Why Blind People Wear Sunglasses?

Some friends asked: Why do a lot of blind people wear sunglasses indoors?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions we have listen over the years: what is the reason blind people wear sunglasses? After almost several year hearing this question, we suppose it is time to give you an answer.

It should first be noted that, contrary to what many people think, not all blind people are completely blind. In fact, the vast majority of blind people can see at some level, just very poorly but they can see something. For reference, the “American Foundation for the Blind” defines blindness as:

A level of vision loss that has been legally defined to determine eligibility for benefits. The clinical diagnosis refers to a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the best eye with the best possible correction and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. Often, people diagnosed with legal blindness still have useful vision.

This point of “useful vision” is important because it means that these individuals, like their sighted betters, can also be distracted or otherwise disoriented by bright light, with a pair of sunglasses being an easy solution to the problem. That said, while some blind people choose to wear store-bought sunglasses to filter out bright, ultraviolet light, others must wear specially made visors that can filter out specific colors of light that their eyes are sensitive to.

On the note of ultraviolet light, much like persuasion by sight, protecting the eyes from UV radiation is of paramount importance to the blind, as it is exceptionally dangerous to the unshielded eye. For example, overexposure to UV light can potentially cause anything from cataracts to inflammation of the cornea (photokeratitis) or conjunctiva (photo conjunctivitis). The latter two are essentially a sensitivity to the Sun of the eye and are as painful as you might expect from that statement.

In some cases, excessive ultraviolet exposure to the eye can also lead to certain forms of ocular cancer. Because many blind individuals have little, or in some cases no, natural ability to detect if their eyes are being bombarded by a bright light source that potentially emits a lot of UV radiation, such as the Sun, and therefore are unable to know when their eyes need protection from that light, they are more at risk of falling victim to the various afflictions associated with it.

Some blind people choose to wear sunglasses wherever they go to protect their eyes from physical hazards such as hanging branches, small windblown objects, open locker doors, etc.

Another reason, often overlooked, why blind people choose to wear sunglasses is to signify that they are blind from a distance. For example, the white cane worn by many blind people is noted as a signal to others that they are a tool for a blind person. In this sense, sunglasses in some contexts, such as those worn indoors, serve as an easily noticed and popular indication for distance visual impairment.

Similarly, some blind people wear sunglasses for the benefit of others. As explained by this blind gentleman, sighted people often find it uncomfortable or awkward to converse with a blind person because it is potentially difficult or impossible for the blind individual to maintain proper eye contact. Wearing dark sunglasses partially solves this problem. In that case, the blind person simply needs to look in the general direction of the person speaking to make it appear that they are making normal eye contact.

A more personal reason why some blind people choose to wear sunglasses is to hide certain deformities.

As discussed by blind author Belo Cipriani, after being without sight for a few months, I soon met people whose scars, shrunken or deformed in some way. However, they still had some level of vision – whether it was light perception or motion – and prosthetics would have eliminated useful sight. In social settings, they keep their eyes open to the public.

It should be noted that some blind people feel a desire to “look the part” by wearing glasses to conform to the accepted stereotype of a blind person wearing sunglasses. Statements like this are really common:

I often found people in public telling me I was faking it. I was not comfortable enough with my blindness to have any witty responses and, at the time, it was easier to comply

So, to summarize, while the reasons vary from person to person, when you get a little bit away from the specifics of the answer, in a very general sense, blind people mostly have historically worn sunglasses for the same basic reasons that sighted people do – to protect their eyes and for aesthetic reasons. It’s just that blind people’s eyes often need a little more protection and there are other visual reasons for many blind individuals wearing sunglasses rather than looking fashionable or stylish.

So this is historically; what about the emerging future?

As technology has advanced recently on the mobile computing front, blind people are starting to see new reasons to wear some form of glasses.

For example, in 2015 Vision Technologies began beta testing smart glasses with a built-in camera and headset. The device, in combination with the user’s cell phone, continuously scans the environment and audibly updates the wearer on anything important.

This software includes facial recognition algorithms that tell the wearer if the camera sees someone the user has stored in their memory as an individual they know. It can also be set to remind the wearer how they know the person, along with other pertinent details about them.

As well as practically, it also recognizes objects like a refrigerator or a bus stop, allowing the individual to know if they are nearby.

On the latter point, it can even read markers on an approaching bus, so the wearer knows if the bus is the one they want to board. Beyond that, it can read any text from a product label, book, sign or the like, among many other features.

Needless to say, as technology and software continue to advance rapidly, this sort of thing is likely to see more and more blind people wearing eyeglasses, both of the tinted and non-tinted variety, wherever they go.

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