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The food experiences and eating patterns of visually impaired and blind people Bilyk, Marie Claire

Abstract

The number of visually impaired and blind Canadians is rising dramatically. Some of the areas which visual impairment and blindness have been shown to impact are level of education, employment, and income. The impact of visual impairment or blindness on an individual's experience of food and eating has not been examined in the past. The purpose of this study was to view the food experiences and eating patterns of visually impaired and blind people from their perspective, and identify factors which influenced these experiences and patterns. Nine visually impaired and blind people residing in the lower mainland of British Columbia were recruited through various blindness related organizations. A semi-structured, in-depth interview was conducted with each participant. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed for relevant themes. Participants experienced blindness related obstacles when shopping for food, preparing food, and eating in restaurants. Inaccessible materials and environments also left the participants with limited access to nutrition information and physical activity. Patterns of behaviour that appeared related to these factors included a lack of variety in the participants' diets, higher than average restaurant use, limited application of nutrition knowledge, and a higher than average tendency to be outside of the recommended range for Body Mass Index (BMI). All of the participants described individually managing the obstacles they faced, but very few people expressed the opinion that society was also responsible for removing the obstacles they experienced during their encounters with food. This tendency towards individual management is hypothesized to be related to the participants' view of their blindness as an individual medical condition but not a category of social identity with social and political implications. Nutrition and blindness professionals must work together to reduce the food related obstacles faced by visually impaired and blind people. Professionals must address both individual skill development and social and structural inequities.

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