This post was inspired by a campaign launched by RNIB to counteract some of the many stereotypes about blindness. “How I see,” is something I’ve never really attempted to explain in depth before, so let’s see if I can make this semi-coherent!
There are many different levels and causes of visual impairment, but sighted people, or “sightlings,” as I would say, tend to lump us all together as though we’re all exactly the same. In the eyes of a lot of people, we all look alike, act alike, think alike, and do everything the exact same way. That idea isn’t helped any by the mainstream media that tends to portray blind people as all wearing dark glasses, plain clothing, and blending into the background of society. I hope that this project can lessen some of those misguided beliefs and give everyone a better understanding of what us blind people are capable of.
As I mentioned, there are many different types of visual impairment, ranging from enough residual sight to read magnified print, to no light perception at all. I fall into the minority among blind people with no vision. I have no light perception in either eye. The cause of my blindness is very rare and complicated, so I’ll try to simplify it. I started losing my sight at seventeen months old after several shots of antibiotics for chronic ear infections. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, meaning that my immune system attacks my liver and has to be suppressed with medication. No one could give a real cause of my vision loss, so we believed that it was triggered by an allergic reaction to the antibiotic shots. Then, at the age of five, we discovered that my adrenals and parathyroid weren’t functioning properly. To skip over a lot of very detailed medical information, we found out about two years ago that genetic studies had linked the disorder affecting my parathyroid to vision loss in rare instances.
When people find out that I can’t see anything, the first question they usually ask is whether I see black or white. The real answer is that I don’t know. Sometimes I will tell people that it’s black if I can tell that they’re the type who just won’t get it, and my smart mouth answer is, “I see the absence of light.” I honestly don’t know because I don’t know the difference between black and white. I lost my vision so young that I don’t remember color, but I do have my own ideas of color now. Maybe a better answer is neither, because there really doesn’t seem to be anything in front of my eyes. I have a friend who is totally blind in one eye and can see contrast in the other, and she says that there really is nothing there. I won’t name names because I don’t know if she’d be ok with it, but she has a very good way of describing blindness. She compares it to your hands. You have no sense of sight through your hands; you only have the sense of touch. We have no sight in our eyes, but we can still tell if something is touching our eyelid through touch. That’s still pretty obscure, but maybe it helps.
I don’t mind answering questions like these, but a big problem that i face is that sightlings are afraid to ask me things. When people see me walking with my cane, I know that they immediately think, “blind girl.” I’m not talking about my friends and family who know me, but I know that the average person on the street or in a store is going to have that be their first impression. I can feel the stare, hear kids ask their parents why I have a stick, and hear the parents hurriedly shushing their children and rushing them away before they can pursue their line of questioning. It’s very isolating to know that people think of me this way, but I’ve learned not to let it bother me. However, when I can tell people have questions but they’re afraid to ask me to my face, that makes the isolation worse. I don’t mind questions, and I will be more than happy to answer any question that you have for me as long as it isn’t anything majorly personal. I feel that it’s disrespectful to not let children ask questions, especially when it’s perfectly clear that I’ve heard the question being asked. Something happened the other day that I’d like to share as an example. I was standing a little behind my Mom and brother in the line at the doctor’s office as Mom was checking my brother in, and a little girl to my left said quite clearly, “Mommy, why does she have that stick.” The mother gave the usual response of shushing her child in a whisper and pretending that nothing had happened, as though I wasn’t standing three feet away in perfect hearing range. That’s the point when I would have absorbed myself in my phone, but of course I didn’t have it on me when I needed it… Then the child asked again, (louder), and I guess the mom decided she didn’t really have a choice but to ask me. She had her daughter ask me, and I explained that my cane keeps me from falling over things in front of me because I can’t see them. Then, I thanked the mother for asking me and told her that not many would have done that. And it’s true. Very few people would have approached me, even if they knew I’d heard them. I love it when people come up to me and ask things. It’s very rare that questions are directed to me rather than whoever I’m with, so it always makes me happy when someone is brave enough, considerate enough, or embarrassed by their kids enough to come to me and get an honest answer.
I think that perhaps a lot of the fear about asking questions comes from the belief that most blind people don’t function on the same level as sightlings-that we have some sort of learning disability like autism or mental retardation. That’s because we’re portrayed that way in the media, and yes, some blind people do have those problems as well as their visual impairment. But the reality is that some sightlings have those issues as well, and not all blind people fall into that category just like not all sightlings fall into that category. Also, some blind people do have some odd movements, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect any mental disability. A lot of that simply stems from a lack of spacial awareness, or sometimes from a visually impaired person trying to bring something into focus with their remaining vision. But some of us are perfectly normal other than the fact that we can’t see. I have several friends like myself who are at the top of their classes and perfectly capable of doing anything they want to do!
The thing is that people want to help, and they don’t know how. They think we aren’t capable of doing certain things, but most blind people can do anything that any sightling could do with the exception of flying an airplane, driving a car, or operating some other piece of machinery that might injure themselves or innocent by standers. My favorite line when people assume that I can’t do something is, “Don’t dis my ability!” and I’d love to see more blind people pick that up. If you wanna know if I can do something, just ask! I won’t be offended unless you make prior assumptions. I think most blind people feel that way, and we’ll happily answer any questions you have if you’re respectful about it and don’t treat us like we’re fragile little creatures who might break if you ask the wrong thing. With that whole thing out of the way, I’d like to share a poem that I wrote for my ninth grade english class about uniqueness. A version of this poem was actually published in the NFB magazine, but this is the version that i didn’t edit to fit the word count requirement because I think it goes into more depth.
Blindness can be many things,
To each the meaning is their own.
To some it is a dark expanse,
To others it’s an empty room.
To some it is a barrier,
A wall between two worlds.
To some it may be all of these,
Just a sightless, sound-filled swirl.
But to me the fact that I am blind,
Is not a handicap.
For smell, and sound, and taste, and touch,
Create for me the perfect map.
This world that I inhabit,
Is like nothing you’ve ever known.
Each day I walk from place to place,
Not by sight but faith alone.
For to me sight is many things,
Though my eyes see not a thing at all.
Sight is sound and smell and taste and touch,
And echoes bouncing off a wall.
The colors in their many hues,
I see in a whole new light.
Red is anger,
Blue is water,
Black is calm and cool as night.
Gray is stormy skies above,
While white is pure and diamond bright.
My mind’s eye holds no faces,
Of my friends and family.
Instead my thoughts are filled with sounds,
Of voices, words, laughter,
And all the memories between.
And so even though my eyes are blind,
It does not mean I cannot see.
The way in which I view things,
Is simply what makes me unique.
Tell me what you think!
That was all probably very confusing because blindness is something that’s very difficult to put on paper, or a screen in this case… I didn’t want to ramble on forever, so I thought I’d just share some of the basic stereotypes I see on a daily basis. Like I said above, I love questions, and I’m happy to answer just about anything you throw at me in the comments! I’ll be happy to make another post if you want to know about something really specific that has a lengthy explanation. If you wanna know how I blog, just ask me! I get that question a lot too, and I’m sure some of you were going, “Huh what?!” when you figured out I was blind… Oh come on… You know you were! 🙂
If any of you reading this are blind or VI, tell me what you think in the comments or drop me a link to your own #HowISee post! Also, Us blind people aren’t cookie cutter people anymore than you sightlings, so every #HowISee post is going to be different. Feel free to check out the #HowISee on Twitter for more awesome posts if you’re curious. And you know you’re curious… I’m signing off for now, but I’ll leave you with this song because it just came on Pandora, and oddly it fits this post amazingly well!
From Cheyenne 🤗