The Frustration of Being Visually Impaired Without Looking Visually Impaired, and How to Handle It on the Job

Young blind man sitting and smiling at camera

From childhood classrooms and playgrounds to adult workplaces and social settings, there seems to be a common struggle for those who are visually impaired but don’t appear to be visually impaired. You guessed it (or you’ve lived it): Many people think you’re pulling a fast one on them, are intentionally selective of what you don’t see, or are exaggerating your visual impairment.

To those who live with the effects of this fallacy and frustration, goodness sakes, I’m sorry. This must be insulting and frustrating and tiring.

Of course, strangers, coworkers, employers, or fellow club members simply do not understand how one can read minuscule print but not see them when they are across the room. They’ve likely never met another individual who is blind or visually impaired, and they don’t realize there are various visual impairments that effect vision in an assortment of manners.

While there are limited educational opportunities you can prepare for passers-by, there are definitely educational opportunities you can plan in your workplaces and social settings that will teach others about your vision. With nominal planning and instruction on your part, you will be educating your team on visual impairments in general (hey, you’re likely educating future hiring personnel and employers), and you will minimize insults or aggravations that come your way.

The earlier you educate your peers and supervisors, the better. Ask if you can get the group together for a casual meeting to explain how your visual impairment affects you at work; better yet, ask if you can talk at the end of an existing team meeting. Here’s what you may want to share:

  • Consider purchasing, borrowing, or making glasses that represent your vision. For instance, if you do not have central vision, purchase clear, prescription-less glasses and mark out the center of the lens with permanent marker. Let the team members give the glasses a try.
  • Describe what you see in the room. Describe how that would change if the room was darker or brighter.
  • Describe any other aspect of your visual impairment you believe would help the group understand “why you do what you do”, such as a loss of visual detail, visual fatigue, light sensitivity, or fluctuating vision.
  • The group will probably wonder if your visual impairment is progressive. If you’re comfortable doing so, tell the group if you expect your vision to change over time. If you’d rather keep that information private, no problem.
  • Share job accommodations you utilize, particularly assistive technology. It may be nice for the team to understand you wear earphones to listen to a screen reader, not to isolate yourself from the group.
  • Let them know if they can help by not petting a guide dog, letting you know if office furniture is re-arranged, etc.

Now I’m pretty much an open book, but I realize some appreciate high levels of privacy. It is certainly not required to educate your colleagues on blindness or a visual impairment. These are merely my suggestions if you want to minimize negative dealings with the general public. The choice is yours. The education is theirs.