Straightforward Answers About Blindness

For more information about any of the following items, please visit our website at, email us at [email protected], call us at 410-659-9314, or write to us at National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street, at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

1.  What is the National Federation of the Blind?

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the largest organization of the blind in the world. Founded in 1940, the Federation's purpose is to help blind people achieve self-confidence, self-respect, and self-determination. Our goal is the complete integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality.

With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind has affiliates in all fifty states, in the District of Columbia, and in Puerto Rico. We come together in local, state, and national meetings to support and encourage one another and to plan activities for our future.

2.  Does the NFB publish any magazines or literature? 

Absolutely. The NFB is responsible for the following publications: 

The Braille Monitor: This magazine is published eleven times a year and covers blindness-related events, activities, and issues. 

Future Reflections: This is a quarterly magazine published by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (a division of the NFB) that offers parents and teachers a multitude of resources and information based on the positive philosophy of the NFB.

Both of these publications are available in print, in audio formats, and via email subscription. The text is also on our website, and the more recent issues of these publications are available as audio downloads. The Braille Monitor is also available in Braille.

In addition, the NFB publishes and distributes many speeches, reports, books, and other pieces of literature to inform the public about the true nature of blindness and about current issues of significant interest to the blind.

3.  Does the NFB have any types of large meetings annually? 

Yes, indeed we do!  Blind people from all over the United States, as well as many foreign countries, participate in the National Federation of the Blind national convention. Approximately 3,000 blind persons attend this annual event, which is held in different cities each year during the week of July 4. All of our thirty divisions and twenty-eight committees hold meetings during the convention; Mark Riccobono (our newly-elected President) gives a stimulating Presidential Report, presides over all the general sessions, and delivers a powerful Banquet Speech; governmental officials and heads of blindness-related organizations and companies speak of new developments and interesting topics; over $120,000 in national scholarships are given out to thirty blind students attending college; close to 100 exhibitors display their products and wares in the exhibit hall; numerous social events occur; and much more. The national convention is a life-changing experience for blind people of all ages—one not to be missed!  In addition, all fifty-two NFB affiliates (all fifty states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC) hold their own annual state conventions that focus on more local issues. Finally, each February, hundreds of Federationists attend the Washington Seminar in our nation's capital. This is a week of workshops and committee meetings where blind participants have an opportunity to educate Congress on issues of importance to the NFB.  

4.  What is the NFB's Jernigan Institute I've heard so much about? 

On January 30, 2004, the NFB opened the Jernigan Institute, a research and training center directed by the blind with the mission of developing innovative technology, education, products and services that will expand opportunities for the blind. Some of the NFB programs offered by the Institute include:   

  • The National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS)—A national initiative to improve opportunities for blind youth in science, technology, engineering, and math subjects and careers. The NCBYS Web portal,, and dynamic summer science academies are the cornerstones of this initiative. 
  • Braille Initiative—In order to improve Braille literacy and spark best practices in Braille instruction, a number of programs are offered to children and adults. Examples include the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest, Braille Pals Reading Club, and the Braille Enrichment through Literacy and Learning (BELL) program. 
  • Youth Outreach—The Institute develops model programs in mentoring and youth leadership that can be implemented in local NFB affiliates. Additionally, a variety of youth training and enrichment opportunities are available to blind young people at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. 
  • Parent Outreach—By providing information and support to parents of blind children, the Institute creates a climate of opportunity for blind children across the country.
  • Jacobus tenBroek Library—A one of a kind research library on blindness with a collection of print and Braille books, artifacts, archives and manuscripts, and other materials dealing with the blind, blindness, and the organized blind movement. 
  • NFB Independence Market—The NFB distributes blindness-related literature, resources, and products helpful to those who are blind or experiencing vision loss and to their friends and families. Helpful products such as white canes, Braille and talking watches and clocks, Braille and print writing aids, magnifiers, and other devices that enhance the independence of the blind may be purchased. 
  • Possibilities for Seniors Losing Vision—A model program developed at the Institute and being conducted across the country in local NFB affiliates to provide resources, practical techniques for living with blindness, and a network of blind peers and role models. 
  • Technology Innovation—The Institute provides consultation, evaluation, and assistance with the development of technologies and their accessibility to the blind. Efforts include operation of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, a consumer electronics accessibility initiative, maintenance of an accessible consumer electronics resource guide, and the Nonvisual Access Certification Program. 

Learn more about our work by visiting us on the NFB website and sign up for our e-newsletter by sending an email to [email protected].

5.  How do I find a blind mentor?

Many of our members serve as mentors to those who are new to blindness and the National Federation of the Blind. You can find mentors by getting involved in a local NFB chapter or state affiliate. 

6. Does the NFB offer scholarships?

Each year the National Federation of the Blind awards over $120,000 in national scholarships to blind university and college students.  Scholarships are presented at the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind held each July.

7.  Am I really blind? 

Some people use terms such as visually impaired or low vision instead of blind. However, the National Federation of the Blind uses the term blind for all people, regardless of their visual acuity, who need to use alternative techniques to accomplish the same thing that a sighted person can do using eyesight. Individuals experiencing severe vision loss may find it helpful to learn some nonvisual ways of accomplishing everyday tasks, if they are struggling with visual methods. It is estimated that only 20 percent of blind people are totally blind. Most blind people have some remaining vision. The legal definition of blindness is visual acuity of not greater than 20/200 in the better eye with correction or a field not subtending an angle greater than 20 degrees. In everyday language this means that a blind person sees about 10 percent of what a sighted person can see.

8.  Can I do the same things I did before I went blind? 

Most likely. With proper training and talking with other blind people about what alternative techniques they use on the job, in the kitchen, getting to and from places, and so on, you will find that just about everything you did before, you can do now. Please contact one of our three excellent rehabilitation training centers for further information: BLIND, Incorporated (in Minnesota) at 800-597-9558,; Colorado Center for the Blind at 800-401-4632,; or Louisiana Center for the Blind at 800-234-4166,

9.  I'm a senior losing vision. Do I have to give up the things I like to do?

Not at all. Many of the things we think require sight really don't. You might garden, knit, sew, cook or barbeque, read recorded books, play board games, take a dance class, entertain family and friends, watch your grandchildren, do arts and crafts, go hiking—live your life to the fullest! For many years the NFB has held a very popular Possibilities Fair for Seniors Who Are Losing Vision at its national headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. This Fair allows blind and visually impaired seniors to learn about resources and examine helpful aids and appliances that include our low vision resource kit and meet and talk with other seniors from around the country. Our affiliates in other states have also hosted such resource fairs. 

10.  I'm really worried about my vision loss. Will I be okay?

We realize that losing your vision is frightening at first, but we are here to help you. The National Federation of the Blind is comprised of blind people (who are experiencing all levels of vision loss) working together to improve the lives of the blind today and in the future. Each of our fifty-two state affiliates is made up of local chapters that hold monthly meetings. These meetings are a significant source of support and information. All of the NFB's seventeen-member board of directors are blind, and each president and vice president in our affiliates and chapters must be blind or legally blind. That is why we are the National Federation of the Blind instead of the National Federation for the Blind. 

11. How can I get around independently? 

The National Federation of the Blind believes the meaning of independence for a blind person is getting wherever whenever you want to go in the most efficient way with the least amount of inconvenience to others. Using a long white cane when you walk allows you to locate 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 your feet as you walk, so you find things with your cane before you get to them. There are canes of all sizes, including very small ones for children and long ones for tall people.

You may want 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 you hear that it is safe to cross the street, you tell the dog to go ahead. When you get to the address of the restaurant or business, the dog will find the door. When you use a guide dog, you are always in charge and must tell the dog what to do. The NFB produces many articles on independent travel for the blind.

12.  What kinds of jobs do blind people have? 

Contrary to general belief, there really are very few jobs which blindness itself rules out. There are blind persons working as electricians, auto mechanics, attorneys, carpenters, dishwashers, secretaries, office and corporate managers, teachers and professors, real estate agents, plumbers, computer and technology specialists, actors and broadcasters and producers, and in thousands of other jobs.

Even though this is true, the number of working age legally blind adults who are employed is only approximately 30 percent. This is so for two main reasons: First, most blind people have not received the kind of training in specialized skills (especially Braille and mobility) which is necessary for them to be competent employees. Second, and equally important, some blind people themselves, employers, and members of the general public do not believe that a blind employee can do work as productively as a sighted person can. The employment situation for blind people will only improve to the extent that good training is received and beliefs and attitudes are changed. This, of course, is what the National Federation of the Blind is working to accomplish.

13.  Is there a device that can read print and is easy to carry around with me?  

Now there is! The NFB helped to develop the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader Mobile, a device that places the functionality of a reading machine into a multifunctional cell phone. With the touch of a button, this new technology converts a picture of print into the spoken word, all the while combining convenience and portability. Call Michael Hingson at (415) 827-4084 for more information. 

14.  I miss reading the newspaper. Can I still read it?

Yes, you can—but not with your eyes. NFB-NEWSLINE® provides the content of over 300 local and national newspapers and magazines (six of them in Spanish) to the blind without charge in an electronic format accessible by touch-tone telephone and the Internet twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For more information call NFB-NEWSLINE® at 866-504-7300 or visit

15.  I'm a parent of a blind child. How can I make sure his/her educational and other needs are met? 

The NFB has a very active National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) Division. We strongly believe that every blind child is entitled to the same education that every sighted child receives. This includes learning Braille if he or she wants or needs it. 

The purpose of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is to:

  • Create a climate of opportunity for blind children in home and society.
  • Provide information and support to parents of blind children.
  • Facilitate the sharing of experience and concerns among parents of blind children.
  • Develop and expand resources available to parents and their children.
  • Help parents of blind children gain understanding and perspective through partnership and contact with blind adults.

16.  What help is there for a blind diabetic? 

Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness today. Our Diabetes Action Network (an NFB division) educates, empowers and inspires people living with diabetes and its complications. Through our peer network and publications we share strategies and technology advice to manage our complications. We help each other overcome our obstacles and self-manage our diabetes with confidence. We share our personal success stories to show everyone that we can thrive despite our complications. We challenge one another to live our best and fullest lives. The NFB Diabetes Action Network can help.

17.  What is Braille? 

Named after its creator, Louis Braille, it is a system of making raised dots on paper to form letters and words that are read by the blind with their 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. Braille can be written with a Braillewriter. It can also be written by using a pointed stylus to punch dots down through paper using a Braille slate with rows of small 'cells' in it as a guide. This method of writing Braille compares to writing print with a pen or pencil.

18.  Can I use a computer? How about the Internet? 

Yes and yes. You can get just about any item or service online these days.  But your first step is getting a computer and learning how to make it work for you. Our International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) located in Baltimore, Maryland, is a comprehensive evaluation, demonstration, and training center, complete with over $2.5 million worth of nearly all of the tactile and speech output technology now available to the blind. The IBTC serves as a rich resource for vendor-free advice on all aspects of access technology.

Our technology staff can assist you with recommendations before you purchase your computer hardware and accessible software as well as inform you about resources for further training. There are a number of screen reading and screen enlargement software programs that enable blind people to read what is displayed on a computer screen. Screen reading programs allow the user to navigate through the text displayed on the screen by various elements such as by character, line, sentence, paragraph, screen, page, etc. The speed, tone, pitch, and volume of the speech output can also be controlled by the user. With such software you can do word processing, use spreadsheets and databases, read email, and surf the web. Many websites are accessible to the blind, but some are not. The National Federation of the Blind is striving to make sure that eventually all websites will comply with the mandates already set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have every website accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

19.  What special items are available for blind people? 

Quite a quantity! At our Independence Market we offer long white canes, Braille and talking watches and clocks, household items, talking calculators, talking thermometers and other medical devices, check-writing guides and other low-vision writing and record-keeping aids, Braille writing and labeling aids, games, balls, playing cards, magnifiers, digital recording devices, books, numerous publications, and much more. 

20.  What is the White Cane Law? 

Each state has a law that says blind people using canes or guide dogs have the same rights of public access as the sighted. This means that blind people can take their canes and guide dogs into public buildings, businesses, offices, restaurants, theaters, roller skating arenas, bowling alleys, amusement parks, on buses, trains, planes, and other public places. In all fifty states, the law requires drivers to yield the right of way when they see an extended white cane. Only the blind may carry white canes. You see more blind persons today walking alone, not because there are more of us, but because we have learned to make our own way.

21.  How can I identify money? 

Rather easily. Coins are different sizes. Quarters and dimes have ridges around them, while pennies and nickels are smooth. 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; there is no standard for everyone. When you get money back from someone else, ask which bill is which'and then fold it.

22.  Will I be able to do my grocery shopping by myself? 

If you did your own shopping before you lost your vision, there's no reason why you can't do it now. Many grocery stores offer online shopping and home delivery. Call your local grocer to see if home delivery is available in your area.  If home delivery is not available, usually most grocery stores (especially during the less busy hours) are willing to assign an employee to accompany you around the store and assemble your order as you direct. You may also choose to shop with a friend or relative. Once you get the items home, be systematic as you place the groceries on your shelves. Plan where to keep each kind of item, and be consistent.  If containers cannot easily be distinguished by touch, label them in Braille, use cards and rubber bands, or figure out a system that works for you.  Be creative—you will find a way to succeed.

23.  What library services are available to me? 

Every state has free library reading materials for blind individuals provided through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress. If you cannot read ordinary print because of poor eyesight or because of a physical disability such as being unable to turn a page, you are eligible to get Braille, large print, or recorded books through this service. Contact the NFB, your local library, or call the NLS toll-free number, 800-424-9100, for more information.

24.  Do I qualify for any Social Security benefits? 

That depends. If you have paid into the Social Security system, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If you have little or no regular income or savings you may qualify for monthly payments under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Contact your local Social Security office for applications. We follow the changes in the Social Security laws and regulations closely, so don't hesitate to call us.

25.  What is vocational rehabilitation?

Every state has an agency that is responsible for helping the blind to find employment. These agencies are required by law to work with a blind person in a cooperative way to help the person train for, find, and get the kind of employment he or she wants. If the services a blind person needs are not available in the state where the blind person is located, the agency must help get services from somewhere else if an eligible blind person so desires.

26.  Are there any points of courtesy that will encourage sighted people to feel more comfortable and at ease around me? 

Yes.  We call these the 'Courtesy Rules of Blindness.'  Here they are:

1. I'm an ordinary person, who happens to be blind. You can talk to me as you would anyone else--no need to raise your voice. If you have a question, please address me directly rather than asking my companion.

2. I may use a long white cane or a guide dog to walk independently. If I use a guide dog, please don’t pet, feed, or play with my dog without my permission. If I’m in an unfamiliar place, I may ask you for directions or assistance. Please don't grab my arm, my cane, or my dog. If I need to and if you don’t mind, I'll ask to take your arm just above the elbow and keep a half-step behind to anticipate curbs and steps.

3. When I am in a room, I like to know who else is there. Please speak or introduce yourself when you enter.

4. Please keep in mind that a door left partially open, particularly to an overhead cabinet or a car, is a potential hazard to me.

5. I do not have trouble with ordinary table skills. At meals, I can serve myself and pass items to other diners, so please don’t reach over or past me. Just let me know what’s being offered and I’ll take it from there.

6. There is no need to avoid words like "see” or “look.” I use them too—for example, I watch television.

7. Blindness is just the loss of sight. My sense of smell, touch, and/or hearing did not improve when I became blind. I simply rely on them more than you might and, therefore, may gather more information through those senses than you do.

8. If I'm your houseguest, there is no need to be extra attentive or to move any furniture; I’ll use my cane and other senses to find things or I will ask for your help.

9. I'll discuss blindness with you if you're curious, but feel free to talk to me about anything that interests you. I have as many other interests as you do.

10. In all 50 states, the law requires drivers to yield the right of way when they see my extended white cane or guide dog. Only the blind may legally carry white canes. Normally I can hear the sound of traffic and will behave like any other pedestrian. If you drive a hybrid or electric vehicle, I may not hear your car approach, so exercise caution and use the horn if needed. You see more blind persons today walking alone, not because there are more of us, but because we have learned to make our own way.


For more information about blindness, please contact the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at 410-659-9314 or send an email to [email protected].