Book Review of “When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes”

Book Cover of When You Can't Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss & Personal Recovery. Black and Red background with white text

The title of the book When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss & Personal Recovery immediately grabbed me. My curiosity was peaked because when you are dealing with a visual impairment you honestly can’t believe what you are seeing all the time. In my 20+ years of total blindness, I have learned to depend on everything else but my vision such as my other senses, friends, family and even complete strangers. So, I was ready to dig in to discover what the author had to say.  

When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery by Hannah Fairbairn is a resource tool and guidebook for anyone experiencing vision loss, their friends and family, and even professionals in the field. This 12-chapter book takes the reader on a journey of acceptance, advocacy and assertiveness. The book is written with adults and seniors in mind because vision loss tends to happen later in life. Fairbairn wrote this guide in 2018-19 while working at the Carroll Center for the Blind. The book is arranged in 5 parts, sections and bulleted lists so you can skip around. However, I have described below some ways to use the book effectively. 

Five Ways to Use the Book 

1.  Use references and resources at the end of the book.  

2.  Read the last part of Chapter 12 to know where the book is heading. 

3.  Read the introductions for the five parts in the table of contents to understand how people adjust to vision loss. 

4.  Pick out sections and chapters to read as needed. 

5.  Or read the book from beginning to end. 

Starting at the Beginning 

I liked the fact the book started at the beginning of vision loss. When a person is first learning about their vision loss there is shock and even alarm. Fairbairn gives helpful tips on how to interact with medical professionals such as note taking during the appointment, questions to ask, getting a second opinion and how to advocate for yourself. She also talks about learning as much about your eye condition as possible and being mindful of how you share about it. She discusses not feeling ashamed about not wanting to discuss your eye condition; that you have a right to privacy. I can appreciate this advice. Even after years of vision loss, I still find people asking intrusive questions about how I went blind. I find myself delicately answering or sometimes not answering at all. 

The Grieving Process 

Another part of the book I deeply appreciated was her details on the grieving process. I remember the painful adjustment process when losing my vision. Initially I didn’t have much time to stop and grieve because I was very young and needed to quickly return to work after my vision rehabilitation training was over. But once the dust settled, I felt the emotional aspects of loss and sought help. Fairbairn called it “a funeral for my eyes,” which I found accurate. She also explained the differences between being sad and depressed. Sadness is not the same as depression because it is an emotion. She outlined the steps of grieving and noted that anger should be included. I totally agree because that was my dominant emotion for a while.  

Stages of Grief Addressed in the Book 

  • Shock and denial  
  • Morning and withdrawal  
  • Succumbing and depression  
  • Reassessment and reaffirmation  
  • Coping and mobilization  
  • Self-acceptance and self-esteem 

Fairbairn tries to help the reader understand how our brain functions; that adults or seniors who have had vision for a long time have to think and operate differently. She explains that going blind can be a blow to self-image, not just to the eyes. We still have our visual memories and are still trying to function as a sighted person in a blind world. 

Being Assertive 

The last thing I appreciated about this guidebook is Fairbairn’s focus on assertive speech. She dedicates time to explaining and giving examples of being assertive, aggressive, and neither. Many times, when a person becomes disabled, others want to step in and help but can do too much. Learning ways to assert yourself will regain self-confidence, power and control over your being and place in the world. Over the years I have practiced and worked on my assertive verbal communication skills. There are times when it goes over well and others not so much. I have learned to take it in stride and grow from each encounter.  

Critique of the Book 

My criticism is the layout of the book. This is a guidebook broken up in parts, sections and bulleted lists. That layout works well in a printed format but not so much so in audio. In print you can easily flip through the pages and dog ear them to read later. Reading in audio on my NLS talking book player had me jumping around a lot. Many times, Fairbairn referred to a previous or future chapter, causing me to have to move around. Once doing that I would lose orientation and struggled when trying to get back to my original place. For example, she gave kitchen tips in Chapter 5 and also in Chapter 8. The tips were great and spot on, but it would have been better to list them all in one chapter. Although I am a seasoned NLS Talking Book user, I struggled with navigation and wondered how a newly blind person would handle this format since this book is geared to them. 


Besides this one critique, Fairbairn gives the reader a wealth of knowledge about adjusting to vision loss. Other topics she includes are daily living skills, orientation and mobility, maintaining employment, socializing, interacting with family, money management and volunteering. She attempts to cover all the aspects of life, relating them to vision loss.  This is a good manual  for people losing sight to use for those daily life activities. You can check out this book at the NLS (National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled Book Number: dbc11619)Hannah also offers a companion website with even more topics, resources and a blog. 

Additional Information

Listen to an interview with Hannah Fairbairn on self advocacy as it relates to adapting to vision loss, conducted at the OIB-TAC 2020 conference.

 About Empish J. Thomas

Empish J. Thomas is writer/blogger who lost her vision due to uveitis. Her passions are reading audiobooks, listening to podcasts, and audio description. Visit Empish online and read her blog at