A glass darkly
August 10, 2008 9:21 PM   Subscribe

When and why did it become the convention that blind people would wear dark glasses? Would the purpose be to hide the eyes or to act as a signifier of blindness? Is it something that is done less these days and what are the reasons why?
posted by Artw to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Part of it is often to hide "weird" eyes - ones that point in different directions, for example, or jerk around uncontrollably.

It also serves as a signifier of visual impairment, much as the white cane does. (Canes are often used to detect obstacles, but are also carried as a signal to the sighted, and there are shorter canes for those whose impairment isn't enough to require using it to check terrain, but who want to identify themselves to others as visually impaired.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:29 PM on August 10, 2008

Some blind people have funky looking eyes so they probably don't want to freak people out and I think it helps ID them as blind or they are just so cool that the sun doesn't shine on them at night.
posted by BrnP84 at 9:29 PM on August 10, 2008

errrrr, does shine on them....
posted by BrnP84 at 9:29 PM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: NFB member on this question. Here, here.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 PM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: I have a family member who's legally blind, and his eyes definitely look strange, pointing in different directions a bit and generally looking slightly off-color. For that reason, plus light sensitivity, he wears sunglasses whenever he's out in public. It's not so much that he doesn't want to "freak people out" as that he doesn't want to be judged or ridiculed or otherwise treated differently because of his eyes. To some extent that's probably always going to happen anyway, but I think the sunglasses serve as a sort of psychological shield, too.
posted by limeonaire at 9:43 PM on August 10, 2008

It also serves to protect the eyes from injury. A blind person can suffer extreme injury from branches and other daily hazards that sighted people instinctively avoid.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:44 PM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: I'm only what they politely refer to as "partially sighted," which means my vision has uncorrectable errors-- retinal scarring, for instance-- but I'm not blind. I wear dark polarized glasses all the time because of damage to my left pupil that's left it incapable of adjusting to bright light. Glare is just about intolerable to me and leaves very persistent afterimages, and bright lights reduce my visual acuity.

My left eye also points at my nose all the time, which might be unnerving to mundanes, but I have to admit that it's never occurred to me to hide my eyes for the public's comfort. I wear these, and my drover hat with the nice wide dark brim, because they increase my comfort and let me get around without cringing every time I step out of the house in sunny Southern California. Anything else is gravy.

I *did* run facefirst into a wall in my exceptionally-dark office once, though. That was because the maintenance guy behind me could not stop exclaiming, loudly, on how I was Wearin' My Sunglasses Inside, and in trying to brush him off with a "I do, and it's for a specific medical reason," I ran into the wall. Occupational hazards they don't teach you about in film school. :)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:00 PM on August 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine is effectively blind though not 100% so. She finds the, say, 0.1% of "normal" vision she has to be useless and distracting, therefore better to just block it off with opaque glasses and rely on her other senses.
posted by randomstriker at 1:08 AM on August 11, 2008

Best answer: I lived with a blind guy for a few months who told me it was becoming less common for blind people to wear dark glasses. Certainly, none of the three guys I knew at the time wore 'em, and all three had somewhat unusual eyes. He referred to it (wearing the glasses, that is) as "blind chic", so I'd guess there's politics and history and maybe real or perceived stigma involved. All three of these guys used the long cane, so the glasses wouldn't be any more of a "hey, I'm blind" signal than that.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:00 AM on August 11, 2008

Some blind people have had their eyes removed and for various reasons don't use glass ones.
posted by brujita at 5:14 AM on August 11, 2008

Best answer: This is really interesting. I'm totally blind myself, but no one has ever commented or said that I should wear sunglasses. I do wonder sometimes though whether I should, because I have no control over my eyes, so people sometimes get freaked out by it if they are not used to it.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 9:13 AM on August 11, 2008

Response by poster: Some great answers here. Anyone got anything on the history of dark glasses?
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on August 11, 2008

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