Meet Olivia

My name is Olivia and I’m a 24 – year – old student who has been blind from birth.  I have an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity and I can only see light.

It can be really difficult making friends when you are visually impaired but I’d suggest finding people with the same interests as you so you’ve got something in common with them.  Maybe if you’re at school or college, you can look for groups to join online or in person.

Introducing yourself

I know it can feel really uncomfortable to introduce yourself to a group of people, but I’d say just go up to them and say who you are, even though it can be scary as you may be unsure how they will react to your vision impairment.  Maybe you could describe how much you can see and then move the conversation to other topics that you both are interested in.

I have a stammer so sometimes it’s really difficult to talk to someone because of how exhausting it can be to keep up a fluent conversation when you’re pausing all the time.  When this happens, I usually tell myself that other people won’t care about my blindness or my stammer, and that they will be able to wait for me to speak, and most of the time I’m able to have a conversation with people. 

If anything embarrassing happens though I just laugh at myself! Around my friends I love to tell blind jokes which we can all laugh at.  If you can make a pun or joke out of being blind then it may help to decrease the discomfort you feel, especially if you and the people you’re with can all laugh about it.

Talking about your VI

I usually describe what I can see as a blind person (for me that’s just light and dark), then if people ask something else I tell them how my eye condition affects me and how I travel (I use a cane and have mobility around my local area).  Maybe also describe what you like about having a visual impairment as well, for me it’s taught me to understand that differences/disabilities are okay and make us unique.

For anyone that feels embarrassed about making blind mistakes, try not to worry about it, I know this is easier said than done of course, but everyone makes mistakes and the people who you want to be your friends, really won’t care if you make a mistake due to your visual impairment, and if they do, they probably aren’t the people who you want to be friends with. 

Also try to find something funny about it, which can be hard in the moment, but if you can laugh about it, it might help you to feel better and maybe you won’t be embarrassed if you make another blind mistake.  It’s really important to realise that even though society either sees blind people as these super human people or as people who can’t do anything, we’re neither and we don’t need to live up to the image of the ‘perfect’ blind person, because that doesn’t exist and it’s okay to make mistakes.

Trying new things

It can be scary to try something you’ve never done before, but it’s always worth it.  In my second year of university, I joined a musical theatre society which turned out to be the best decision as I made wonderful friends and discovered my love for being in musicals, although I never had lines.

It was really scary joining at first because in my first year, I was not in any societies and didn’t really have many friends, so in my second year, I decided I could not continue not socializing and not making friends, so even though it was scary and I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, I joined anyway. 

I’m really glad I did this and I would encourage anyone to join a group or club, even if you think you won’t enjoy it, you might make great friends and try something new that you might never have tried before.  If you don’t enjoy it, you can always leave, knowing that you’ve had that experience and tried something new. 

Communicating your needs

I know this can be really difficult, but it can often be our anxious thoughts and feelings that can stop us from trying new things.  If you’re worried about how new people will handle your visual impairment, explain to them beforehand, and let them know they can ask questions.  Explain what you need help with, if anything and explain how they can do this in a kind manner.  For example, if you prefer to be sighted guided, explain this and explain how you would prefer them to guide you. 

Most sighted people want to make us feel included, they just don’t know how if they’ve never met a blind person before.  If they don’t though, that is not your responsibility to educate them, and you don’t have to stay in that group, because you will find people who want to understand and see you for who you are as a person. 

Also don’t be afraid to ask questions, for example, if you’re joining a sport or something that could be hard to access, ask them how they can accommodate you and find out what access requirements can be in place, so when you join, you can enjoy yourself without worrying if it will be accessible or not.

My final message to you is, don’t be afraid to try new things due to your visual impairment, it may be one of your best decisions.  Also don’t be afraid to talk to people just because you’re worried about how they will react, most people are friendly and want to be inclusive, and you might make great friends as a result

Olivia is taking part in the Uni In Sight campaign with Thomas Pocklington Trust, Deafblind UK and LOOK. You can find out more about this campaign, here.