Being visually impaired and blind are actually two different terms. As a whole, the term visually impaired can mean anyone who has a classified visual disability; whereas, being blind, legally blind, has more scientific numbers attached to it. The great majority of those who have a visual disability can see something; it can be difficult to find someone who actually has no vision at all.
As a reader, you may be asking, well, what makes you an expert on how society treats visually impaired people? Who says we treat them differently anyway? Well, I should tell you that I have worked in the field teaching visually impaired individuals, but more importantly, I am visually impaired. I can tell you that people who are visually impaired really do get treated differently, and not always better. You can turn away and say, oh, I would never do that, but unfortunately, people do treat us differently because we have trouble with our eyes, even though you may not realize it or understand what is happening. A lot of times, people think that if you talk to or touch someone who has a visual impairment, that the condition is contagious, and they will catch the same eye disease. I don't know who helped to spread this rumor, but vision impairments are not catching or contagious.
With that being said, what are some of the other societal impressions/expectations that are incorrect or unfounded? One of the greatest of these is thinking that once someone has a visual impairment, their life automatically ends or it is the end of the line. Let me ask you this -if it is the end of the line, how could I be writing this article to you? You'd think that I would either be curled up in a ball in a dark room because I can't do anything for myself or maybe even commit suicide. Okay, yes, some people have a hard time accepting their limitations, but where do you find something that says, if you are blind, your life is over? Nowhere. Instead, there are many places that promote independence and quality of life. Another misconception is that, if you are elderly and have gone blind due to macular degeneration or other such age-related visual impairment, your family should put you into an assistive living facility or nursing home. Do you really think that losing your vision causes you to become helpless? I have taught myself and many other people how to lead independent lives and can live in their own home with no problem.
There have been many successful blind people who have made great impacts on society. They have been successfully employed, maintained a household, had advanced degrees, published books, made speeches, written music, had families, raised children, and participated in athletic and Olympic events, to name a few. As you can see, visually impaired persons are completely capable of leading fulfilling lives. Granted, they are unable to do things like driving, but more than make up for that in so many ways.
There are actually several benefits to being a blind person. Those who are visually impaired, because they can't see with their eyes, use their other senses, which happen to be quite developed. This allows them to read braille and use audio assistance. My favorite is that these individuals are much more able to see people with their heart and for who they are on the inside instead of judging them because they aren't wearing the right clothes or if the other person has a scar, for example. As a result, they are usually a great judge of character and people in general. Most importantly, they are able to use their unique life experiences to relate to others in ways that the general population cannot.
On the other hand, visually impaired people have many characteristics that make them very similar to the rest of society. They are people with feelings, dreams, and abilities; they have great children and are wonderful parents. More importantly, they should not be pitied or felt sorry for; our visual disabilities are not because we have been bad or a cause to be punished. Instead, as God blesses people without visual problems, He has blessed us that have them to be a special kind of people.
With that being said, what should someone do if and when they encounter a person with a visual impairment? First of all, use common sense. When someone loses their vision, it doesn't mean that they also lose their ability to hear, nor can they see someone signing to them. We can hear you just fine when you talk in a nonconfrontational, normal voice, which is unless they tell you otherwise. Offer to give us help, but don't force it or push it. For example, you don't need to grab their arm and pull them across the street. If we have a white cane, we do know how to cross the street safely, and only need your help if they ask for it. Just as you would like others to respect you needs and feelings, we need that very thing from you. Simply, we are a person; therefore, deserve your respect. So, next time you see someone with a visual disability, ask, how can I make that person's day better, not why are they walking on the sidewalk; they can't, their blind! Remember, being blind does not mean a lack of insight. We are like all people; we are just missing a physical part of ourselves, much like there is a part or two missing in everyone be it physical, emotional, or spiritual.