The Blind Tax featured image. It features a custom white cane, handheld CCTV, lighted magnifier, monocular, and other gadgets in a small pile.
Blindness & Visual Impairment,  Everyday Life

The Blind Tax: The Real Costs of Being Blind

The Blind Tax is a term I’ve been using to describe the additional costs of making the world accessible and comfortable for those who are blind and visually impaired.

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If you’d like to explore this information in video format, check out my video on the Blind Tax as well.

It’s similar in concept to the Pink Tax, which is a term used to describe the phenomenon that is women’s beauty products, feminine hygiene products, and other “pink” products targeted at women. The pink tax is an additional cost for women’s products over comparable products designed for men. This works for many reasons I think; women are willing to pay it in some cases, and in other cases we don’t have other options. The blind tax is similar in that other options often don’t exist.

Accessible Computers & Smartphones

Let’s begin with something that most of us use every single day: computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. Almost all platforms have some form of built in accessibility. Windows has Magnifier and Narrator, Mac OS and iOS have Zoom and VoiceOver, Android has TalkBack and Magnification, and even Chrome OS has text to speech and magnification. With all of these features included with almost every platform out there, what’s the issue?

The issue arises with incompatible applications and programs. Some screen readers work with one program and not with another, and then a blind individual who relies on this technology must utilize other screen readers, and in comes the cost. Though Windows has an additional free option with NVDA, other very common options like Jaws and Zoomtext come with exorbitant costs. These prices were pulled from the Freedom Scientific website. They’re a perfect example of the Blind Tax at work, especially for those who don’t want to worry about a yearly recurring fee.

Yearly Licensing Subscription:

  • JAWS – $90
  • Zoomtext – $80
  • Fusion (JAWS & Zoomtext) – $160

Perpetual Licence:

  • JAWS – $1150
  • Zoomtext – $875
  • Zoomtext Magnifier – $625
  • Fusion (JAWS & Zoomtext) – $1670

For those of us who can utilize our remaining vision, Magnifier and Zoom can meet most needs, but if you need anything other than the most basic functions such as magnification on one monitor and not on another, etc. you will need to utilize other options. I personally haven’t used anything other than Magnifier on Windows and Magnification on Android in quite a few years, so I cannot speak on which of these programs offer advanced settings and features.

Also in this category is the smartphone. Many of us in the blind and visually impaired communities utilize our smartphones for many daily tasks such as reading menus and labels, identifying colors, and more. Because we rely on these tools daily, most of us prefer to have a mid-range to high-end phone, and that can cost anywhere from $500 – $1500. That more a product of the rising costs of technology than the Blind Tax itself, but it’s important to note.

For me and those who utilize their remaining vision, computer setups can require additional costs as well. I use a dual monitor setup with a monitor stand that I can raise to a comfortable viewing height. Though, I feel perfectly comfortable using 1080p monitors around 23″ or 24″, buying two along with a monitor stand required some planning and saving.

A Set of white tables meat in the corner. A keyboard, mouse, and two matching monitors sit on the table mounted on a stand raised up off the table. An audio interface is to the right. A phone stand and coaster are to the left. Various Funko Pop figures are on the desk: Darth Maul, BB8, Hulk, Bran Stark, and more.

Even with this two monitor setup, enlarging all my text, and using magnifier when I need it, I still deal with back and neck strain. I know I’m not alone in this either. This can even lead to orthopedic needs. I have visited a chiropractor in the past. I so enjoyed those visits. Even though my insurance covered those visits (surprisingly), I couldn’t manage the transportation every week.

Navigating the World

Navigating the world as a blind or visually impaired person requires extra effort on our part. Many of us utilize a mobility cane in some way or another. Though free options are available like that offered by the NFB’s Free White Cane Program, many of us find a straight cane to be cumbersome. Canes can be had from about $30 and up. I recently purchased a custom cane from Ambutech for around $60. You can find my videos all about that experience in my All About the (White) Cane playlist. Look for more articles on this topic in the near future as well.

Some blind or visually impaired people also use guide dogs. The expense involved in raising, training, and caring for guide dogs is, again, exorbitant. The cost of raising and training a guide dog ranges between $40,000 and $50,000 based on several sources. Those costs do not end after training. Thankfully, many charities exist to help cover the costs of the raising, training, and caring for these guide dogs, and most schools provide them to individuals who need them at no cost to the individual. Without these charities, I know very few people who currently have guide dogs who could afford that cost on their own.

For those of us who utilize our remaining vision, monoculars are an important tool for distance viewing. I’ve used mine to read menus, signs, see street lights, read the board in classrooms, and people watch on the beach. Smartphones also fall into this category as well, because I use mine while shopping, while looking for businesses, and more.

Magnifiers and CCTV’s also fall into this category as well as the next one. Many of us rely on these tools along with our smartphones to get us through the day whether that involves traveling, shopping, school, or tasks at home. The price ranges wildy for these tools and varies by need, use case, and preference.

A photo featuring a purple, blue, and white mobility cane with various items propped on top of it including a digital magnifier, a line Magnifier, and lighted magnifier, and a monocular.

We can also factor transportation into this section. Public transportation, rideshare, splitting the cost of gas with a friend, and more can add up quickly, and when you can’t provide any of your own transportation, it is a necessary cost. Some cities have private transit for the disabled often called paratransit, Handy Ride, or something similar, but this service is not always reliable. It’s certainly not great for last minute trips, and it’s not ideal in all situations.

The logistical challenges of transportation could fill pages and pages for me, but let’s move on.

Making Everyday Tasks Accessible

And what about everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning, laundry, organization, and more? These also require specialized tools which can range in price greatly depending on a person’s needs and preferences. Cheap and free adaptations are available for some tasks such as using puff paint or bump dots (raised stickers) to mark appliance knobs, but other complex tasks require more expensive tools. Even a braille labeler for labeling foods, storage bins, and more can range hugely in price. I’ve found some for $30 and some for over $800. That is a ridiculous differential.

In this category are label readers and bar code scanners. Bar code scanners can range in price as well, and there are plenty of apps for Android and iOS as well. I have plans to do a comparison on some of the apps available in the future, so keep an eye out for that.

Recently, I discovered a system with NFC clips, stickers, and labels that pair with an app. These kits are not cheap, but they are fascinating and can be helpful for labeling food, clothing, and other household items. If you’d like to check this system out, you can visit the Way Around website.

What about consuming media, reading, and education? Have you ever compared the cost of an audiobook to its print counterpart? Don’t even count on finding an audiobook on sale, and you certainly can’t buy them used. Free and affordable services do exist such as Daisy, Library of Congress, BookShare, and more, but these do not cover all types of materials or all books. Often, we need to utilize a combination of these services and paid ones to read for pleasure or to meet our textbook needs in school. To explore this topic further, read “How do Blind People Read.”

Conclusion

I know I’ve probably missed many things, but I’ve covered some of the big things. I haven’t touched on trainings for using some of this technology, O&M, Braille, and more. The time commitment alone is enormous.

My point here is that making the life of someone who is blind or visually impaired accessible is so costly, yet so much of this community is unemployed or underemployed. It feels a lot like we’re being punished for something we didn’t choose, but that is the experience of many with various disabilities. It’s certainly my experience. I’m thankful to have the opportunities I have had, and I know I can often rely on cheap or free resources for myself, but everyone in the community has not been so lucky. It is for those community members that I’m writing this article.

We need more awareness, understanding, and empathy from the outside world. Living in a world that is inherently inaccessible is intensely isolating at times. Many of us stand together, but again, not everyone is so lucky to have a community that understand his/her needs.

Let’s try to remember that we all walk an adjacent path. We have different experiences, opportunities, and needs, and we make different choices, but we can still share that path and support one another.

Thank you for reading. Please share and feel free to share your own thoughts on the topic as well. I am not the only voice here, and I never intend to speak for everyone in the communities I belong to.

Stay curious.

I have Albinism and am legally blind. I have a Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I'm currently pursuing my passion of writing through this blog and for the Albinism InSight magazine.

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