Creative Matters

Unseen: Exploring the Lived Experience of Visually Impaired South Africans


  • Joanne Bloch Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research



visual impairment, life writing, marginality, social exclusion, stigma, embodiment, intersectionality, disability


The liminal space occupied by partially sighted people is little understood and much misrepresented in South African societies. Inter-personally and more broadly, visually impaired South Africans face stigma, discrimination and numerous structural barriers to educational, social and economic opportunities. These challenges remain largely invisible to those who never  experience them. 

In this paper, I discuss my conversations with four South Africans who, like me, are visually impaired. These conversations form part of my research for Unseen, a project that brings together my interests in life writing and in exploring different aspects of the experience of visual impairment. I weave substantial extracts from our dialogues together with my own insights so as to give a sense of the texture of participants’ reported understanding, ideas, feelings, and sensorial adaptations, and also to investigate the multiple and overlapping influences of class, race, gender, age, community, sexual orientation and family on each individual’s subjective experience.

Author Biography

Joanne Bloch, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

Joanne Bloch is a writer and artist living in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a Research Associate of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the English Studies Department, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town. E-mail:

The research for this article was funded by the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).





Creative Matters