Debunking 3 common assumptions about folks who are blind

There are a lot of assumptions, myths and misconceptions about what folks who are blind can and can’t do. Let’s debunk them.

A series of people navigating over a large question mark bubble - walking, using a white cane, using a wheelchair, led by a guide dog

To foster disability inclusion, we have to demystify disability – and that means leading with the belief that people with disabilities can before assuming that they can’t.

Here, we’re going to answer common questions and debunk misconceptions about folks who are blind and visually impaired.

#1: Can blind people use smartphones?

Back in 2019, a photo of a woman with a white cane using a smartphone went viral – for all the wrong reasons. The most common assumption? If she’s using a phone, she must not be blind.

First, this is a great place to establish that blindness is a spectrum. Not everyone experiences sight loss in the same way, and not all blindness equates to a total loss of vision.

But the fact is, smartphones have emerged as one of the most useful and accessible tools for folks who are blind. Screen readers like VoiceOver provide auditory descriptions, allowing users to switch easily between apps, read messages, and more. Voice assistants like Siri make it easy to send messages, set reminders and request information. And cool tools like Google Pixel’s Guided Frame enable users to take perfectly framed photos, including selfies, using audio cues.

Thanks to an increased focus on accessibility in the technology sector and growing investment in DisabilityTech solutions, folks with all types of blindness are able to geek out on all the latest and greatest tech alongside their sighted counterparts.

So if you’re ever wondering how a blind influencer reads the comments on her Instagram feed, remember that #BlindPeopleUsePhones.

#2: What kind of jobs can blind people do?

The assumption that blind people can’t hold “regular jobs” is common – and is one of the key contributors to the disability employment gap.

The truth is that it’s not a blind person’s ability or qualifications that stand between them and competitive employment – it’s often simple discomfort with the topic of disability.

According to Marisol Carmona, a program specialist for the Perkins Transition Center who also worked as a Job Developer and Instructor at The IRIS Network, “If more people would humble themselves and accept that there’s learning to do about disability – and get comfortable with being uncomfortable – there would be room for people to ask questions and have conversations that aren’t currently happening. And eventually, as people know more, they’ll do better.”

Doing better means collaborating with candidates to understand what accommodations – often simple modifications to existing systems and processes – would enable them to work productively and efficiently in a given position.

At an inclusive workplace, folks with disabilities have the same opportunities to lead, contribute and succeed as their non-disabled colleagues.

Just ask NASA’s Denna Lambert, restaurateur and author Christine Ha, video game accessibility consultant Brandon Cole, tech journalist Steve Aquino or visual artist Yvonne Shortt.

#3: Can I invite my blind friend to [insert leisure activity here]?

Another very common assumption is that there are certain activities that would be impossible for people who are blind to participate in. But whether you’re climbing Mt. Everest or planning for a quiet night at home playing backgammon, chances are that your friend who is blind can participate if they want to.

Hanging out to play video games? There has been a tremendous focus on increasing accessibility of mainstream games, but there are also some audio-only games that might be fun for everyone to try. Our advice? Don’t go up against BlindWarriorSven in Street Fighter or TJ in Call of Duty.

If role-playing games are your thing, creating an inclusive Dungeons & Dragons session takes a few simple modifications. Ask your friend what would make it easy for them to participate!

And if you like sports, there are plenty of ways to include everyone: take some inspiration from the Milwaukee Beer Barrels Blind Bowling League, “a rowdy mix of fully sighted and visually impaired participants.” Or try goalball, a sport originally invented for folks who are blind, but that welcomes sighted folks as well (except at the international competition level).

What about an at-home self-care spa day? Blind content creators Molly Burke and Lucy Edwards are always good for skincare, beauty and makeup tips.

When in doubt about whether or not your friend should be included, let them make the decision – don’t assume that you know what they can or can’t do.

Lead with inclusion, not assumptions

Prioritizing disability inclusion – staying informed, engaging with the community and getting to know people with disabilities – will help you avoid the distraction of these and other common misconceptions.

The bottom line is that you can almost never go wrong if you’re open to learning, willing to ask respectful questions and eager to do better.