Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Stereotyping as a barrier to the social participation of older adults with low vision: a qualitative focus group study
  1. Sarah Fraser1,
  2. Irene Beeman2,
  3. Kenneth Southall2,
  4. Walter Wittich3,4
  1. 1 Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 The School of Social Work, Faculty of Arts, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  3. 3 School of Optometry, Faculty of Medicine, Universite de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  4. 4 Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire en réadaptation du Montréal métropolitain, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sarah Fraser; sarah.fraser{at}


Objective In order to better understand the barriers that limit the social participation of older people with low vision, the aim of this study was to describe and clarify the factors that shape the social participation of older adults with vision loss.

Methods As part of a study on rehabilitation access barriers, six qualitative focus groups were conducted in a private room in a hospital, with 21 individuals with low vision (aged 38–92 years) who had or had not accessed low vision services. During the focus groups, participants often spoke of the challenges they faced when interacting with people with ‘normal’ vision; this discussion led to a modification of the interview guide in order to capture barriers to social participation. Focus group discussions were audiotaped and transcribed, and content analysis was conducted.

Results Content analysis revealed that personal as well as environmental factors influenced the social participation of older adults with low vision. Four themes emerged: 1) experiencing the onset of impairment and degenerating ability, 2) the physical environment, 3) attitudes and responses from others and 4) individual internal attitude and responses during social interactions. Lived and perceived stigma from the perspective of the insider (person living with low vision) interacting with an outsider (person with ‘normal’ vision) and difficult environmental contexts were described as barriers to social participation and optimal functioning.

Conclusion At a personal level, transitioning from an outsider to an insider influenced self-identity and social participation. Further, insiders experiencing stereotypes associated with older adults who are blind had a negative impact on their social participation. Findings highlight the importance of stigma and stereotyping in the lived experience of older adults with low vision. Stigma is persistent, but strategies to reduce stigma will ultimately facilitate the social participation of older adults with low vision.

  • low vision
  • lived experience
  • social participation
  • stigma

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

View Full Text

Statistics from


  • Contributors KS and WW planned this project. KS led the focus groups and KS and WW analysed the data and created the code list together. IB was a graduate student learning qualitative research, and she worked directly with KS to create a rough draft of this paper. SF was involved in the write-up of this project and worked with KS and WW to revise, edit and produce the final version of this manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by a provincial grant from the Fonds de recherche en Santé du Québec. Funders were not involved in data collection, interpretation or reporting.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire en réadaptation (CRIR) du Montréal métropolitain provided ethical approval for the focus group study protocol.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.