Some of the following questions and answers are taken from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Website, www.nfb.org, and have been edited and adapted by the Canadian Federation of the Blind for use on our site. Some of the Qs and As were originally developed for children, but they provide an excellent educational tool for all audiences. We may add new Qs and As from time to time, so please check back now and again.

Braille – Q and A

What is Braille?

Braille is a system of raised dots on paper that form letters and words we read with our fingertips. The basic Braille “cell” consists of two columns of three dots. The dots are numbered 1-2-3 from top to bottom on the left side of the cell and 4-5-6 from top to bottom on the right side of the cell. Each Braille letter, word, punctuation mark, number, or musical note can be made up using different combinations of these dots. Blind people write Braille with a Braille writing machine (similar to a typewriter). We also write Braille by using a pointed stylus to punch dots down through paper that is fitted into a Braille slate with rows of small “cells” in it as a guide. (The slate and stylus method of writing Braille compares to writing print with a pen or pencil). As well, people can write Braille using a computer.

How do blind people read Braille?

It takes practice to become a good Braille reader, just as it takes practice to become a good print reader. We learn Braille by feeling the dots in each Braille “cell” and memorizing what the combinations of dots stand for. It is best to learn Braille as a child, even if the child can still read print. That way, the student has had many years of practice and experience to develop good Braille skills by the time he or she becomes an adult. Blind adults can learn Braille through different types of programs or classes. Good Braille readers, like good print readers, can read much faster than they can talk. Today blind people use Braille to take notes in high school and college, to write letters, to read books and magazines, to keep addresses and phone numbers, to keep recipe files, to write books and other materials, and to do the other things sighted people do with print. There are libraries that provide Braille and recorded books and magazines for the blind free of charge.

Who was Louis Braille?

A Frenchman named Louis Braille developed the Braille system of reading and writing when he was a boy. He became blind through an accident, and he discovered that trying to read raised letters was too slow. He wanted a faster way for blind people to read and write. He modeled Braille after a system of codes used by the military, and then he expanded his system.

Employment – Q and A

What kind of work can blind people do?

Just about anything. Here’s a list of some occupations in which blind people are working today, but there are many more. Farmers, lawyers, secretaries, factory workers, drill press and lathe operators, nurses, restaurant managers, child care workers, social workers, computer programmers, insurance salespeople, chemists, homemakers, doctors, gas station attendants, teachers, professors, telephone operators, counselors, maintenance workers and janitors, scientists, engineers, hardware and toy store managers, librarians, beauty operators or cosmetologists, car mechanics and repair people, electrical engineers, stockbrokers, accountants, journalists, communications professionals, physiotherapists and many more. If we believe we can do the job, and if our employer believes we can, we probably can. It is most important for blind people to have the chance to choose whatever job we want, and for the public to give us the opportunity.

What is the employment rate for blind people in Canada?

At this point, no exact statistics exist for the joblessness situation in Canada, but we know it is high. The unemployment rate is around 90 per cent. This high unemployment rate is due to lack of adequate and effective training for blind people, as well as a lack of opportunity. Currently Canada has no specific, concrete or targeted job promotion or job placement programs for blind people. Members of the Canadian Federation of the Blind want to increase the employment of blind Canadians and change what it means to be blind in this country.

Technology – Q and A

How do blind people use a computer and go online?

In this age of technology, blind people can use computers just like sighted people can. We use a variety of adaptive software that make computers accessible for the blind. Some of these programs include screen-reading technology that use a voice synthesizer to read out loud what is on the screen and give continuous verbal feedback. When using this speech software, we do not use a mouse. Instead we use keyboard strokes to activate various commands. For example, instead of clicking on an Internet link, we press enter, and instead of clicking on a menu bar, we press the alt key to get to the same place. Blind people also use programs that provide Braille output that we can read as we use the computer. Other programs produce large print. Some of us also have reading machines, which are scanners that scan print material and convert the text into speech.

Not all blind people have access to this technology because it is expensive. The Federation is working to improve access to computers for blind people. For example, through our Technology Share Program, we restore donated computers and give them to blind people who need the technology. Our members will also help blind people locate funding sources that can sometimes help to fund adaptive equipment.

Blind Parents – Q and A

How do blind parents take care of their children?

Good parenting is determined by competence, love for ones children, and many other factors, not the degree of sight someone has. Sight, by itself, does not make someone a good parent, and blindness, by itself, does not make someone a bad parent. Blind people learn about parenting, just as sighted parents do. Blind parents use techniques that make the job easier, such as: listening carefully to our children’s activities; staying close to them when they are playing outside; using a safety harness on our toddlers when we are on busy roads and in malls; and pulling rather than pushing a baby stroller, so we can use our canes in front as we walk. To learn more about blind parents, please contact the Canadian Federation of the Blind at info@cfb.ca or 1800-619-8789

Helping Blind People – Q and A

Should I help a blind person cross the street?

If a blind person asks you for help, then you may help. You can ask if we need assistance, but understand the answer may be “no.” Blind people, if they have learned to use a cane or dog and travel independently, may not need help. It is important not to grab someone who is blind. If a blind person wants help, we may take your arm, or simply walk beside you. Some blind people may have a harder time hearing the cars and traffic, especially if there is construction or a lot of noise around the area. Then we might want help we might not need other times.

Should I help a blind person to a chair?

The same rules apply here. Some blind people will appreciate help in locating a chair, but some of us can find chairs, tables, and desks on our own. Sometimes a blind person may ask where the chairs or tables are, then go to them on his or her own.

How It Feels To Be Blind – Q and A

How does it feel to be blind?

When people first become blind, they often experience frustration and fear. This is because they have not learned how to do things for themselves as blind people. But once they learn the skills that blind people use, you no longer feel that way. Blind people do the same things as sighted people. We go to school, work, and social activities, and do the things we need to do. We do this naturally, without thinking about being blind. The blindness becomes just another part of who we are. We don’t think about being blind every day, just like sighted people don’t think every day about whether or not they have red or brown hair.

Will I learn more about blindness if I close my eyes or wear a blindfold?

No, it is not a good idea to pretend to be blind. You could get just the opposite impression about what it is like to be blind. You might have a hard time finding things, you might bump into things, you might knock something over, or you might hurt yourself. You might feel frightened, frustrated or confused; then you might think this is what it is like for blind people. But it is not like that for us. Blind people (depending on how long we’ve been blind) have training and experience that you do not have, and we know how to do things (sometimes differently) that you do not. It is easier for us than it would be for you. If you want to learn more about blindness, instead of pretending to be blind, ask a blind friend or acquaintance to talk with you, or contact the Canadian Federation of the Blind at info@cfb.ca or 1800-819-8789

Do blind people feel bad about being blind? Do they like to talk about it?

Most of us are too busy to think about blindness much. We are not ashamed of being blind. Blindness is a respectable characteristic. Most blind people would be glad to answer any questions you have about blindness, just ask us. When someone first loses sight, then he or she might be unhappy. After receiving special help to learn how to do things as a blind person and gaining a more positive attitude about being blind, then a person can learn to feel okay about blindness.

Daily Living – Q and A

How do blind people identify money?

Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, loonies and toonies are easy to tell apart. Most are different sizes. Quarters and dimes have ridges around them, while pennies and nickels are smooth. Loonies have a curved edge and toonies do not. There are many ways that paper money can be identified. Some of us like to keep different bills in separate places in our wallets, especially if it is a larger bill we don’t often carry with us. The most common way to tell paper money apart is to fold the bills in different ways. Each person will have his or her own way of folding them. Maybe a five dollar bill is folded in half the long way, and a ten dollar bill is folded in half the short way. Or the ten is folded twice, or a twenty dollar bill is folded in fourths or not at all. Everyone uses his or her own methods. When we get money back from someone else, we ask which bill is which and then fold it.

How do blind people shop for groceries?

We can identify many kinds of food by touch, such as fruits and vegetables, hot dogs, chicken, and other items. But it is more difficult to identify things like soup cans, cereal boxes and ice cream containers. Many of us like to shop with a friend who will help to find things and can read the different brands and types. Or a blind person might ask a store employee to help find the groceries. Some blind people (especially if they are buying a lot of things) will make a print list for someone else to read, and they will use a Braille list for themselves.

How do blind people cook?

We can use the same gas or electric ovens, microwaves, grills, mixers, food processors, blenders, electric knives, skillets, fryers, crock pots and other kitchen tools and appliances as the sighted use. We can put Braille labels on the microwave touch buttons, and some of us use Braille or a special marking glue to put dots on some of the stove or oven temperature dials. It is easier to use things like measuring cups and spoons that stack with different sizes rather than ones with lines drawn on them. We can tell by the smell, sound, temperature, time of cooking, texture, and consistency how our food is cooking. For people who are newly blind, there are special training programs that can teach people how to cook without vision. (Go to www.nfb.org, for more information about these training programs). Some blind people, just like some sighted people, will enjoy cooking more than others.

How do blind people know what is in the can or package on the shelf?

Many different foods and packages can be identified by the size, shape, or kind of container they come in. It is easy to tell the difference between things like boxes of spaghetti, ketchup bottles, tuna cans, bags of rice or beans, flour, sugar, coffee or tea, chocolate syrup, peanut butter jars and nuts. Things like cans of vegetables or fruit, soups, sauces, cake mixes, and some spices an be labeled in Braille, or a portion of the wrapper can be torn off to tell the tomato soup from the chicken soup. Some blind people write Braille labels on cards and attach them to the can or package with a rubber band; these cards can be reused. We also use smell or taste to tell things apart. Cinnamon smells and tastes different from pepper, and grape jelly smells and tastes different from strawberry. Some of us label our food at the store as we buy them, and some people do this at home with someone who can read the labels. Each blind person will have his or her own way of identifying or labeling packages.

How do blind people tell time?

The faces of some watches open so a blind person can feel where the hands are and can feel Braille dots at the different hour points. Some watches talk and speak the time. Many talking clocks have different types of alarms that we use in our home, in our office, or when we travel. For people who can read some print, there are also clocks and watches with large print faces.

Clothing And Hair – Q and A

How do blind people identify their clothes?

Most articles of clothing have at least one distinct way of identifying them by feel. They have different buttons, snaps, bows, ties, or the fabrics or textures are different. Some dresses and skirts have belts or elastic at the waist or different kinds of pockets. We might know the red shirt is the one with the funny-shaped buttons, or the blue pants are the ones with no pockets. We can tell the blouse with the fuzzy collar is green and matches the green pants with the belt that feels like rope. In this way, we tell our clothes apart by touch, and we can tell what clothes match each other. Occasionally more than one shirt, blouse or tie feel alike. Some blind people mark their clothes in a special way to tell them apart. These methods include: using tags meant for sewing in Braille labels; a safety pin to identify a black pare of jeans; a button sewed on the tag of a blue suit and a cut-out corner on the tag of a gray sweater. Some people make a list of the suits, shirts, ties, and other clothes that feel alike and match them with each other by using Braille numbers and letters attached to each piece of clothing. When we buy something at the store or when someone gives us clothes as a gift, we usually ask somebody to describe the item(s).

How do blind people recognize colours?

Some of us are able to see colours. Sometimes a blind person might have enough vision to see all colours, or maybe he or she can only tell bright colours. Some of us can see some colours but not all of them, or we might have a hard time telling blue or black or brown apart, or pink from white. Some blind people do not see any colours.

How does a blind man shave or tie a necktie?

Blind men do these things by feel. With practice, shaving and tying ties become habit and routine. Men can feel where they need to shave, and if they have beards or mustaches, they can feel where to trim them. Actual shaving techniques, such as how long to make each stroke or what angle to use, or what types of shaving products to use, are a matter of personal choice and are the same for men whether they are blind or sighted. Tying ties can take practice for sighted people too. Once blind men learn the kinds of knots and appropriate lengths, they can tie a tie easily.

How does a blind woman put on make-up and do her hair?

With some practice in the beginning, blind women can do their make-up and hair just like sighted women. It is often helpful to work with someone who can show us some techniques when we are first learning. We can feel the different ways of drying, curling, or styling our hair. We can feel when the hair is right, or if we have missed a spot. We can apply make-up by touch, by feeling the places where we want the make-up to be. Some of us learn the colours that are best for us by asking people whose opinions we trust, until we discover what we like best. Like sighted women, some blind women like wearing make-up and styling their hair more than others.

Blind Children – Q and A

Where do blind children go to school?

In the past most blind children went away from home to attend residential schools for the blind. Now most blind children attend school in their home districts. Blind children in public schools are in regular classrooms; they are visited regularly by itinerant teachers of the blind who provide support in the class if needed. Blind children use many tools that help them to be independent in school, such as Braille and large print materials, talking books, talking computers and white canes.

What support is available for parents of blind children?

It is important for parents of blind children to get together and share common experiences, challenges and concerns. A sense of shared community and companionship help promote a positive parenting experience. Getting blind children together also helps. When blind children meet other blind children, they get a chance to play and learn from one another and increase their self confidence through being part of a group of other children similar to them. The Canadian Federation of the Blind will assist parents of blind children to set up support networks and contact one another. Please contact us at: info@cfb.ca or 1800-619-8789. Other invaluable resources include: NFB’s National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and NFB Camp (a camp for blind and sighted children held during the NFB US national conventions). To find out more about NOPBC and NFB camp, go to nfb.org

How do you raise a blind child?

The most important thing to remember as a parent or teacher of a blind child is that blind children are normal children. In our current system, intervention that occurs toward blind children often causes parents and the blind children themselves to feel they are not normal and that they require expert intervention to succeed. The message here is that if professionals don’t do something to intervene in the development of blind children, lack of vision will take its devastating toll on development. Instead, the Canadian Federation of the Blind believes that blind children will develop normally given suitable expectations. If taught Braille, cane travel, and other blindness skills, and treated as normal children in a can-do and positive environment, blind children will flourish. For more information about blind children, please contact the Canadian Federation of the Blind at Info@cfb.ca or 1800-619-8789.

Getting Around – Q and A

Why do some blind people use dogs and others use canes for travel?

Using a guide dog or a cane is a matter of personal choice. Some blind people like using canes better, and some like using dogs. The most important thing is that we are able to go wherever we want, whenever we want, independently.

How do blind people get around?

We go from one place to another in a variety of ways. Using a long white cane when we walk allows us to find steps, curbs, streets, driveways, doorways, bicycles, elevators, escalators, people, chairs, tables, desks, or any other object or place. The cane is long enough to be about two steps ahead of our feet as we walk, so we find things with our cane before we get to them. There are canes of all sizes, including small ones for children and long ones for tall people. CFB members use NFB-style canes. These canes differ from the usual canes used by blind Canadians. Our canes are longer and all white in colour. The extra length makes it easier to locate objects and makes the canes more visible. As members of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, we carry our white canes with pride.

Some of us like to use a guide dog to get around. These dogs are especially trained to move around things, go through doorways, and stop at curbs and stairs. When we hear it is safe to cross the street, we will tell the dog to go ahead. And when we get to the address of the restaurant or business, the dog will find the door. The blind person using the dog is always in charge and must tell the dog what to do.

How do blind people know where they are?

We use many cues to help us find addresses and places. Learning to locate specific addresses is an important part of getting around. In addition, we can locate places by looking for things like: the second driveway on the right, the third set of stairs on the left, or the house with the wooden fence along the sidewalk. We can also look for the large tree in the front, the signpost, or a special kind of door. We keep track of where we are and where we are going by using directions such as north, south, east, or west, and by using other cues, such as a busy one-way street, an empty lot, or a schoolyard. These kinds of landmarks can help blind people travel from one place to another. And if it is a place we go to often, like home or work, we become familiar with it.

How does a blind person know when to cross the street?

We can tell when it’s safe to cross the street by listening to the sounds of the traffic. If there is a light at the intersection, it is easy to hear when the cars going across in front of us begin to slow down and stop, and when the cars along the side of us start to move. Then we know the light has changed and we have the green light to cross. We can start to listen for this when we are a half a block away. If there is no light, we listen for any cars coming.

What kind of transportation do blind people use?

Blind people use a variety of types of transportation. When the distance is short, we walk. We also take busses, often counting the stops or judging by various landmarks where we are. Many of us ask the bus driver to let us know when we have reached a particular destination. WE also take cabs, particularly if we want to get somewhere quickly, or if we have a lot to carry. Blind people also get rides from friends, family members and spouses. However, it is important for blind people not to take advantage of people’s generosity in driving and offer to compensate drivers for gas or make some other financial arrangement. Some blind people own their own cars and hire a driver or get a volunteer to drive them around in exchange for use of the car. Almost any arrangement is possible. It just takes creativity.

Understanding More About Blind People – Q and A

Do blind people want to be able to see?

The answer to this question is as diverse as blind people are diverse. We value sight and appreciate its benefits. But most of us don’t think about being able to see that often. We like who we are, and are proud of what we have accomplished as blind people. Once you are used to being blind, it is just a normal way of being, like having red hair, or long legs.

Are blind people amazing?

Sometimes we are amazing, and sometimes we aren’t, but we are no more or less amazing than sighted people performing the same activities. The reality is that we are a diverse group of people with as wide a range of abilities as any other group. Just like sighted people, we learn how to do things. Whether we are skiing, swimming, going to school, working in a profession, or reading a book, we have learned to do these things as blind people.

Are blind people’s other senses better because they are blind?

Blind people’s senses, hearing, touch, taste and smell, are not innately or biologically different from anyone else’s. We use our other senses; thus, we become adept at taking in information in these ways. The key word is use; the more one uses something, the more fine-tuned it becomes.

Sports – Q and A

Do blind people play games or cards?

Yes. It is easy to put Braille on decks of cards, including cards for games like Uno. Some cards have large numbers and letters for people who use large print. Blind people play board games such as Scrabble, which has Braille letters and a board with raised or tactile squares. We also play Backgammon, chess or checkers, which contain pieces made of different textures, shapes, and colours to tell them apart. We can put Braille on Monopoly cards and the Monopoly board. For games with dice, like Yahtzee, we use dice with dots we can feel and count. Not all games have to be made especially for the blind. We can easily play many store-bought games without any alterations. Sometimes we just have to be creative and think of ways to use the same games sighted people play.

How do blind people play sports and do physical activity?

Blind people can do most of the same sports that sighted people can do, such as hiking, running, swimming, rowing, horseback riding, skiing and dancing. Sometimes we do these activities with the assistance of a guide to help us with directions. For example, blind runners often hold onto someone’s arm as they run. Blind skiers usually ski in front of a guide as the guide calls out directions from behind. Sometimes blind swimmers, especially those in competitive sport, get tapped on the head when they get close to the edge of the pool, and then they know it is time to turn around. Blind bike riders often ride tandem bicycles; we sit in the back seat, or stoker position and peddle, while the sighted rider, or pilot sits in front peddling and steering.

Some sports are especially designed for blind people. For example, Goal Ball involves a ball the size of a basket ball, filled with bells. Players stand in positions similar to those in soccer (defense, goalie etc). Players wear padding and dive onto the floor to stop the ball with their bodies. When they get the ball, they throw it back to the opposing team to try and score a goal. The opposing team then tries to block the on-coming ball. Some of us play a sport called Showdown, which is a game like ping pong. The ball is plastic and filled with beads. Players bat it back and forth on the Showdown table with their paddles and try to score a point by getting the ball in the hole on the other side of the table.

Blind people do many physical activities completely independently, including walking, weight lifting, recreational swimming, water skiing, working out at the gym, dancing and many other sports.