Ten Things Everyone Should Know About People Who Are Blind
In the office of a pediatric ophthalmologist, at six months old, I was diagnosed with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. This rare, degenerative retinal disease is caused by a mutation in the retinas, which often results in legal blindness. My name is Samantha. I am 21-years old, and a snior at Eastern University where I am finishing up two Bachelor’s degrees: one in psychology and the other in dance.
I have been blind since birth. I am photophobic (highly sensitive to light), color blind, and severely near-sighted. I have no usable eyesight in my left eye, and have increasing tunnel vision in my right. I am a guide dog user, and have been a team with my black Labrador, Laurel, for over five years. Together, we love exploring the outdoors, walking along the shore, and conquering obstacles. With accommodations, I enjoy dancing, reading, learning, and being with my loved ones.
I offer some thoughts below from my personal experience and hope you find them helpful.
1. We are people who are blind, not blind people.
We are pretty typical people. We have the same aspirations, interests, passions, successes, and mishaps as most other people. We are people. Yes, we are blind. Much of our identity is found in the fact that we are blind, but we, like you, are characterized by who we are, not what we can see.
2. Being blind does not mean complete darkness.
Often, when non-blind folks think of “blindness”, they think of complete darkness. This is, indeed, how some of us see the world. However, the majority of people who are blind have some sort of light and color perception. In fact, most of us, though classified as legally blind, have usable vision. We are able to see cars passing by on the street, the clothes in our closets, and the large print on our laptops.
3. We most likely cannot see how many fingers you are holding up.
Pretty frequently, when people learn of my blindness, they ask, “how many fingers am I holding up?” Nine times out of ten, I have absolutely no idea how many fingers they are holding up.
4. Our canes and/or guide dogs are our eyes: please do not mess with them.
Canes and guide dogs are an extremely helpful way for those who are blind to be independent. They act as our eyes, our safety net. We know our dogs are cute, trust me. It is very important for my safety—and the safety of my guide—that others do not pet, talk to, feed, or otherwise disturb him or her while on harness. Unfortunately, this can jeopardizing his or her training and ability to guide safely. Similarly, our canes may look neat, but playing with, hiding, or placing it aside can create a frightening situation for someone who is blind.
5. Independence doesn’t mean doing it alone.
One thing we, as a blind community can agree on, it is that our ability to be independent is crucial to our success and happiness. Independence does not necessarily mean driving ourselves to the grocery store, taking the same amount of time to complete an assignment, or finding our way around the neighborhood with no assistance. Independence means learning how to use resources; independence is allows others to help, using accommodations, and finding creative ways to approach and navigate situations that we encounter.
6. Generally, our hearing is better attuned to things.
Our hearing tends to be better and more sensitive because we have learned and adapted our way of sensing the world around us, and rely more heavily on our ears to do this. This may also apply to our other senses, such as taste, smell, and touch.
7. We are capable.
We are able-bodied people. Our eyes may not work so well, but we are able to anything anyone else is able to (with some minor adjustments). A disability does not equate to incapability.
8. Laser Eye Surgery will not fix our eyes, and that’s okay.
Often times, when people find out that I can not see, they ask if I’ve ever looked into laser eye surgery. For a majority of people with retinal diseases, such a treatment would not work. In some cases, gene therapy is available, which may improve a person’s eyesight, but there is no “fix all” cure, and that is okay. We are not too upset about it; our lives are not dependent on the discovery of a cure.
9. We are not broken.
Blindness isn’t horrible, it’s not even bad. If I had the chance to reverse time and see perfectly, I would deny myself the opportunity. The friends I have met, relationships I have built, adventures I have gone on, paths I have chosen, and most importantly, the ability to appreciate the overlooked aspects of life are all things I would never want to trade for perfect eyesight.
10. We are happy with who we are.
There is no need to feel sorry for us. Do not feel like you cannot ask us about our blindness; do not feel like you cannot ask us if we have “seen” that movie. Most of us are pretty open about our disability. We love the chance to be able to share our experiences with others, and learn how they experience the world through their eyes.
Samantha Ambrico '17
I am a Long Island native, where I have lived with my parents and three younger siblings my entire life. In May, I will graduate and from Eastern, and hopefully begin working towards my Master’s or Ph.D in late summer. Next November, I will have the honor of marrying my lovely fiancé, Zach. He, Laurel, and I are quite excited to continue our journey: learning how to explore, adapt, and navigate life a bit differently.