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Low Vision: My Perspective

Editor's Note: Libby Thaw lives in Saugeen Shores, Ontario, with her husband and four children. She is the designer of the Checkered Eye symbol, and is also a member of her town?s Accessibility Advisory Committee. She enjoys sewing, juggling, gymnastics and judo.

Everyone generally understands the term blind, but low vision is a much less understood concept.

I know from personal experience that some people to whom you mention your low vision will question you. It?s hard for them to comprehend the fact that you ?seem fine? but you?re saying you can't see well.

Don't you wear glasses? Can you see me?? Most people are polite and just want to understand.

But there are also folks who seem to be skeptical, even testing you: Well, you saw that!?

Don't knock yourself out over such encounters.

Some people might grasp your low vision more readily if you are carrying a white ID cane or wearing a checkered eye. However, the ID cane sometimes creates more misunderstanding than it alleviates since much of the general public thinks a white cane is only for severely blind people to use as a mobility tool. The checkered eye still has limited effects also since it's not widely known yet, but pointing to it can help, as well as providing an information pamphlet, supplies of which are free and easily available.

You might also find that your family and friends forget that you can't see as well as they can. My Mom, for example, used to point out things like the cute little lambs across a field we were driving past. While I could enjoy the thought of such a view, she'd forget I couldn't see it.

I've had low vision since I was a kid and have had lots of time to encounter these situations and develop my own ways to deal with them.

Low vision that takes place in late adulthood creates a very different experience from that of someone who has never had average sight. When I speak to adults who have lost some eyesight recently, I am reminded of the emotional pain that comes with losing some abilities and independence. I can only imagine, for instance, the heartbreak that comes with giving up a driver's licence.

What I have learned in recent years that helps me with this kind of upset is to go ahead and feel it. I'm not recommending that people wallow endlessly in their sorrows, but to go ahead and experience all emotions.

Of course, there are moments that are more appropriate than others for having such feelings--not, for example, while a little old lady helps with crossing the street, but perhaps later with a trusted friend or when alone.

It's been my experience that these emotions are easier to manage when they come up unexpectedly if I haven't been choking them down in previous instances.

People who have newly acquired low vision are often reluctant to acknowledge their difficulties or seek advice or assistance. Many such folks probably come up with some simple solutions like magnifiers, 'following the crowd' at traffic lights or saying hi to everyone in case it's someone they know. I suspect, however, that they will find that they've been doing some things the hard way, and that there is a wealth of helpful hints and support if they are interested in accessing it through organizations of people with blindness or service providers.

I'm sure there are folks like me who can attest to some of the advantages of having low vision. Things like the ignorant bliss I lived in before a close friend told me that there's hair on my toes that also needs to be shaved! Or how, as long as I don't lean in close to the mirror, I always look flawless!

Of course, this is a tongue in cheek perspective, but let's face it--humour can be a wonderful coping tool.

There are things I can laugh at in the moment, like getting a handful of sticky goo when I tried to open an already opened jam jar! And things I might laugh at later, like when I asked an old boyfriend who said hello, How do I know you And my kids and I still laugh at photos of the giant, brightly coloured hats I made them wear when I took them to the beach, and how I used to make them sing at the top of their lungs so I knew they were still there if they were playing a distance away from me.

Humour is something that you don't have to be blind to know is one useful mechanism for coping with difficulties.

It can also be helpful to decide not to resist or deny the new or different ways you do things if you have any measure of blindness. And realize that you have no power over how someone else will respond to the way you do things. We can only do what we can do, and trust ourselves to handle the results.

In the words of someone close to me: Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with the world.

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