With my vision impairment, I am unable to read standard sized print, but I can read large print without a problem. As a result, I have large print enabled on my phone so I am able to read information from my friends and others, and use my phone just like anyone else. Unfortunately, when many people see me using my phone and my blindness cane at the same time, they assume that I am faking my blindness or vision impairment and that I can actually see just fine. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today, I will be sharing how my phone isn’t paper, and how my ability to use my phone does not connect to my inability to read small print or my use of a blindness cane.
Who is really blind or vision impaired?
Most people who use a blindness cane have at least some degree of usable vision. Vision impairment comes in several different forms and it isn’t just measured by visual acuity tests. Someone can have 20/20 vision on the eye chart and still need a cane because they have limited peripheral or central vision.
Here are some examples of people who use blindness canes:
- I have fluctuating vision loss and am considered legally blind, but my usable vision allows me to read large print and see items from a short distance. I need my cane to navigate inside and outside because I have no depth perception and am prone to injury
- M doesn’t use their cane all the time, but they benefit from using it in unfamiliar places or during icy conditions so they don’t fall down
- S’s vision changes depending on the lighting conditions, so they need to use a blindness cane when they walk in bright sunlight, as otherwise their vision is obscured. They can still read items that are close to their face
- P has no usable vision but relies on their phone for directions for where they are going
- B has limited central vision and can not see directly in front of them, though the rest of their vision is intact. They use a cane to avoid obstacles.
Ultimately, it’s not your job to tell someone whether they are worthy of using a blindness cane or not. Blindness cane users come from a variety of different backgrounds and sight levels, and they don’t owe you an explanation of their condition. Personally, I don’t mind telling people that I have low vision, but I shouldn’t have to disclose that in order to be treated with respect when I am using my cane.
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What lets me use my phone- accessibility settings
I have many accessibility settings enabled on my phone. I also use third party apps in order for me to see my phone clearly. The font size on my phone is the same as the font size I receive for print materials, and I have a high contrast filter applied. As a result, I am able to text my friends easily and use my phone as much as anyone else. When my vision is reduced, I use a screen reader so that I can use my phone without my eyes.
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When I use my phone
I use my phone dozens of times a day for different tasks related to my vision impairment. It’s a common sight on campus to see me walking with a blindness cane in one hand and my phone in the other. Here are some examples of how I use my phone as a vision impaired person:
- Texting my friends and family
- Getting directions with Google Maps
- Using Aira or Be My Eyes to identify my surroundings
- Having Google Assistant read text or identify objects
- Using my phone camera to see items that are far away
- Looking up information about where I am going
- Reading the menu at a restaurant or at the dining hall
- Checking an email with important information
As mentioned before, many people assume I am faking my blindness when I have my cane and phone out at the same time. The truth is, I am often using my phone as an extension of my cane. GPS technology, remote video assistants, and text-based directions all help me with navigating unfamiliar areas, just like my cane does.
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Where I get targeted
Back in high school, I had teachers who didn’t believe that my vision was as bad as I said it was. They believed that I was like the rest of my friends- texting, reading, and driving around. These teachers would often ask me, my friends, my parents, and even my case manager why I could be texting (or doing some other task) but not able to see what was on the board or on my non-enlarged classwork.
As I’ve gotten older and started using a blindness cane, I use my phone as a way to navigate my college campus and neighboring areas. I frequently get asked if I really need a cane and if my glasses let me see perfectly. Without my cane, I walk into obstacles and get injured on different terrain. Without my phone, I have no idea where I am going and can’t call for help.
I’m not the only one to be criticized for using a phone while vision impaired. Unfortunately, many blindness cane users have had photos taken without their consent and shared on social media as a way to mock them or accuse them of faking blindness. This seem to be especially common outside of stores or while on public transportation. Even in 2019, people are still sharing these types of images, and while I can’t expect everyone on the planet to stop this behavior, it is still surprising to see so many people engaging in it.
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Why I’m not changing my behavior
As a person who uses a blindness cane, society expects me to never use any technology and to constantly be wandering around lost. The reality is, I’m studying assistive technology and am more than capable of using technology to help me with my vision impairment. Of course, I never use my phone in an area where it is unsafe to do so, but I’m not going to stop using technology just because people think I can’t.
For those who may be struggling to use their phone alongside their mobility aids, I encourage you to answer these questions:
- Does my phone help me do things that my blindness cane does not?
- If I do not use my phone, will this task be made more difficult?
- If I knew I would not receive judgment, would I use my phone anyway?
- Is it safe for me to use my phone right now?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, go ahead and use your phone. It’s for your benefit, not the benefit of others.
How you can help
If you’re a person with vision corrected to 20/20, you may be wondering how you can help people who are being targeted for using their phone and a blindness cane at the same time. Here are some of my tips:
- Educate yourself and others about accessibility settings
- Volunteer with an app such as Be My Eyes to learn more about how people with vision impairments interact with the world
- Don’t share posts that make fun of people with vision impairments
- Never take photos of someone with a blindness cane or service dog without their explicit permission
- Treat people with vision impairments just like anyone else
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Thanks to many amazing innovations in assistive technology, I am able to use a cell phone indepently with vision impairment. By educating people about vision impairment and assistive technology, I hope that others will learn that my inability to see certain items does not define my ability to see others. I’m just like any other college student that uses a cell phone to text my friends or use apps.