fascinating and can dream about the same content as others he just perceives it all without sight, as he does the world. 

For those who lost their sight later in life, they likely can still dream with full clarity. It largely depends on when they lost their sight but what people see in their dreams is comparable to what they saw in life. If they had some vision they likely have some dreams with visions and sometimes dreams without. 

The last question we asked Richard was whether he prefers to use a cane or a guide dog. While the idea of a guide dog sounds great, Richard prefers a cane. It allows him to understand small changes in a gradient that are ahead that helps him avoid stumbling on slight changes in surface and by waving large circles he said it is easier to clear a crowd in front of you, while people may not notice the dog as quickly.

Richard says the best thing about being blind is that you never judge people by appearance and that you often ‘see’ someone for who they truly are with greater ease as you are not being misled by your eyes. Richard was incredibly kind to sit down with us today and allow us to pick his brain on the basics of being blind. If you do have any other questions for Richard or about anything else in the world, please feel free to drop us a message and we will do our best to find out the answers.

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