Busting myths about blindness
Columnist: Deja Powell
I have been blind my entire life. I pretended I wasn’t for the large majority of that time, but now I’m cool with it. You may be surprised by this, but I love it when people ask me questions about blindness.
I love it because I would so much rather a person ask than speculate or draw their own conclusions. There are some pretty common misconceptions about the blind, some of which are just outright crazy and some that many people actually believe to be true. So let’s get to it.
• Blind people are all musically inclined. I can tell you that growing up my mom put me in a singing group to try and hone in on that musical talent of mine and when she came to my first singing performance all I did was dance around in the front of the group. They didn’t even want me to sing, it was that bad. While there are some blind people who can sing or play an instrument extremely well, not all of us have that gift, in fact the majority probably do not.
• Blind people have really good hearing. As much as I would like this to be true, it isn’t. Blind people do not have better hearing than the average person. Just like persons who are deaf do not have better vision. Blind people tend to use their other senses more often or learn to fine tune them to help them navigate their environment. But sadly, we do not have a hearing superpower.
• All blind people go to special schools for the blind. This is becoming even further from the truth in today’s day and age. According to the National Federation of the Blind, fewer than 10 percent of blind kids go to schools for the blind. More than 90 percent are mainstreamed. More and more blind kids are being included in the regular classroom and are excelling there. When blind children are taught Braille at the same time as their sighted peers learn to read, they find great success. I attended a school for the blind in pre-kindergarten but spent the rest of my 12 years in a regular classroom setting, as do most blind kids today.
• Blind people don’t go places where there are big crowds. In just a few weeks, the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) and the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech will be taking their annual trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Crazy, right? The objective of this trip is to show students they are capable of travelling in groups or in crowds. This is what I love about the LCB. They want to teach you crowd travel, so they pick the busiest event with the most people in the craziest place and say, “Go!” Like any cross-section of a population, some blind people love getting wild in crowds like on Bourbon Street, while others do not.
• Here is one of my favorites. Blind people need to be spoken to very loudly. Some of you are laughing but I can’t count how many times someone has come up to me and yelled in my ear. Most blind people have nothing wrong with their hearing. I am often quite startled and unresponsive when someone yells, because frankly it freaks me out. Don’t yell at blind people, please.
And lastly, living in Ruston gives residents a lot of opportunities to see and interact with blind people. It is common to hear, when you first move into town, “Don’t help the blind people, they don’t want your help.” The reason for this is that students at the training center are being taught skills such as problem solving and are in a learning environment. However, not all blind people are students and may actually want help. The best way to handle this is simply to ask them if they would like your help.
There are many more myths out there and the best way to find out if they are true is to ask. Most blind people are more than happy to answer any questions you have. Just don’t yell in our ear when you ask.
Deja M. Powell is programs manager at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. She is also a 2008 alumna of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston.