Blindness is a condition that has affected humans since ancient times. It is a state of being unable to see anything, either completely or partially. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 36 million people worldwide are blind, and the number is expected to triple by 2050. Blindness not only affects individuals but also society as a whole. Earlier this month we sat down on The Caring Economywith blind advocate Itto Outini and her husband Mekiya Outini to better understand some of the facts and fiction surrounding blindness in contemporary society.
Some basic points to share with our audience include:
Fiction: Blindness is caused by looking at the sun.
Fact: Blindness is caused by various factors, including genetics, trauma, infection, and aging. Sunlight can cause temporary or permanent damage to the eyes, but it does not directly cause blindness. However, staring at the sun can cause a condition called solar retinopathy, which damages the retina, the part of the eye that converts light into neural signals. This can cause temporary or permanent vision loss, but it is not the same as blindness.
Fiction: All blind people have the same level of vision loss.
Fact: Blindness is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Some people are completely blind, while others have partial vision loss. Some can see light and shadows, while others cannot. There are also different types of blindness, such as congenital blindness (blindness from birth), acquired blindness (blindness that occurs later in life), and legal blindness (a level of vision loss that qualifies for certain government benefits). Therefore, it is essential to understand that not all blind people experience the same level of vision loss.
Fiction: Blind people have heightened senses of hearing and smell.
Fact: Blindness does not necessarily enhance other senses. Blind people do rely more heavily on their remaining senses, but this does not mean that their senses are necessarily more acute than those of sighted people. Blind people are also capable of developing unique ways of perceiving the world around them, such as echolocation or reading Braille, but this is not due to heightened senses.
Fiction: Blind people cannot live independent lives.
Fact: Blind people can live independent lives with the help of assistive technology and training. Blind people can use a variety of tools, such as screen readers, Braille displays, and text-to-speech software, to access computers and mobile devices. Blind people can also learn how to navigate their environments using a cane or a guide dog. With these tools and skills, blind people can perform everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping, as well as pursue careers and participate in social activities.
Fiction: Blind people are a burden on society.
Fact: Blind people are valuable members of society who can contribute to their communities in various ways. Blind people can work in a wide range of careers, including law, medicine, and technology. Blind people can also volunteer their time and skills to help others, such as by mentoring or tutoring. Blind people can also participate in sports and other recreational activities, such as skiing or rock climbing. Blind people are not a burden on society but rather an essential part of it.
Fiction: Blind people are less intelligent than sighted people.
Fact: Blind people have the same range of intelligence as sighted people. Blindness does not affect cognitive abilities, and blind people can learn and understand complex concepts just like sighted people. Blind people can also excel in academic fields, such as mathematics, science, and literature. Therefore, it is important not to make assumptions about the intelligence of blind people based on their vision loss.
We learn when we sit down with the Outinis that blindness is a complex and multifaceted condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is essential to understand the facts and fictions surrounding blindness to combat stereotypes and misconceptions. Blind people are valuable members of society who can and do contribute to a wide range of ways.
Itto Outini is a woman of many talents – an international journalist, Fulbright scholar, human rights activist, accessibility advocate, and author. Born and raised in Morocco, where she was intentionally blinded by a relative, she has dedicated her life to fighting for social justice and advocating for accessibility and inclusion for all.
Outini is a proud Fulbright scholar, having earned her master’s degree in journalism and strategic media from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She has also honed her journalism skills in both print and radio media, working in both the United States and Morocco.
Outini’s dedication to human rights has led her to work with various organizations and speak at numerous events. She has been invited to speak at prestigious institutions such as Cal Tech University, Verizon Wireless, and North Seattle College. Her speeches often focus on the intersection of human rights, accessibility, and inclusion.
In addition to her advocacy work, Outini is also an accomplished author. Her forthcoming memoir, Blindness is the Light of My Life, chronicles her personal journey with blindness and the obstacles she has overcome to achieve her goals. The memoir is a testament to Outini’s resilience and determination, and her unwavering commitment to accessibility and inclusion.
Outini’s work has not gone unnoticed — she has been the recipient of several awards and recognitions for her advocacy work. In 2018, she was awarded the ‘International Women of Courage’ award by the US Department of State, and in 2019, she was selected as a ‘Changemaker’ by the Global Alliance for Accessible Technologies and Environments.
Her work experience spans the for- and non-profit sectors and includes a stint with the United Nations Development Programme. In 2021, she founded Fulbrighters with Disabilities, a global, virtual chapter of the Fulbright Association dedicated to supporting students and scholars with disabilities around the world. In June of 2022, she made history by co-chairing a panel at the 15th Session of the Conference of State Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That same year, her life story was featured on BBC Outlook, and she and her husband, Mekiya Outini, co-founded The DateKeepers, an international media platform committed to publishing independent journalism, showcasing untold stories, and highlighting well-lived lives, especially those of people with disabilities, advocates, and allies worldwide.
They have worked with local governments and organizations to create accessible transportation options and have also advocated for the creation of more accessible public spaces. They believe that accessibility and inclusion are not only about physical accommodations but also about changing societal attitudes and creating a more inclusive culture.
Itto and Mekiya Outini are a true inspiration to many, showing that with dedication, hard work, and a commitment to social justice, anything is possible. Their work has touched the lives of countless individuals and has created a more accessible and inclusive world for all.
As with all guests on The Caring Economy,Itto Outini and Mekiya Outini exemplifyhow leaders with purpose-driven lives and careers are shaping our contemporary lives for the better.