How I see it … finding the best, replacing them and realising you are promoting a societal stereotype

When some of my acquaintances lose a pair of sunglasses, I hear the phrase, “I will just buy another cheap pair…”. I wish it was that easy and didn’t involve navigating a stereotype.

Over a week ago, I misplaced (likely on the bus) my sunglasses. I did the usual things like phone the bus company and searched my home and office but came up empty-handed each time.

Many reading this probably assume I could buy another pair of the same. I wish that was the case and will go on to explain.

As my vision has decreased, using what I have remaining is extremely important from a safety and quality of life perspective. I have multiple eye conditions, each causing sensitivity to light and glare. Interestingly each condition requires a slightly different tint to provide optimal viewing and finding that perfect fitting and tinted pair of sunglasses is challenging.

My last pair were, in fact, the best I had found. These were the Julbo Explorer 2 High Mountain with dark brown (category 4) spectrum tint. A person recommended this particular model who has low vision and lives in the US. She explained this model decreased glare and the side shields blocked light from getting around the sunglasses.

Although not the most becoming feature, the side shields worked very well. I have had multiple surgeries on my eye, which have altered the shape. I had an emergency iridotomy around 2009 that lets light into my eye through iridotomy, distorting what I see and putting q band of glare into my field of view. While this can not be repaired and occlusive contact lenses to stop this, our unsuccessful sunglasses with side shields made the difference between being able to function outdoors and not being able to.

Julbo Explorer 2.0 with spectron high mountain lens
Photo of the Julbo Explorer 2 with spectrum high mountain category 4 dark brown lens. Photo –

These sunglasses are designed for mountaineering and another particularly useful feature was the built-in venting to stop them streaming up.

There are few places that stock this particular model of sunglasses in New Zealand and those that are out of stock at the time of writing this post.

Did I mention the price – between $270 and $349 and sunglasses of a similar calibre and quality (but so not meet my needs) are around the same price or more.

The part that bothers me about this stereotype is the helplessness people often associate with it, which feeds the negative or deficit construct of disability. I am an independent, strong and articulate person who would ask for help if required. However, for the most part, I adapt and problem solve to function without assistance (other than Guide Dog Sienna, that is) to navigate everyday life.

In society, there is a stereotype of a blind person as needing assistance (helpless, potentially a burden on society etc.), totally blind, and wearing dark sunglasses with either a cane or a guide dog. I spend much of my life educating people to help them realise that most of the blind community does not match this. In that, blindness is a spectrum and is highly individual. Not everyone needs a cane, guide dog or sunglasses. As an example, I can function without these things. However, wearing sunglasses reduces pain and glare while using a cane or guide dog, keeps me safe and all reduces the visual fatigue from navigating and adapting to an environment that is designed for those with sight.

I was surprised that the thought processes associated with a stereotype of a blind person held by some of our society have crept into my journey to buy new sunglasses. With this in mind, I would like to share my perception of my disability as a contrast.

My disabilities do not define me; they are something I navigate to contribute successfully to society. Yes, navigating an environment built for those with good vision is difficult, fatiguing and frustrating at times, and often tasks that rely on vision take me longer to complete, but it doesn’t stop me from participating or contributing.

However, living with a disability has also given me opportunities, such as an understanding and lived experience. Coupled with skills such as being a health care professional, educator, researcher and computer scientist allows me to provide multiple contexts while advocating for myself and others to improve our environment and societal perceptions of disability.

Back to the sunglasses, if I could afford and somehow import the same model I had, I would. However, my investigations found this to be challenging in an adequate timeframe. As I am finding glare challenging without my sunglasses, I have spent most of the day in many suburbs across Auckland trying on different makes and models of sunglasses to find a pair that meets my needs.

Form and function are hard to match. The best lenses I could find were in a sport/cycling pair of sunglasses by Oakley, the Jawbreaker model, which would not have been suitable to wear to the office or formal functions. The more formal or traditional sunglasses did not provide the coverage required. The best model so far is the Oakley Clifton Deep Water sailing as they have removable side shields and excellent lenses – the downside is the cost of $379.

Oakley Cliften Sunglasses picture from website listed in caption.
Oakley Clifden Translucent Blue (Deep Water lens) – Photo –

So the search for sunglasses continues and I am looking forward to finding the perfect pair.

A blog post would not be complete without a photo of Guide Dog Sienna, so below is a picture of her trying to lay in a tiny piece of the sun coming through a coffee shop window while we took a break from sunglasses shopping.

Guide Dog Sienna in her harness laying in the sun.
Sienna is enjoying the sun in a cafe today.

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