As you might know from reading my About Me page, I am legally blind. I get a lot of questions about this so I thought I would write a post just talking about my vision and how it affects my life as an artist, blogger, and just life in general. I will try to cover all of the questions I can remember but if I miss anything, please feel free to ask. Quick disclaimer: this is in no way meant to be a petty party. My low vision is simply a part of who I am and I want to share it with you. These are questions that I have been asked over the years and I know that not everyone is comfortable asking them.
WHAT DOES LEGALLY BLIND MEAN?
“Legally blind” sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. I am NOT fully blind. I can see well enough to do most of what everyone else can do. With vision, there is a spectrum of numbers that indicates how well you can see. We are all familiar with 20/20 as being perfect vision. It means that you can see a subject that is 20 feet away from you perfectly (those eye charts with all the letters are 20 feet away from the chair you sit in when you are asked to read it). Someone who has 20/40 vision sees a subjecte at 20 feet the same way that someone with perfect vision sees it at 40 feet. So as you can see, the person with 20/40 vision has to be much closer to the subject just to see what the person with perfect vision sees.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Now, for reference, the point at which you hit legal blindness is at 20/200. This means that when the legally blind person is 20 feet away from the subject, they see it with the same clarity that a person with perfect vision can see at 200 feet. My vision is 20/200 in one eye and 20/300 in the other eye. The reason that I am considered legally blind is this AND due to the fact that my vision is not correctable with glasses or contacts. The problem is in the retina and has yet to be successfully corrected through any kind of surgery. Here is a picture of the classic eye chart. On the left is what someone with 20/20 vision sees and on the right is what I see.
WHY DO YOUR EYES MOVE BACK AND FORTH?
Because my vision isn’t correctable, my eyes have to work extra hard just to see what I do see. They get tired very easily and when they do, they try as hard as they can to focus on whatever is in front of me. When they do this, they move back and forth trying to focus. They aren’t capable of focusing they way they should so they just keep moving and trying. I can’t feel it and my friends and family say that after being around me for so long, they don’t even notice it anymore.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE?
Obviously my world is a lot blurrier so I do suffer the consequences of that. They mostly show up in not being able to read menus or signs at a distance. It is hard to recognize people at a distance and or tell if they are waving at me. I have gone up to so many tall blonde people as a kid and grabbed their leg thinking they were my mom. I got in the wrong gold mini van in the carpool line because I couldn’t see the driver. I have gotten lost in department stores because whomever i was with wondered off and forgot that I could just come find them by looking across the store. The stories go on and on and I am totally able to laugh at them now. I have adapted so much and have so many ways of dealing with these things that used to cause me so much stress and anxiety.
When doing my makeup, I have to use a small magnified mirror that has a 20x zoom. It is an extra tool but the job gets done. Now, I’m not sure if I should blame my complete inability to get a nice crisp line with liquid liner on my vision or just accept that that particular coordination isn’t there haha.
Probably the biggest deal for me, and one that I can not just work around, is the fact that I am not able to drive as the cut off for driving is 20/200 and I think that that requires some sort of correction anyway. Let’s get that self-driving Audi fixed up and ready to go already!! The invention of Uber has made a significant difference but it is so hard being an adult woman without a car or way to drive myself around. I will be posting an entire post on driving later though.
WHAT HAS HELPED YOU ADAPT?
Honestly, the iPhone and smartphone revolution has been such a big help. It has so many apps and features that allow me to subtly get the things done that I would otherwise have to ask someone else to help me with. Here are so apps and accesablity features that I use in case you know someone who might benefit from them too:
- Zoom – Most people know about the zoom feature but I can’t begin to stress how useful it is. I use the full screen zoom that you activate my tapping the screen with three fingers twice.
- Magnifier – This was a recent discovery but all you have to do is hit the home button on the iPhone three times fast and it will open your camera in a magnifier mode. Super helpful for small print on price tags and recipes.
- The Camera – I will often take a picture of something up close that I can refer to and zoom in on as much as I need to. For example, I play a lot of complicated strategy board games with friends and I will take pictures of the board before we begin so I don’t have to memorize locations of small cities or buildings. I will take a picture of a menu on the wall behind the corner at a fast food place and then zoom in on the picture to read it. These are just a few ways to use it.
- Large Print Mode – Pretty self explanatory.
- I also have reading glasses that are basically like the cheap reading glasses you buy at the drug store but whereas those only have a strength up to 3x magnification, my glasses are 12x magnification.
HOW DO YOU MAKE ART WITH LOW VISION?
Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer for this one. I like to think that my talent is a gift from God and something that makes my lack of vision feel less overbearing. It is something that I can be proud of and enjoy making regardless of how well I can see. Because it is something that I can do and isn’t affected by my vision, it makes me feel like I can not only fit in but be good at something, especially when I “shouldn’t” be. It is a reminder that Having crappy vision isn’t something that should stop me from doing what I am passionate about and it is also a hope for other people with poor vision to know that they can do amazing things too. We aren’t broken or sedentary, we can do everything that life has to offer . . . except drive (seriously Audi!).
I use the zoom feature when drawing on a tablet. This lets me get as close as I need to. When painting or drawing on paper or a canvas, I just use my glasses and/or get as close as I need to. Here are some of my drawings.
HOW DOES YOUR VISION AFFECT YOUR ABILITY TO WORK?
Working has always been a struggle, mostly just because of the transportation issue. Some places that I tried working at weren’t able to accommodate me. I tried working in retail and quickly found out that the print size of the SKU numbers and the cash registers was too small. I got my degree in Psychology and at one point thought that I wanted to be a therapist. That wouldn’t have been a problem with my vision but my heart just wasn’t in it (not to mention the $50,000 grad school loan scared the crap out of me).
Thankfully there is so much that you can do from home now. I think that this limitation is part of the reason that I looked into blogging and pursuing art as a career instead of just a hobby. Then I fell involve with the freedom and the flexibility of making my own courts and being my own boss. It is a lot of hard work but I love it so much.