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Learn about Blindness

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      Blindness is a term which has traditionally been associated with darkness, helplessness, and an inability to comprehend.  Someone who is blind is not often thought of as self-reliant, the CEO of a major corporation, a rugged individualist, or the primary bread winner.

      The Iowa Department for the Blind is working hard to improve the way in which blindness is regarded in our society.  The more we can dispel the negative misperceptions and stereotypes generally associated with blindness, the easier it will be for blind Iowans to participate as active and contributing members of the community.

      What is blindness?

      Simply put, blindness is a significant loss of eyesight--nothing more and nothing less.  Some programs of the Department require that a person be legally blind; others require that a person be functionally blind.

      When is a person legally blind?

      A person is legally blind when his/her central visual acuity (vision that allows a person to see straight ahead) is 10% of normal vision with correction.
      Read more about the legal definition of blindness.

      When is a person functionally blind?

      A person is functionally blind when he or she has to use so many alternative techniques to perform tasks that are ordinarily performed with sight that his/her pattern of daily living is substantially altered.  Such alternative techniques might include reading a newspaper by listening to it over the telephone or using Braille to read a book.

      What are some of the more widely-held myths about blindness, and what is the reality?

      Many misconceptions and myths exist about blindness in our society, and they shape our beliefs about what individual blind people can and cannot do.  Many people believe that simply because a person is blind, he or she cannot clean a house, cook a meal, take care of the children, manage the family budget, or hold a competitive job.  This is simply not true.  In fact, there are blind lawyers, farmers, teachers, legislators, and corporate executives as well as machinists, construction workers, and homemakers--to name only a few.

      • Myth: Most blind people are totally blind--that is, they have no sight at all.
        Reality: Most people who are classified as legally or functionally blind have some vision.  For these individuals, the challenge is to learn when their vision will work most effectively for them and when nonvisual alternative techniques would be more useful and efficient.
      • Myth:  Blind people have special gifts: a "sixth sense."
        Reality:  People who are blind or visually impaired are not endowed with a sharper sense of touch, hearing, taste, or smell.  With proper training and practice, these other senses can be used to provide useful information, but they do not increase in sensitivity when a person becomes blind.
      • Myth:  Blind people are not able to travel anywhere without sighted help.
        Reality:  With the proper training and opportunity, blind people can travel independently and go wherever they wish.  The long, white cane is the means of independent travel for many blind people, and its effective use is one of the skills taught in our Orientation Center.  Some blind people use guide dogs to travel independently.  Whatever technique is used--cane or dog--there are laws that guarantee blind travelers the same right of access to places of public accommodation as that enjoyed by everyone else.
      • Myth: People who are blind or severely visually impaired are unable to work or hold a job.
        Reality:  With the proper training and opportunity, people who are blind or visually impaired can work competitively .  The Iowa Department for the Blind has helped many blind persons go to work in a wide variety of jobs--from factory work to information technology. 
        See a list of the types of jobs our blind clients currently hold.
      • Myth: People who are blind or visually impaired cannot access print or handwritten materials.
        Reality:  People who are blind or visually impaired use a broad array of techniques to access print or handwritten materials.  These techniques include (but are by no means limited to): employing a person to read printed material out loud, magnifying the printed material with a hand-held or electronic magnifier, scanning the printed material into a computer and reading it with speech or refreshable Braille, or transcribing the printed material into Braille.  The specific strategy used depends on individual skill, economic considerations, and available technology. 

       Misconceptions about Blindness