1. When someone tells you they have a vision disability, trust them. Do not begin to question them with doubt; or ask them to explain; or compare your poor refraction issues with their blindness.
2. Do not place a person with a vision disability in a situation where they have to tell you over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again that they have a vision disability.
3. Value there are different types of blindness and that it is not the responsibility of the person who has a vision disability to explain them to you. Use your two eyes and read up on the different types on your own time. There are also videos that you can watch.
4. Do not you assume that just because the person does not use a white cane or dark glasses that they do not have a vision disability? Reflect on your assumptions.
5. When a person with a vision disability has a driver’s licence do not assume that they do not have a vision disability. Linear rationality, while sometimes useful, is an inadequate cognitive style to rely on all the time.
6. Do not assume a person with a vision disability is unable to see certain things better than you. In fact, some are able to see certain things that are otherwise invisible to a well sighted person. A large part of vision is embodied and subconscious.
7. When writing printed text use short clear complete sentences with a capital letter to begin the sentence and a period to end the sentence. This is a best practice that helps the reader in their process of extracting meaning out of text.
8. In the event that a person with a vision disability opts not to use capital letters or periods to frame their sentences, this should not be interpreted as if they are changing the rules of best practice in textual communication. It sometimes means their eye/s is/are exhausted and they trust that you will understand their limitations. Learn to deal with this contradiction. Again, linear rationality does not apply in all situations. What may be good for them may not be good for you.
9. Value that while sometimes their text will be well constructed, at other times it may not be. People who have vision disabilities sometimes do not want to use their eye/s to look over text, especially when it is not going to be published.
10. Do not judge them for their poor spelling and grammar. And do not assume that it is the result of laziness, sloppiness, and a lack of intelligence. Spelling and grammar are not at all the truth criteria of intelligence.
11. When they ask “What does that mean?” do not assume this question is intended as a slight against you or is a sarcastic statement. Some people with vision disabilities have difficulty extracting meaning from text and as such this is a common question they ask.
12. AVOID WRITING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. While some people write entire sentences in capital letters, other people opt to add emphasis by capitalizing ONE word. This process is a barrier in that people have not learned how to read this type of text.
13. Avoid … the use of un-necessary ellipses … and exclamation points!!!! Again, many people have a hard time extracting meaning from text and this makes it harder. JUST … DON’T … DO … IT!!!!!! And really what the heck is this ~ anyway?
14. Avoid the use of bracketed text. (Instead make a new short sentence. This is best.) Unnecessary technicalities make reading harder.
15. When communicating with someone via text, consider that it may be best to number your points or questions in a clear and concise list.
16. When a person with a vision disability sends an email and their questions are numbered, take the time to respond to their questions with corresponding numbers. This will help them gain the clarity needed.
17. Instead of writing a lengthy email, pick up the telephone and call them. Many people with vision disabilities are isolated because pitiful societal structures such as policies, laws, as well as bricks and mortar institutions rooted in an economic paradigm created by able-bodied white people.
18. When the person is a writer, do not assume that this is an indication that they do not have a vision disability.
19. Always question whether you should frivolously send an article or book that you think they should read.
20. Do not assume a person who has misaligned eyes is intoxicated. Reserve judgement.
21. Understand that some people with vision disabilities may not like to have their photograph taken and if they do allow a photo to be taken be understanding when they request to see the photograph before it is published. This request is more than an ego issue.
22. Understand the subjective use of sunglasses. It really is none of your business.
23. Get over your dislike for the word disability and your dislike when a person with a vision disability opts to use it. You can be sure that many are not thrilled with the word either.
24. Do not assume a person who uses the term disability does not know what their gifts are.
25. Understand that the use of the word disability does not mean they want to be pitied.
26. Do not assume a person with a vision disability is on a disability pension.
27. Understand that many of the expenses that a person with a vision disability has are not covered by insurance plans and in this way their medical expenses are higher even though their income, if they have one, is more likely than not less than average.
28. When a person with a vision disability bumps into you or falls down for what appears to be no reason at all, do not assume they are being abusive or that they are intoxicated.
29. When a person drops an item and it breaks or they make a mess such as their spilling coffee, do not assume it was because they were careless.
30. When cooking with a person with a vision disability allow things to get a little bit sloppy. Do not judge them for being careless.
31. Value that a vision disability, like many disabilities, manifests in fluid ways and as such shifts on a day to day basis. While things may be good on one day, they may be worse the next day. This is the way it is. Period.
32. Value that a vision disability, like all disabilities, synergistically interacts with other forms of structural oppression such as class, racism, and sexism. The sum total of the effect is always greater than the addition of the individual structural oppressions, making reality harder.
33. Understand that no two people have the same disability. Again, it is best to understand a disability as fluid, meaning it shifts from one person to another. A person who has more structural privilege will be better off than a person with less privilege. While a privileged white family may be able to afford a tutor and adaptive equipment, a poorer family will not. What is more, a white person with a disability navigates white structures where as such they will be better off than a person of colour with a disability.
34. Value that when you engage in ableist ways you are also racist and sexist. Keep in mind that racial minorities, Indigenous people, and women, (especially women of colour and Indigenous women) have higher rates of disabilities.
35. Do not excuse your ableist ways with saying “that was not my intent”. It is now valued that intent is far too narrow a criterion for what is knowledge. Become informed and put the knowledge into concrete practice.
36. In the event that you are speaking to a family member of a person with a vision disability and they are not aware of the vision disability, do not assume the person is a liar. Many family members do not accept or understand the limitations of a disability that is not visible to the eyes. Family members do not always know what truth is.
37. Stop using ableist language in the metaphors you use when conveying ignorance. This includes, but not limited to, “are you blind” and “turning a blind eye”. People with vision disabilities are much more than what these offensive metaphors imply.
38. Keep in mind that people are gifted with two eyes, not just one eye, where the two eyes working together create three dimensional vision. Three dimension vision is much different than what a person with one eye sees. In this way, to reference “eye” rather than “eyes” is ableist language.
39. Keep in mind that people with vision disabilities are targeted by sexual offenders. This is because they are viewed as vulnerable, as well as because they are unable to see the abuser approach them.
40. Understand that many people with vision disabilities have skewed body postures that over time result in serious physical pain and deformations and as such further limitations.
41. When inviting a person with a vision disability to speak at an event rely on an intersectional framework in terms of the amount of time they are granted and in terms of covering their expenses. Remember equity not equality.
42. Always value an intersectional, meaning greater, level of understanding and compassion. People with vision disabilities, really any disability, are navigating structures that have been constructed for able-bodied white people. This means their everyday life experiences are particularly laden with ignorance, non-sense, assumptions, barriers, and expenses. Your level of understanding and compassion must adjust.
43. Do not add to their frustration and exhaustion with your selfish needs, ignorance, and exploitation of the knowledge that they embody. Sometimes you just need to listen and/or go away and think and read and learn in some other way.
44. Do your best to think critically and do not allow your eyes to appropriate reality. Value that things are much more complex than what you are able to see with your two eyes.
Two really short (a few minutes) videos on what blindness can look like:
Two articles on what is an intersectional framework:
Note: If there is a typo, grammatical error, or sentence structure error in my work and it is offending you greatly to the point that you are tempted to dismiss my knowledge offered and possibly even begin to poke at my education, please take the time to remind yourself not to be an ableist when reading about issues of colonization and structural oppression. Also keep in mind that inherent in ableism is both sexism and racism. Adopting an intersectional framework is a best practice approach when reading and learning. That said, please do not hesitate to report an error as this is always valued. Chi-Miigwetch
Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.