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Insight Into Living Blind

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the American Chronicle, December 16, 2005.

December 15, 2005--I'm legally blind, so when I began this article, I wasn't sure what I wanted to say about blindness since conveying a true sense of the condition to the seeing is virtually impossible. I then began to think of ways to describe what legally blind people see, and what totally blind people do not. Even with good illustrations though, it would be difficult for seeing people to understand the permanence and unyielding challenges conquered by people like me on a regular basis. That being said, I concluded that I can only hope to spread understanding to the seeing by documenting experiences which are all too familiar to people such as I. Maybe after reading this, you'll feel a little more respect, and a little more patient, when encountering us out in the world.

First of all, I'm not totally blind. I say this because I know I have some advantages that totally blind people do not. For instance, even though I can't see the characters faces on the TV, I can watch programs if I sit very close to the screen. Totally blind people, however, can't see it at all. My being able to watch TV this way does present its own unique set of challenges though, one of which is not being able to find the remote control.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I decided to sit down and watch TV, so I began looking for the remote. I began by looking on the breakfast bar; didn't see it. Then I looked on the kitchen counters, then the couch and love seat. Unfortunately, ten minutes later, I was still looking when my teenaged daughter entered the room. Unbelievably, she walked directly to the breakfast bar, and retrieved the remote which was sitting there in plain sight. This whole frustrating scenario was topped off when she turned on the TV, and started watching Sponge Bob!

Another issue is that I have two cats I can't see very well living in my home who are always on high alert as to where I am walking. I can't tell you how many times I've flattened fluffy, or side swiped Snow Flake, while rushing to the bathroom, or while sneaking to the fridge for a midnight snack. It's no wonder that after watching their nine lives dwindle down to two or three, they make a wide arc around me when I'm up and about.

Interesting observations can be made if you watch a visually impaired person trying to find a particular food item in a large grocery store. Let me tell you, after asking a person for help one day, I've learned there are allot of helpful people out there for us to contend with. You see, after explaining to a fellow shopper that I am legally blind, I asked her if she could tell me where the clam sauce was located. Well, I didn't notice that there was someone else nearby who heard everything I said so you can understand why I was completely surprised when another shopper quickly grabbed me by the arm saying, "Don't worry baby, I'll show you." Guess what happened next. The lady I actually asked suddenly became disgruntled, and grabbed my other arm saying through clenched teeth, "He asked me first!" Painfully, for about two minutes the two women yanked me this way and that, until the manager observed me being nearly pulled limb from limb, and saved my life.

The next challenge people like me have that seeing people should know about is the difficulty we have buying gifts for our spouses without them finding out what they are. The main reason for this is that it's usually because it's our spouses who have to take us to the store. Today, I went to a large department store with my wife. I told her to "Go away!" So I could shop for her gift. After asking at least a dozen strangers throughout my ordeal what various price tags read, and what kinds of things were in various bath sets, I finally found her something. What I found her though, is so big, I was worried she'd see it as I was carrying it to the register, or out the door. Once outside, it took 25 minutes of walking up and down rows of parked cars to find our own. After depositing the gift in the trunk, I returned to the store because I wanted to get her a Christmas card.

Let me tell you, if you are visually impaired and looking for a card for your husband or wife, you better get someone to read them to you before you choose the one you want. Last June, I was too self-conscious to ask somebody to read the cards I was looking through for my wife's 35th birthday. So I was looking at the pictures as best I could, and thought I bought a card that said, "I love you, and always will." But, in all actuality, what the card really said was "I love you even though you're over the hill." Needless to say, she wasn't pleased when she finally got around to reading it.

Another problem, or challenge, comes from having adaptive devices that talk, but do not have volume controls. In other words, everyone in the house now knows when I am "seeing" what time it is, and when I am weighing myself. Why does this bother me? Well, think about it. If you are a married man and your wife is taking forever getting ready to go out to dinner, each time you glance down at the time on your watch, it loudly blurts out what time it is. If you do this, it won't take long for you to find out how wives react to feeling rushed. It's too bad I can't turn down the clock's volume. If I could, I'd be more like seeing husbands who quietly and discretely check the time without reproach.

The other device I'd like a volume control on is my talking scale. As it stands right now, it is both a marvel of modern technology and a thorn in my side. The problem I have with it is every time I stand on it I hear my wife yell from the kitchen, "You ain't losing any weight yet." Annoyed, I respond with "Thanks for the info, honey, but I'm blind, not deaf."

To sum this all up, the visually impaired have many challenges they face on a regular basis. From awkward and benign situations at home to more serious predicaments like having to cross busy streets or navigate large hospitals, most visually impaired people handle them with grit and determination. That being said, you may come across a visually impaired person one day who is in your way, or causes you grief in some other way. If you do, remember this article and remember how pervasive the effect of vision loss is in the life of the impaired, and maybe you will indeed feel a little more understanding, patients and respect.

Daniel Taverne is a legally blind, disabled veteran living in Louisiana. After his service, he began college in the hopes of becoming a COTA (certified occupational therapy assistant). However, he became ill with an unknown condition with less than 1 semester of schooling left, forcing him to drop out while seeking treatment. Daniel has a Discussion board called Forward Observer. Please visit it in addition to his home page as linked below.

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