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‘Can a blind or visually impaired person live an independent life?’ Answering your questions and dispelling the myths.

‘Can a blind or visually impaired person live an independent life?’

Answering your questions and dispelling the myths.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go”, rejoices Dr. Seuss, in his 1990 book ‘Oh, the Places You'll Go!’.

But what do these comforting words of Dr. Seuss mean in the context of visual impairment? When we think about visual impairment, the emphasis is often placed on how sight is lost. Without our eyes to help guide our feet in our shoes or to steer ourselves in any direction we choose, living an independent life may appear impossible.

(Not so) shockingly, living an independent life as a blind or visually impaired person IS doable. Let’s not simply assuming that a diagnosis of visual impairment or blindness is the equivalent to a life sentence of incapacity and dependence. Instead, we can focus on how being visually impaired invites new ways to adjust, negotiate and transform. As aptly described by Disability scholars Hamraie and Fritsch, visually impaired people are “experts and designers of everyday life” where outside-of-the-box thinking paves the way for independent living within our own lives.

This article is here to challenge the assumption that living an independent life is impossible when you are blind or visually impaired. As a continuation of our series ‘can a blind person ____?’, I will be addressing a commonly asked questions that members of the visually impaired community are often tasked with answering:

‘Can a blind or visually impaired person live an independent life?’

In addressing this common query, I will be placing an emphasis on how new AI technologies, such as MyFinder, can help the visually impaired community to meet their access needs (Mia Mingus, 2019).

So, let’s talk independence.

When I was a young girl, independence meant getting to the bus stop by myself and doing my homework on time. Progressing into my teenage years, independence seeped into my relationships, hobbies and romanticising the fantasies of my own adulthood. As an undergraduate student, independence became even more paramount. Independence ranged from the mundane tasks of organising the shopping, cleaning, and bills for my student flat to the more grandiose plans of progressing my studies and starting my career path.

This has taught me that independence creeps up on us throughout many of our life stages, and takes many forms. But what unites all these different forms of independence together are that they are autonomous decisions. From doing my weekly food shop up to applying for a job position, these autonomous decisions reflect my thoughts, perspective and (mental and/or physical) labour.

And being visually impaired does not, and has not, negated my autonomous decisions. For example, other senses, such as sound, touch, and smell, provide us with creative ways to adapt to this able-bodied world and better sense the world that surrounds us. AI technologies, such as MyFinder’s identification feature, have provided significant support for this adaptation. For example, identifying the landscape and reading bus/tram/train timetables can prove a useful tool for public transport. Furthermore, utilising its real-time scenes describing function, it is not only text that becomes describable. Rather, text, scenery and objects can all be detected through Myfinder’s technology. Through audio, the personalised GPS-like guidance of Myfinder has made the world re-navigational for independent living.

However, being independent does not mean doing things alone. As explained by visually impaired writer Ashley Wayne, too often do we fall into the trap of thinking “of independence as needing to be utterly devoid of assistance from others”. Asking for assistance by family, friends, or volunteers on our MyFinder app, does not devalue our independent lives. It is not about ‘doing’ independence alone, but about our intent of being independent and reaching our goals.

As best put by an old friend of mine on being both disabled and being independent:

“It’s about adjusting what you need to get to the same point, rather than adjusting your expectations”.

In addressing the commonly asked question ‘Can a blind or visually impaired person live an independent life?’, we are able to answer ‘yes, with adaptive creativity’. And not only can we answer yes but, in doing so, we can challenge the notion that living an independent life means doing it alone.

Lilliana Buonasorte

Lilly is our PR manager and is currently pursuing an MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society at the University of Cambridge