“You don’t look blind.”

Every blind person I know has heard this comment – or wishes they had – at one point or another. Since it’s a common comment with wide-ranging social implications and viewpoints by the recipient, a blog challenge went out to several friends on Facebook. Once this post is published, I will link to the others’ posts at the bottom of this one. I’ve never done a “blog challenge” before, so here’s my first!


Who Gets this Comment?

Almost every blind person I know has received it at one point or another, especially those whose blindness is caused by genetic vision loss rather than the result of surgery, illness, or trauma. Even if the blindness is visibly obvious, if a blind person does something or expresses an opinion that involves a degree of “advanced competence” or normality, it isn’t unusual for those words to follow. It is often given by strangers when we’re out doing ordinary things like shopping or crossing streets or applying for jobs…

Is it a Compliment?

these words are meant by many as compliments, similar to “I forget you’re blind!” But denying the reality of someone’s blindness, or acknowledging that they would be treated differently because of it, is rather insulting, no? And just because you fear living your life with blindness (it’s a well-documented fear) doesn’t mean that those of us who live with blindness or visual impairment – cannot be happy, competent, “normal” people. So whether we look blind or not… what difference does that make to you? You don’t look ignorant…

Broader Implications

Many friends with vision impairment that’s not visibly obvious have been told that they don’t require accommodations due to the fact that they aren’t “disabled enough”, get questioned when they enter public buildings with service dogs, and basically have to prove that they require the supports they need. For someone such as myself, no one questions the fact that I can’t see, but expresses shock at my hobbies, job history, or desire to live a “normal life” (the nerve of me!). So blind people get the short end of the stick on so many levels: we’re either visibly blind and are objects to be pitied or belittled or scorned or asked endlessly what happened to our eyes, or we don’t “look” blind and don’t deserve the accommodations to live our lives as productive consumers, employees, or citizens. Sometimes I wish I could hear “You don’t look blind”, but then I realize that it really isn’t a compliment… having to prove a negative – that I can’t see. And if you expect someone to identify themselves as blind by anything more than a cane or guide dog to travel safely… I seem to recall a system of forced self-disclosure about seventy years ago in Germany…

Why can’t I just Take it as Intended?

Part of communicating, and doing so effectively, is that the giver and receiver of communication both process it as intended. It isn’t easy to be public property, and everyone seems to have an opinion on what I look like, what activities I can enjoy, and if I can travel safely by myself) just because I am blind, and I look like it. I don’t have the time and mental energy to get angry at everyone who tells me how great it is that I have the teeny tiny bit of vision that I do (as though my life is more valuable than someone with none), who asks what happened to my eyes, who thinks there’s no way I can be competent and happy. Not everything is worth nitpicking over, because not everything is a fight. And yet… I am angry over something that’s supposed to be complimentary. Maybe it’s a bit of jealousy that my blindness is never ever questioned. Maybe it’s frustration over the fact that I am blind and travel with a guide dog (and before that with a cane) that makes me highly visible. Maybe it’s the fact that because I look blind I get treated like a child, and if I didn’t I would have to actually convince someone that I am blind because I am independent, competent, and can think and act for myself. So, yes, I am angry… Wouldn’t you be?


Other Perspectives

Thanks to those who’ve taken up this challenge as well. It’s not my challenge, but am glad for the alternate points of view. It makes for a nuanced discussion on this topic.

Charlie lives in the land of the visually impaired, too “blind” to be considered sighted and too “sighted” to be blind.”

Lauren describes conversations she has frequently and discusses the importance of not judging a book by its cover… or, in this case, a disability status based on outward appearance.

Ashley isn’t  offended by the comment itself, but the accusations of fakery followed by outright disrespect and discrimination that follow.

If at all possible, Buddy is more polite and more assertive than just about anyone on this topic.

Meagan asks an important question: What, exactly, does “blind” look like? And if you can’t answer that question reasonably…?