Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Social Lives of Canadian Youths with Visual Impairments

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Social Lives of Canadian Youths with Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

Abstract: This survey of the social and leisure experiences of Canadian youths with visual impairments found that, in general, youths with low vision experienced more social challenges than did their peers who were blind. Levels of social support were not found to differ on the basis of level of vision, sex, or age.


Adolescence is the stage at which youths separate from their families of origin and seek their own identities (Erikson, 1959). To fulfill this developmental goal, adolescents increasingly look to their peers for social interaction, learning, and support. Studying the social lives of youths with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) permits a greater understanding of an important aspect of their development. Previous studies have indicated that young adults with visual impairments are at risk of becoming more socially isolated the longer they are out of school (Kirchner, McBroom, Nelson, & Graves, 1992; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Garza, & Levine, 2005; Wolffe & Sacks, 1997). This tendency toward social isolation is also reflected in the findings of the first National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS), in which the researchers discovered that only approximately 40% of youths with visual impairments participated in community activities (Valdes, Williamson, & Wagner, 1990). In addition, studies have consistently shown that these young people are also more likely than are their peers who are sighted or have other disablities to continue to live with their families after they have finished school (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009; Wagner et al., 2005; Wolffe & Sacks, 1997).

According to MacCuspie (1996), the limited ability of youths who are visually impaired to learn spontaneously or incidentally extends to learning in the social domain. Other researchers have suggested that such behaviors as self-centeredness, unresponsiveness to the concerns and interests of others, unusual language patterns, and a preference for interaction with adults are common for children with visual impairments (see, for example, Sacks, Kekelis, & Gaylord-Ross, 1992; Wolffe, 2000). Difficulties associated with having poor social skills are compounded in adolescence, when youths who are visually impaired must face not only the usual life challenges that are associated with this developmental period, but additional challenges that are associated with their visual impairments. According to Rosenblum (2000), these challenges may include the lack of peers or role models who are visually impaired, their impairment becoming more apparent, discomfort in discussing their impairment, and challenges in building relationships stemming from their impairment. A visual impairment may also have a negative effect on a youth's social status; thus, youths may be tolerated but not necessarily truly accepted by their peers (MacCuspie, 1996) or may be teased because of their impairment (Rosenblum, 2000).

Sacks et al. (1992, 2006) stated that training in social skills is important for youths with visual impairments. They suggested that if children do not develop a foundation of skills for social interaction in the early years, their ability to succeed as adults in both their work and their personal lives may be affected. However, developing these skills may be challenging, perhaps because of the lack of contextual cues and the "lack of honest feedback from interactants, inappropriate behaviors of sighted people, and negative attitudes toward visual impairment in society" (Young-il, 2003, p. 285).

More recently, the advent of Internet-based venues has opened up new opportunities for social interaction (Kendrick, 2007). These venues provide young people who are visually impaired with opportunities to interact socially in an environment that does not require the use or interpretation of nonverbal cues and in which their impairment is not obvious to others. …

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