Although many of my posts are humorous, this topic is one that demands me to be serious for a moment. So please understand where I’m coming from while I answer this question:

“Are You Really Blind?” 

In a recent interview, I shared an experience I had when I left a fast food restaurant without my white cane not long after I started mobility training. I had left it leaning against the wall and wasn’t even aware I didn’t have it with me.

“Miss, you forgot your cane!” Cane?  I turned around in the parking lot to see an older gentleman waving my cane at me.  He walked to the edge of the sidewalk and held it out.

I reached out and took it. “Thank you so much, sir. ”  When will I ever stop forgetting my cane?  I needed to get used to using it.

Then the man did something very strange. He waved one hand back and forth in front of my face–or more accurately, in front of my eyes. I didn’t say anything. Who knows? He could have mental health issues. I didn’ t want to embarrass the man.

We got into my friend’s vehicle and I said, “Wasn’t that weird?”

“Amy, that man was testing you to see if you were really blind. He wanted to see if you could see his hands.”

“No kidding. What—Oh-h-h. Because I forgot my cane!” I rolled my eyes.

Then it struck me that there’s a great misunderstanding about cane use.

And about blindness.

People mistakenly think if you’re blind, you can’t see a thing. 

Likewise, people think that everyone who uses a cane, consequently,  is completely blind and can’t see anything.

Vision is not like like an on/off switch, where there are only two settings. In the same way, blindness is not always at one end of the spectrum and sight at the other. Blindness is a continuum where people have varying amounts of vision all the way to completely without sight. 

"Blindness doesn't mean you can's see anything. It's not an on/off switch. It's more like a dimmer / brighter knob that that allows for gradual changes."
“Think of blindness as a continuum,  like a dimmer switch that that allows for gradual changes.”

A cane serves two purposes: it provides specific information to the vision-impaired person that enables him or her to navigate the area much more safely. It also helps others to understand that the cane user has a vision problem, and to show compassion, or at least empathy.

Just a few days ago I read a message in my vision support group. One member who posted wrote something along these lines, “Help! What do I do? I know I need to use my cane. But what if someone spots me using my blind stick and notices I can see at the same time? Are they gonna think I’m faking it? I don’t want people to think I’m a fraud because I still have some sight…”

Faking it? A fraud?

These are enormous fears in the vision-impaired community.

And they’re not unfounded.

In quick succession, twenty-five messages appeared. Some said, “Yeah, people might think that. But be safe.”  Some said, “Who cares what other people think? Forget them!” Finally there were those who shared similar fears.  One said, “I guess I have to suck it up and use it but I hate to.” I groaned when I came across the one who wrote, “That’s why I don’t use my cane. I can’t stand it, ‘cuz I can still see too and I know what they’re thinking.”

That could have been me  a few years earlier.

People were apologetic about having some vision. Regretful! Instead of rejoicing. All because of the dilemma of needing a cane yet fearing misunderstanding. “Faker! Fraud! Imposter!”

And the stories started.

Posted by those who had been falsely accused.

“…the man said, ‘Must be nice to get on the bus first. I’m gonna get a cane too.'”

“She grabbed my cane away from me and said, ‘You oughtta be ashamed to cheat the government.'”

And the most hurtful: “Are you really blind?”

I could imagine the narrowed eyes. The suspicious expression. Twitching lips. The condemning voice bringing embarrassment. A question most likely  brought on in misguided defense of those who were ‘really’ blind.

Society needs to adjust their perception of blindness. The blind need to adjust their perception of what it is to be blind. We need to stop projecting our fears of what other might say when we use a cane, or the need to  explain our  sight limitations. Heaven forbid the desire to apologize because we can still see, though our vision is inconsistent.

For several years, I referred to myself as “fake-blind,” but I’m so glad that I’ve gotten past that, and with it, the idea of having to earn my ‘blind wings’ by having lost all my sight. 

As I write these words, I realize, this isn’t something I would have ever said aloud or even clearly thought out … but it’s true. When one apologizes for having sight, maybe that’s the unspoken belief. That they’re not being authentic. I can only speak for myself.

Losing one’s vision is so hard to go through. Acceptance comes in dribs and drabs. And goes. And comes. And never seems to stay. New losses means new battles to win. New strength to find. 

What does this have to do with you?

Spread the word!

Trust no one is faking it.

No one is a fraud.

If someone has a cane, he or she needs it–

whether there is a some sight, little sight or none at all.

***

You have read, “Are You Really Blind?” Copyright Amy L. Bovaird November 2014. If you would like to read more of Amy’s writing, check out her memoir, Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith here.

Are You Really Blind?
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8 thoughts on “Are You Really Blind?

  • November 22, 2014 at 1:20 am
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    Years ago my son went blind due to optic neuritis. Thankfully, his vision was restored after months in and out of the hospital. I enjoyed this piece. It has never, ever occurred to me to think of someone as “fake blind.” I think most often people are making conversation or trying to make light of things. I can hear my late father making the bus comment.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • November 22, 2014 at 4:28 am
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    Hi Misty,
    Ha ha! You could totally have a point there with a bus comment. Who knows how it was said. =) Or whose lens the words were filtered through. My boyfriend’s housemate thought I was faking needing a cane, maybe for attention or whatever other reason because I “could make eye contact” and blind people “can’t do that”. (he told my boyfriend, not me). LOL.
    So glad you enjoyed it and also glad you never doubted anyone with a cane!
    Thankful your son regained his vision!
    Amy

  • November 22, 2014 at 4:31 am
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    I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Christina!
    Stop back to read more of my stories on vision loss.
    Thanks for taking time to leave a comment!
    Amy

  • November 22, 2014 at 2:16 pm
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    Hi Amy,

    You touched on a topic here that has caused much psychological and emotional trauma for many visually impaired people, me included. When I first started using my cane about 20 years ago, I always felt like I owed sighted people an explanation. I remember being able to mow my lawn without my cane but needing it to walk to the local store. I was always worrying about what the neighbors were thinking after having seen me cut the grass then grab my cane. I remember wishing I had less sight because I felt like a “fake blind” person. Now that I am in the final stages of RP, I think how ridiculous it was for me to have wished to have less sight.

  • November 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm
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    Matt,
    Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? It makes me ache for all of us who have ever thought that!
    I’ve had moments of wishing I was “the real thing” – but they never lasted long! I want to grab every second I can with my sight!
    Thank you for sharing your experience on this topic! I appreciate it.
    I hope this post offers insights to all of us in the vision-impaired community and educates others who may never have thought of this struggle.
    Amy

  • May 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm
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    I was arrested recently and charged with battery for accindently touching a woman in a dim elevator all because i was not using my cane properly. It was folded, in my hand and perhaps the woman did not see it. If it had been fully extended, she would have noticed it.
    USE YOUR CANE PEOPLE, believe me, the trauma of 3 police officers showing up at your door to handcuff you, will make you very aware of how much you truly need it.

  • May 29, 2016 at 2:24 pm
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    Oh Richard,
    I’m so sorry! How awful for you and what a misunderstanding! But I don’t understand. How could they still arrest you when they learned you were vision-impaired? Did they think you purchased the white cane on the black market so you would have an alias? There does need to be A LOT more dialogue about this! Thanks for posting!
    Amy

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