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Embracing Blindness

As you consider my request for you to embrace blindness, you may rather prefer that I ask you to embrace a porcupine. Blindness, like any other change in life, is not readily welcomed. Of course, I use the term "embrace" to attract your attention.

Early Fears: When one first loses significant sight, fear is a large part of life. What will I do? How will I continue? Can I ever regain control? At first, we are only reasonably comfortable when doing the things that do not require sight, i.e. sleeping or eating. We may fear venturing away from home and engaging in previously enjoyable activities, feel conspicuous and not accepted by others, and fear trying newly acquired skills, as we may not do them correctly. While we may anticipate and fear failure, with practice new techniques become more natural.

Minimizing the Eye: One of the techniques I found helpful in accepting blindness is to reduce the importance of vision. Eyes cannot open doors, put on our clothing, or transport us from place to place. With this notion, we can increase the efficiency of our other senses, like sound, smell and tactile references, and free our energy to learn new skills. Our feet become more aware of the surfaces we walk on, sensing rises and declines in terrain. Our hearing tells us where objects like escalators are. We even rely on smells when passing food concessions in public places. In short, we have a heightened awareness of our surroundings and employ our memory to orient ourselves to where we are and what we need.

A Helping Hand: Service agencies are available to help us transition into the new world of blindness by providing counselling, mobility instruction, essential aids and appliances, computer access and home-management tips. With practice, these new tools become familiar, enhance our confidence, add positive personal feedback, and help us achieve a new level of normalcy.

Pursue the Hobby: A major factor in coping with blindness is finding a way to continue with hobbies and interests. After considerable time wondering how I could pursue my hobby of writing, I realized I could dictate my thoughts onto a tape recorder. I developed the habit of dictating a short story or comment on tape each day, and soon it was the same as writing. I could express myself and feel creative, as well as productive.

Establish A Daily Routine: Paramount to dealing with blindness and possibly accompanying hours of solitude is the need to develop a routine of daily activities. Try to do the same sort of thing around the same time each day. This lends stability to your life and replaces the "normal" pattern you once had as a sighted person. Do something to improve your progress like walking and improving your mobility, mixed with computer access and household activities. Call friends and professionals and just talk. Share your progress with others on a daily basis. Keep a journal, either on tape or on a computer, to provide self-encouragement and chart daily progress. Try to expand your universe a bit each day. Walk a bit further, try a new task, build on your knowledge of the new world and necessary skills you need to live in it.

Reclaiming Your Universe: When one first experiences significant sight loss, the first concern is "how do I reclaim the life I once had?" With newly acquired skills and equipment, we slowly reclaim our lives. I once lived nearly a quarter mile from my mailbox. To navigate to it, I had to go up the street where I lived, cross a small street, venture to a main road and proceed about 100 yards, turn in another road, find a stop sign, turn right and follow another road about 50 yards and cross to the common mailbox. At first, this trip was scary. With practice, it became routine, and my confidence was drastically enhanced. A similar confidence-builder occurred with the acquisition of computer skills. In time, and with proper training, I was able to write again and even communicate with friends via email.

Visual Acuity Is Relative: I strongly doubt that there is such a thing as having too much vision. If we have reduced sight, we soon learn its limitations, such as the ability to read a stop sign, see a Dumpster, the white lines of a crosswalk, or merely our hand at the end of our arm. All of these things are measurements and define our universe. As we move through the progressive steps of vision loss, we appreciate the new limitations. It may depend on lighting conditions or even vary with the time of day. In short, what you have today is all you can count on. How you utilize it is your choice. Wishing it better does not make it better. Accepting it frees up your energy to live life within "today's universe."

Shedding "Poor Me": When we first lose significant sight, we become naturally self-consumed. With new skills and a focus on a new lifestyle of creativity, we gradually shed the self-focused feelings. Talking with others, sharpening our new skills, and even thinking of others who are less fortunate helps to diminish the "poor me" thoughts.

Getting Lost: It is virtually impossible to succeed with mobility without getting lost or turned around. You are alone and don't know exactly where you are, and there may be no other person nearby to assist. If you catch this situation immediately, you can return to your last known position. If, however, you continue and get further disoriented, stop and carefully recall where you have been. Use everything you can to identify your direction: sun, wind, noises of cars, people talking or walking, and continue to search for a familiar landmark. If you are supposed to be going up or down on your desired route and you are not, it is quite likely you may have chosen the wrong direction. It is also helpful to tell someone where you are going, the route you plan to take, and the timeframe within which you should reach your destination. I cannot leave this topic without saying you haven't lived until you have become lost. Only then will you appreciate fully the importance of all that you have learned in orientation and mobility instruction.

Two Bags: As you travel through the world of blindness, you will need to carry two bags--courage in one hand and determination in the other. Sometimes, even when employing all of the points above, the "early fears" may still creep into your life. You can push them back by reaching into those two bags. A little determination and a dash of courage do wonders for a sudden or brief decline in self-confidence. Together, they fuel your existence and feed the fire of positive attitude.

I'm OK: It's important to realize that you are not responsible for your blindness; you have experienced an unfortunate change. You are still valued as an individual with all that you contribute to your life, as well as to the lives of others. In fact, you are better than you once were, as you have acquired new coping skills and are doing what sighted people do?just without sight. Would someone else succeed as well or as rapidly as you have? Your brain is still keen, your ideas still valid, and your arms even stronger because you have exercised them by constant use of your cane. In short, you may very well be a better person than you once were, because you have been forced to learn new skills and employ them.

Not My Bed: Like Goldilocks, who entered the three bears' house, you may not find all of this information suitable. You may find your own methods of embracing blindness. We are not all alike, so how you "hug" blindness is not as important as that you do find a way to accept it and live a productive life within your own limitations.

Adapted from the Braille Forum, Volume XLV, No. 1, July-August 2006.