Below you will find my contribution to the Bad Yogi Magazine article, Dear society: You Can Be "Blind" and Still Use a Phone.
I’m 28 years old and five years ago, I had perfect eyesight. When I was diagnosed with Stargardt disease at 23, I learned that my eyesight would slowly diminish over the next 10 years. Initially, I was terrified. Previously, I’d been planning to go to dental school, which was immediately derailed. I was also terrified because I had no idea what blindness would look like. I thought maybe the world would slowly turn black. I was ignorant.
I am now visually impaired beyond legally blind (20/200) with a visual acuity of 20/800, and I now understand that blindness comes in many different forms.
The Facebook post that questioned whether or not the blind woman using the smartphone was pretending, is hurtful to me, yet it is understandable because people have no idea what it is like to be blind. We need to demystify blindness. So, here I am to help you understand ONE of the 285 MILLION unique cases of people who are visually impaired and use or rely on their smartphones for help.
Let’s talk about low vision: My Story
In my case, I have a large central blind spot that deletes everything that I look at directly. It deletes your face, street signs, cars… anything I look at. I have peripheral vision, which means I can vaguely see the things I am not looking at. It’s the reason I look away from you when we speak. If I were to look directly at you, it would feel normal for you. For me, I would be staring into a headless shadow. So how do I manage? I rely on contrast, motion, and zoom to see as best as I can using my periphery.
Since looking directly at my smartphone deletes it, I look slightly away and use accessibility features to zoom the screen 5x the normal size. I am then able to read a few words at a time with the phone held close to my face. Let’s take a moment to remember that this is my way – others with different visual impairments may hold the phone at a normal distance and use other accessibility features such as voiceover. I use voiceover to read long captions on Instagram. My smartphone also has a magnifier feature. Without this, I would not be able to do my grocery shopping on my own. It uses the camera zoom to allow me to see the price and ingredients on items so that I may look away and read with my peripheral vision. If I forget my cellphone, I am unable to read anything at all and must ask for help with the simplest of tasks. I’ve found that people often do not want to be bothered unless you have your white cane with you.
There’s just one more thing I’d like you to understand
When you cannot see detail, you rely on contrast to distinguish between items. If I drop my black marker on a black floor, I may not find it. If I drop my black marker on a white floor, I will see it. If someone sees me pick it up, they usually make this comment: “Oh, so you CAN see!” That hurts me very much because what they do not realize is that I work hard, constantly moving my eyes around in order to avoid having my blindspot mask an object to be viewed. Maybe I look “normal” because I’m a social butterfly, or because I’m attractive, or perhaps even because I have an advanced yoga practice. Understand that it takes extra effort to walk without tripping and to notice if someone might be talking to me. I smile constantly because I’d rather not have you think I ignored you if you smiled or waved at me and I didn’t see.
So, if you ask me, the hardest thing about my blindness is appearing to be “sighted”. From my heart to yours, thank you. And thank you, smartphone.
Want to know all the juicy details on what happened to spark this important conversation? Read the full article on BadYogi.com