I have spent lots of time working with preschool and elementary school aged children, some of which ask me questions about my low vision or my glasses. While there are some kids who don’t notice I have trouble seeing or that don’t say anything about assistive technology aids like a blindness cane or large print, there are others who have lots of questions and want to learn more about how I do different things, and I’m always happy to answer questions whether it’s from a student I’ve met several times or a kid in the store who is seeing a blindness cane for the first time. Instead of treating disability as something to be embarrassed about or never acknowledge, I have come up with the following strategies for responding to children’s questions or comments about low vision and vision loss, based on my own personal experiences. Here is how I respond to questions and comments from children about low vision, visual impairment, and assistive technology.
Use proper names for assistive technology, and do not let others touch it
If I get a question about a tool I am using, I will answer it by using the name of the device or assistive technology, avoiding nicknames or overly simplifying descriptions of what the device does. For example, if I am using an app on my phone to magnify text and a student asks me what I am doing, I might tell them that I am using Google Lens to copy a handwritten note so I can read it.
Sometimes I have kids ask if they can touch my assistive technology devices such as my blindness cane or mobility cane, and with extremely rare exceptions, my answer is always “absolutely not” as I do not want them to get in the habit of touching other people’s mobility aids or service animals, which can be distracting and put them in danger. I tell kids that my blindness cane is an extension of my arm, and you wouldn’t walk up to a random person and ask if you could touch their arm, and my cane is no different. The extremely rare exceptions are for kids who are planning to get the same mobility aids as me- for example, I let a 5th grade student who was meeting with an orientation and mobility specialist the next week examine my blindness cane with supervision.
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- Ten Skills I Learned During My High School Mentorship
- Elementary School Classrooms And Low Vision: Designing Accessible Classrooms Series
Keep explanations 1-2 sentences long
I try to reserve long explanations about assistive technology and low vision for blog posts and keep most explanations about my low vision and other topics 1-2 sentences long. Of course, this is a great strategy for talking to adults as well, but it’s even more important for kids as I want to make sure that my explanations aren’t confusing or boring.
What about medical/diagnosis questions?
I have had a few questions from children about why I have low vision or what the name of my eye condition is, but am skeptical to answer these with a lot of detail. One of the reasons is because I have an atypical form of a very common childhood eye condition called accommodative esotropia, and do not want to scare kids into thinking that they will lose their sight as they get older- my eye condition typically resolves by the age of nine in most cases and does not cause low vision, unless there is a secondary condition involved. Instead of using the term “accommodative esotropia”, I typically tell kids that I have an eye condition called strabismus and a brain condition called Chiari Malformation that both cause my low vision.
In most situations, I would recommend telling kids the name of the eye condition or disease that causes vision loss, and avoid using cutesy phrases or euphemisms for a condition. It’s also important to make sure to avoid terms that make the eye condition sound like a punishment or curse.
Questions about glasses
A lot of kids who wear glasses have their vision corrected to 20/20 and may be confused by the idea that glasses do not make someone see perfectly. Glasses are very helpful for me and they are one of the many things that help me see- I also use tools like magnifying glasses, cell phones, and other assistive technology to help me access information. I have an entire post about how I answer questions about my glasses linked below.
Another thing I wanted to mention is that I do not allow kids (or anyone) to touch or try on my glasses in any situation, and I do not take off my glasses unless I am sleeping or washing my face.
Explaining usable vision
When kids ask me what I can or can’t see, I emphasize all of the things I can see, like colors, large print sizes, light, and shapes, instead of the things I can’t see. I might mention that I can’t see things that are more than about five feet away as well. One of my favorite ways to explain my lack of depth perception is to compare it to how someone might look at a painting on canvas- a 2-D representation of a 3-D world.
I have double vision, meaning I see two of everything, and have blurry vision, and often use drawings or picture simulations to show what that might look like. One example of a visualization that is easy to create is to write my name on a whiteboard, and then write it again so that most of the letters overlap and are slightly out of focus. This can also be done by drawing a simple picture in the same style.
- How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Eyes
- Learning To Explain Usable Vision
- Using PicsArt To Simulate Vision Impairment
Rephrase the question if it was asked in an incorrect/impolite way
I recognize that kids don’t always know how to phrase questions correctly or may ask things in a way that could sound offensive. One of the ways I help to correct this is by rephrasing their question with more appropriate terms/language before answering it. Here are a few examples of what that might look like:
- When someone asked me “what’s with the stick?”, I responded with “oh, do you mean my blindness cane? It helps me avoid obstacles and running into people.”
- I had a younger child ask me “why do you have weird glasses?” and I asked them “what makes my glasses weird?” before learning that they were confused over why they were tinted
- When an older child expressed confusion over me using a cell phone while holding my blindness cane by asking “are you actually blind?”, I didn’t move my phone and said “What makes you say that? Phones can be used by anyone, including the blind.”
- How Tinted Glasses Help My Light Sensitivity
- How I Use My Phone As Assistive Technology In Class
- How I Use My Phone For Orientation and Mobility
Bottom line- disability isn’t scary
One of my all-time favorite comments about my low vision came from a child while I was standing in Target with my blindness cane, who loudly asked their parent “why can she bring her lightsaber to the store and I can’t?” While the parent immediately appeared to be embarrassed and apologized to me, I couldn’t stop laughing and said it was the best thing I had ever heard about my cane. I know a lot of people want to ignore disability or are scared to acknowledge it, but I’m okay with kids asking questions and being curious, as this can help to normalize the use of assistive technology and living with vision loss.
Summary of tips for responding to questions/comments from children about low vision
- Use proper names for assistive technology and medical conditions
- Avoid using cutesy terms, euphemisms, or language that makes disability sound like a punishment or curse.
- Do not let children touch assistive technology, glasses, service animals, or other mobility aids, as this can encourage violations of personal space or cause potential damage
- Keep explanations brief, 1-2 sentences long
- Emphasize what a person can see and talk about usable vision, instead of listing everything they can’t see
- If a question was asked with inappropriate or incorrect language, rephrase it before answering