Shedding Misconceptions About Legal Blindness
Social distancing measures have limited what we can do and where we can go in an effort to flatten the pandemic curve. Everyone has to accept social isolation as the new normal for the time being, which can often be stressful or anxiety-inducing.
But the anxieties surrounding coronavirus could be magnified for certain communities based on factors such as income or ability.
Manny Giminez and his girlfriend Dalesha Richardson are legally blind.
Richardson started a YouTube channel, Dalesha’s Life, to help shed light on misconceptions about legal blindness. She wanted to help people learn more about the blind community by sharing her everyday experiences with others.
“Dalesha’s idea was to share our day-to-day lives with the world so people could know what it was like for a legally blind girl to go about her day-to-day life,” explained Giminez, who is a graduate of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.
Giminez explained how in the United States, when you are defined as being legally blind, the social security administration believes you are incapable or almost incapable of gainful employment. For Giminez, who worked for the State of Illinois, this was not the case.
“I decided to leave my job and work on this with her full time with the hopes that we can help the most amount of people understand what it is [like] to be a couple that is partially blind to go about their life and do the things we all do.”
And this is just one of the many misconceptions surrounding legal blindness.
If one assumes that those who are legally or partially blind cannot receive gainful employment, a slippery slope of assumptions ensues. People may wrongly assume that those in the blind community cannot take care of themselves, cannot cook, or cannot clean. By documenting themselves engaging in these everyday activities on their YouTube channel, Giminez and Richardson prove that these beliefs are mistaken.
“That’s why we kind of moved forward with this and wanted to change the perception that the general public had when they were born and raised with a federal government that believed that [those who are legally blind] are incapable of gainful employment,” Giminez clarified.
Giminez and Richardson have the same visual acuity, which refers to the clarity of one’s vision. But when they travel outside the home, Richardson chooses to use a white cane, whereas Giminez is more dependent on his eyes and wears thick glasses.
What the couple found is that the white cane implies Richardson is unable to see, while the glasses imply that Giminez can see normally. This assumption, while seemingly harmless, may lead to other confusions.
When the couple goes out to a restaurant, the waiter will ask Giminez for both his and his girlfriend’s orders. It seems that Richardson’s use of a white cane takes on a double meaning: because her eyes presumably ‘don’t work’, there’s no way to communicate with her.
There’s an infinitely long list of misconceptions surrounding legal blindness that the couple hopes to shatter through their YouTube channel. And breaking down these misconceptions can also help address some of the anxieties surrounding coronavirus and subsequent social distancing efforts.
Giminez and Richardson are following social distancing measures like anybody else and do not leave the house unless it is absolutely necessary.
But public movement restrictions may heighten anxieties regarding how to best accommodate those who are legally blind. Grocery shopping is more complicated for a blind customer, who may have to get a closer look at products or prices on the shelf. If someone is pointing them in a direction to tell them where to go, they may have to get a tad closer than 6-feet.
“I think the biggest implication that this is having on those with visual impairments is that a lot of times one has to get closer to see things, especially when you don’t see well,” said Giminez.
When Giminez and Richardson were buying groceries, “it was a little bit difficult because we had to get closer than 6-feet to talk to the cashier or to do certain things...I would say from the employee who was being overly cautious [he] clearly was scared.”
Giminez says that most people are willing to assist those with visual disabilities, even during the pandemic. But while everyone is worried about protecting their own health and safety, some might second-guess whether they should assist someone who is legally blind.
But Giminez believes that if we’re patient and take the extra step to help those with visual disabilities during these times, everyone can be accommodated for.
“If we go to one and a half meters instead of two meters for, you know, 10 seconds to help one particular customer, I think everything’s going to be okay.”
People will become more comfortable assisting those who are legally blind once they grasp their condition and their capabilities. While public movement restrictions prompted by the pandemic may create more obstacles for the blind community, learning more about this disability will help break down these barriers.
Listen to Radio Western's interview with Manny Giminez to learn more about some of the misconceptions surrounding legal blindness and what it means to be legally blind.