Most blind people have some level of vision, but what they can see differs from person to person. Some may only see light. Others may see blurry shapes, figures, or colors.

People with total blindness cannot see anything, but it is a misconception that they only see black or darkness. For those who have had blindness from birth, the color black is not something they have seen before, so this does not accurately describe their experience.

There are also alternative ways blind people can see, such as via touch, sound, and Braille.

Keep reading to learn more about what blind people see, the different types of blindness, and adaptations.

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Most blind people can see to some extent. What they can see depends on their level of vision and symptoms. For example, they may have:

  • blurry or clouded vision
  • difficulty distinguishing colors
  • wavy lines or spots in the center of their vision
  • difficulty seeing at night
  • difficulty seeing during the day or in bright light
  • difficulty seeing small or distant things
  • limited peripheral vision

Around 15% of people with eye disorders have total blindness. This means they have no light perception and cannot see anything. However, some still report being able to tell whether a room is light or dark, even though they cannot physically see it. Others report sometimes seeing flashes of light, too.

So, it is a misconception that all people with total blindness only see black. This may be true for some people, but for others, it is impossible to describe what they see in terms of color, as they may never have seen it before.

Yes, blind people can see light. Most blind people have some degree of light perception. How much light they can see, and where it is visible in their field of vision, varies from person to person.

A person with light perception may be able to:

  • tell whether a room is light or dark
  • identify where light is coming from
  • see better more generally in well-lit environments

Some blind people can see colors, but others may see colors as faded or find it difficult to tell colors apart.

People with low vision may find it easier to see solid, bright colors because these reflect the most light. They may struggle more with subtle colors or patterns.

People with total blindness cannot see color, but they may be able to imagine it. People who could previously see color may remember what colors look like, so they can recall them when listening to a person describe something.

People who have had total blindness from birth may understand colors as concepts rather than being able to imagine them.

Blindness vs. color blindness

Despite the name, color blindness is a distinct condition from blindness.

Most people with color blindness can see, but they perceive colors differently from others. The most common type of color blindness is red-green color blindness. It causes red and green to look the same.

In rare cases, a type of color blindness known as monochromacy causes a person to be unable to perceive any color. Monochromacy can come with difficulty seeing clearly and light sensitivity.

What a blind person sees in their dreams can vary widely. People who previously had vision may dream similarly to people with sight via visual imagery. But people who developed blindness in early childhood, or who have had it since birth, may dream differently.

According to a 2021 article, some research suggests that people with total blindness do not have visual dreams. However, there is also evidence that they can dream of virtual images that come from a part of the brain responsible for visual representations.

Blind people can also experience other senses in their dreams, such as the sensations of touching, hearing, and tasting.

There are several ways of categorizing blindness. Understanding these terms may help a person understand what blind people and people with low vision can see.

  • Visual impairment: This describes any impairment that interferes with daily activities, ranging from partial to complete blindness.
  • Low vision: This means a person has partial sight or partial blindness. For example, a person with low vision could have blurry vision that is not correctable with medical treatments. They may also have difficulty distinguishing faces or colors, night blindness, or vision loss in the middle or sides of their visual field.
  • Total blindness: Total blindness means a person has no light perception, which doctors sometimes abbreviate to NLP. It is fairly uncommon.
  • Legal blindness: This is a term the U.S. government uses to determine who is eligible for assistance due to their visual impairment. The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines legal blindness as vision that glasses or other treatments cannot correct to at least 20/200 in the individual’s better eye, or when a person’s field of vision is less than 20 degrees wide.

While blind people cannot see as those with sight do, they can still perceive visual stimuli. They may simply do this differently.

For example, people with low vision may use the following tools to see more accurately:

  • large or bold text
  • color contrast
  • brighter lighting

Light perception can also help a person move around. For example, a person may know their surroundings based on where sources of light are in a room.

Similarly, people with total blindness can use alternative methods to visualize and understand the world around them, such as:

  • touch
  • sound
  • audio description
  • Braille, which is a reading system that uses texture to denote letters

Some people with blindness also learn mobility skills, such as echolocation, to perceive their environment. Echolocation involves making sounds or listening to nearby sounds to compile a mental picture of surroundings. People can use this to perceive:

  • the size of a room
  • where objects are
  • the texture or hardness of an object

Eye disorders can affect vision in many ways. This means there are a variety of ways that people experience blindness and visual impairments. What a blind person can see varies depending on their symptoms.

Most people with visual impairments can perceive light. Many can see colors and shapes or have partial vision. Many blind people can use their vision or other senses to complete activities.

Adaptations such as audio description, Braille, and mobility training can help blind people perceive their environment.