How Social Media is Promoting Disability Awareness

People of all ages have embraced technology and social media. Nowadays, we are constantly checking our profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to stay in touch with our family and friends, learn about the latest news and stay connected with what happens throughout the world. From seeing pictures of our family and friends, to viral videos of pets doing cute and silly things, there is always something everyone can enjoy! This has also created a great opportunity for people with disabilities to spread more awareness among the general public.

Molly Burke is a Canadian public speaker and YouTuber who happens to be completely blind. After struggling with and overcoming vision loss, bullying and mental illness as a teenager, Molly now works to educate others about the capabilities and challenges faced by people who are blind. Recently, I came across this video where Molly discusses the perceptions and realities of blindness, in an entertaining and engaging manner. Some of the situations she addresses are putting on makeup, using computers, pouring drinks and crossing the street. She also addressed the popular misconception of getting to know someone by touching their face – this was by far my favorite part of the video!

I found this video particularly interesting, because I can relate to all of the scenarios Molly addressed. In fact, I once had a college advisor assume that since I cannot see the computer screen, I dictated my emails and assignments to someone. After I explained how screen-readers and assistive technology work, he was more enlightened and fascinated by the topic! Most importantly, I educated him about what I and others with vision loss are capable of doing.

Molly is not the only public figure addressing the challenges faced by people with vision loss. Tommy Edison, better known as the blind film critic, has been blind since birth. He also uses social media and videos to educate viewers about blindness. Some of the topics he has covered over the years include using an ATM and crossing the street. Like Molly, Tommy uses humor to get his point across to his viewers. Tommy is recognized internationally, and many of his videos have become viral on social media.

As someone who is blind, a journalist and overall media enthusiast, I am thrilled at the unique opportunity today’s technology has given people with disabilities. Not only does it help us have more independent lives, but it also allows us to promote disability awareness all over the world. Long-time Sandy’s View readers know that the purpose of this blog is to inform and educate people about blindness and visual impairment.

Throughout my life, I have found that people are curious and eager to learn about how I and others with disabilities go about our lives. Thanks to social media and blogs, we are able to continue addressing misconceptions and breaking down the barriers faced by people with disabilities. This will one day help create a more accessible and inclusive society for everyone.

What Do People Who Are Blind See?

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I remember many instances when family, friends and even teachers were shocked to find out I could actually tell when lights were turned on or off. This was when I was a small child, so I really did not know how to explain what I could see or how that was possible. All I knew was that although I could not tell how people or things looked, I could still distinguish between light and dark.

 

The majority of people associate complete – or total – blindness with absolute darkness. After all, if you close your eyes you will only see black, so that must be what totally blind people “see.” This is actually a very common misconception reinforced by the media and our own assumptions. While only 18 percent of people with significant visual impairments are actually totally blind, most can at least perceive light. In other words, although we cannot see colors, shapes or people, we can still tell the difference between light and dark.

 

You are probably wondering what light perception is exactly. Simply put, when someone – like me – has light perception, he or she can tell there is a source of light, but wouldn’t be able to see the color. For example, if I’m near a Christmas tree with lights, I can tell they are flashing but can’t distinguish between the various colors or patterns. Some of the things I and most people who have light perception can “see” are things like sunlight, camera flashes, and the lights from computer monitors or television screens. Many of us can also tell when lights are on or off in a particular room.

 

The number of people with no light perception is unknown, but it is estimated to be less than 10 percent of totally blind individuals. Some people with no light perception still report seeing flashes of light, however. Damon Rose is a disability reporter for the BBC who has been totally blind since childhood. Although he has no light perception, he often gets flashes of light and color. In fact, in this personal account of his blindness, he says that what he misses the most of being able to see is darkness.

 

Some individuals with no light perception face challenges we often don’t think about. Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder is a condition that can specifically affect this group. This is a circadian rhythm disorder affecting about 70 percent of people who are totally blind and have no light perception. Since these individuals are unable to tell the difference between light and dark, Non-24 causes their sleep patterns to be significantly interrupted.

 

As ironic as it is, there is no clear-cut answer to this commonly asked question. Like with anything else, blindness is different in each individual. Unlike the popular belief, most of us do not live in complete darkness, and even the amount of light perception varies from one person to the next. For another take on this popular and fascinating question, check out this video by Tommy Edison, the blind film critic. As always, I invite you to submit your questions about blindness or visual impairment by leaving a comment or sending an email to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.