Tuning In On Blindness Jane Lansaw Article
Tuning In On Blindness
At several orientation and adjustment centers across the country, blind people with partial vision wear blindfolds to interrupt that vision and learn to function effectively with no vision. Why is it so important for blind people with residual vision to learn the alternative techniques of blindness, non-visually? Isn’t it better to learn to use what little vision we have to its fullest? Many blind people with partial vision, like me, claim that our non-visual training does help us use our vision to its fullest. How is that possible if we aren’t using it at all? We do use it. We just tune it out for nine months to tune in our blindness skills. Before non-visual training, all we had was a lower quality of vision from that used by the rest of the world. Afterward, we have as much information as the sighted through the four other senses. The vision we have becomes an asset instead of the deficit it was before training. Why can’t we just learn the blindness techniques we need to fill in the blanks while using the natural amount of vision we have? As the old saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Let’s think of our five senses as radio transmitter towers. Your brain will be the receiver. Vision and hearing are both distance senses that transmit information quickly. We’ll assign these two, very tall towers that can transmit for a great distance. Now we’re on the air with KVSN and KEAR
Smell is a lesser distance sense so we’ll give it a shorter tower like that of a small town A M radio station. TOUCH and taste are near senses so we’ll give them little transmitters like the old coin and battery trick many of us played when we were kids. This is where you can affect the static on the radio but you have to be very close to it. Our two giant towers transmit large amounts of information very quickly but because the world is constructed for the convenience of the visual majority, vision is the dominant sense. This makes it the most powerful tower. Our receiver is closer to it because our culture prizes it above all of the other senses.
Many of you doubtless have found yourselves on a road trip, trying to tune in a radio station that offered the sort of information desired at the moment. Sometimes you want a good hip hop station to help keep the driver awake or to keep the kids in the back seat from pestering you. Maybe you want a news or weather report. Maybe you are into talk radio or a mellow jazz station. We have all experienced that problem of finding exactly what we want to hear only to drive away from it or have it overpowered by a stronger station as we come into town. Our five senses are like this. They continuously broadcast the information they have to offer but we only tune in on the ones that grab our attention. And which one does society prize above all others? Vision. KVSN is where you get all the games, prizes and concert tickets.
Now let’s add blindness to our transmitter analogy. At the best measure with corrective lenses, legally blind people can see only ten percent of what the average sighted person sees. This is 20/200 acuity or 20% field subtended. That means we are using a transmitter that is only giving us, at best, ten percent of what everyone else is getting from their equipment. The information that is the most valuable to us at the moment might be hiding away in the 90 percent we aren’t receiving. It might also be available to us through another sense, or transmitter, if we only thought to check. Maybe we really need a weather report but KVSN is playing a nonstop tribute to Whitney Houston. You might love Whitney, but you need that weather report. What you don’t know is that KEAR is associated with the National Weather Service and is broadcasting exactly what you need to know, every ten minutes. KSML and KTCh might also have information about the weather but we’re tuned into KVSN. This analogy isn’t intended to imply that sighted people can’t hear, smell or feel. Only that the brain is tuned into visual information and will usually receive and interpret it faster than any other signal. Likewise, the brain of a blind person with a little vision will tune into the information that arrives first, whether it’s the information we need or not.
So why don’t we just tune into KEAR and get our weather report? KVSN is a very powerful and important station. It overpowers all the other towers because of the importance we’ve attached to it. We have to make an effort to get close to the other towers to get them in tune. This is where the blindfold comes in. When a blind person enrolls in proper training and chooses to do so non-visually, she or he finally has a chance to tune into the information offered by the other senses. This information was always available. KEAR, KSML and KTCH never go off the air but KVSN shouts them down. Now, by learning the alternative techniques of blindness without interference, we have a tool, a tuning dial if you will, to focus on more accurate and reliable information. This doesn’t mean we never tune into KVSN. It just means that vision doesn’t have to be our first and only signal. Now we have just as much information about our world as our sighted neighbors do without depending on one loud tower that only gives us ten percent of what we need.
When the training course is over and the blindfold comes off, we have practiced tuning until it becomes automatic. We have learned to tune our receiver so well that we can use KVSN to take a shortcut across a parking lot toward the shadow of a distant building we want. KEAR is automatically tuning in to the cars driving around the lot and keeping us aware and safe. KTCH is making note of the sun so if we mistake the shadow of one building for the other, we can be alerted quickly that we’re aimed at a building to the left of the one we want. Maybe KSML picks up on a bakery or coffee shop on the cross street to alert us that we still need to angle more in a certain direction. Or the aroma may even alert us that we’ve veered off course while under cloud cover. Without so much practice, we just don’t know all of that other information is even there. Yet it waits for us, offering us what everyone else has, only through a different frequency.
Just to illustrate how I use my low vision, the original article had a picture of a shoe store in a shopping mall seen by someone passing by. My cane is safely clearing my path as I turn my head and gawk at those terrific boots in the window. No more head over heels for a pair of heels for me.
Many will disagree with the non-visual approach but experience is still my best teacher. I’ve ended up in the wrong place many times because I depended only on what I could see. My life got a lot easier once I used the blindfold training to learn to tune into blindness as a low vision technique.