6:03 AM PDT, August 21, 2021
There are many misconceptions that sighted people have about blind people. Whether it’s how blind people are portrayed in Hollywood or how people perceive that the blind live their lives, it’s not always accurate.
Literary scholar and author M. Leona Godin, who is blind, spoke about those misconceptions with Inside Edition Digital, saying, “I think that a lot of them come to us from our cultural representations, for example, from films and from novels, that importantly have not been created by blind and visually impaired people themselves.”
Godin is the author of the book “There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness.”
“I think that sighted people tend to have kind of an all or nothing attitude towards blindness,” Leona explains. She says that in her case, she’s lived through every phase of being blind.
“I started out life seeing as most people see, normally, according to the eye charts. And then, when I was in fourth grade, I suddenly couldn’t really see the writing on the blackboard,” she said.
Afterward, she was diagnosed with progressive degenerative disease.
“So, for many, many years, I was somewhere on that spectrum between being fully sighted and being totally blind where I am now.”
She now has a tiny bit of light perception in her far-left peripheral vision.
“But for the most part, I’m a totally blind person,” she said. “But most people that you will see walking down the street with a cane or a guide dog have some vision.”
First on Godin’s list of blind person misconceptions that she and her blind friends feel is inaccurate, is how in Hollywood a blind character will ask to touch somebody’s face.
“Face touching is not something that any blind person I know does on a regular basis, especially not with people that they don’t know,” she said. “In other words, the only time that most blind people touch faces is in intimate moments with their loved ones. Or when you’re making out with somebody, then you might do some touching.
“As a general rule, we don’t face touch to get any kind of, I don’t know, map of somebody’s face, but just to tell them that we love them or that we like them a lot,” she continued.
She said another incorrect “ocular-centric assumption” people might have is that blind people are virginal or don’t like sex.
“It’s pretty important for me to let people know that blind people also enjoy sex and that if we are really honest about it, we feel kind of oppressed by that urge that a lot of sighted people have to make us saintly or more spiritual than your average person,” she said.
Oftentimes, blind people are portrayed as having superpowers. This, according to Godin, is another inaccurate portrayal.
“That urge to have a super-powered blind person is kind of fun and interesting, but I think it takes away from the possibility of just being a normal blind person,” she noted. “And I think even just saying that phrase, normal blind person, would strike a lot of people as, I don’t know, strange or an oxymoron or something like that.
“Another big problem in the movies iis that there’s a thing called blindface, right? Where you hire sighted actors to play blind people, and then they have this blank stare, this thousand-mile blank stare,” she said.
But, she explained, when she is speaking to someone in person, that is not the case.
“I’m going to make an effort to look in the direction of where the voice is coming from,” she said. “It’s kind of an obvious thing. The voice comes out of a head. You can gauge in general where the eyes would be.”
Godin said it seems many sighted people think that blind people live in a sad, dark world, but she would like them to know that for her, that’s an inaccurate assumption.
“Just the other day, I was walking home from a bar with my partner, [Ella Vester], and these kids on skateboards passed by,” she said. “One of them says, ‘Is she blind?’ Ella Vester says, ‘Well, you should ask her.’ He says, “Are you blind? That’s so sad.’ I said, ‘Why?,’ you know, big smile, ‘I’m fine.’ Feeling kind of buzzed, I was doing great. I said, ‘There’s nothing to be sad about it,’ and he’s like, ‘That’s really sad. I’m sorry,’ and then we go our separate ways.”
The encounter, Godin said, struck her as strange. “Why would he think that this is sad? We have lots of mood swings, just like other humans. Sometimes we’re sad, and sometimes we’re happy, and blindness doesn’t have a ton to do with that.”
One unfortunate thing that Godin is used to dealing with is people treating her like she’s not there. “It happens quite often that if I am with a sighted companion, that people will speak to them instead of to me,” she said.
“This happens everywhere, from people saying, ‘Well, does she want tea or coffee?’ Or you’re at the airport and they’ll say, ‘Oh, can I have her ticket?’ It happens everywhere. At the doctor’s office, ‘What’s her name?’ and all those sorts of things. It’s very strange. I don’t know where this comes from,” she said.
“The other thing that happens is that sometimes people will actually kind of yell at you a little bit,” she added. “Because somehow, I don’t know, hard of hearing goes with hard of seeing?”
“One of the most pervasive tropes regarding blindness,” Godin said, “is that blindness is a moral corrective.”
“This idea that you’re going about things in the wrong way or you’re a bad person somehow, and you suddenly get struck blind, and the angels sing, and you see the light, right?” she said. “In a metaphorical sense, suddenly you see the truth, or you have some sort of understanding that you didn’t have with functioning eyes.”
Although she would love for this to be true, it isn’t.
“I would love for all of us who are blind or visually impaired to be morally upright citizens and that we all sort of see the eternal truths and think correctly in our society,” she said. “But I’m afraid that it’s just not the case.
“I guess one kind of big takeaway from all this might be that there’s as many ways of being blind as there are being sighted and that there’s so much variety. Blindness is not a monolith,” she continued.
“I am asking people to think about how much of our world is centered upon vision to such an extent that other senses are downplayed and that people who don’t have vision are then discriminated against,” she adds. “That’s really what I’m trying to fight, is that there are other ways of being in the world other than visual, and ocularcentrism is kind of the extreme version of thinking that somebody is a lesser being because they can’t see.”