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Does a person who's been blind all their life, see in their dreams? This question was asked on my original article under this name. Here's the answer, finally. In a word, no. I asked the two people I know who've been totally blind all their lives. Since they've never had sight in their waking lives, they would have no visual perception to use as a benchmark, so how would they recognize it? Hmm?
How did I become blind? This is a question I frequently get. I know there are many causes of blindness, from diabetes to macular degeneration. My type of blindness is called cortical blindness. That's because the problem isn't in my eyes, but the vision center in my cerebral cortex. Injuries I sustained in the car accident I've mentioned caused blood loss to my brain, which mostly wiped out my visual cortex. (The culprit died of cancer almost two years ago, after having served prison time.)
Was it hard to adjust to blindness? My vision was never good. I was born with extreme myopia (nearsightedness) and amblyopia (lazy eye.) I developed astigmatism as I matured. Naturally, being visually impaired, some of my childhood heroes were blind. Ann Sullivan, Helen Keller and Louis Braille were my role models from earliest childhood. As I've matured, I've also learned of other blind role models like singer-songwriter Tom Sullivan. Last but not least, the blind comic-book hero Daredevil is my fave! These real and fictional people's resilience and perseverance have encouraged my own over the years. (Want to know something I think is funny? What cured my lazy eye was going blind!)
What is the proper way to lead a blind person? I was taught by my orientation/mobility (O and M) specialist to lightly grasp my sighted guide's elbow. Going single file, you should swing the arm your blind companion is holding behind you so your companion can slide his or her hand down to grasp your wrist. If I follow my teaching, I'm supposed to keep my arm tucked close to my side and stick close to my guide, but I'm not very good at it. I'm as comfortable companionably tucking my hand in the crook of my guide's arm, or hubby's fave, holding hands. :D
Why don't I get a guide dog? I haven't applied for a guide animal for several reasons. Foremost is, we have three pet dogs who wouldn't welcome an addition. Another reason is, hubby wouldn't understand that the guide dog's purpose is to work. His philosophy is that dogs are only meant for companion animals. Third but most important, I don't feel equal to the task of caring for another living creature.
How do I handle mealtime? What works best for me is called the "clockface method." In short, when I have a plate of food before me, a sighted person could tell me where different items are using the clockface as a reference. "Meat at 12:00, potatoes at 4:00, broccoli at 8:00, drink at 1:00," etc. Without sighted assistance, though, I usually figure things out and rarely spill - much, lol!
How do I get any local news? I learn news in a variety of ways: TV news, of course, and online friends who post links to articles of interest. I'm also a subscriber to the free Ohio Telephone Reader service. I obtained my subscription through the Goodwill-Easter Seals office on Kuntz Road in Dayton. I memorized the login information they sent via standard mail (hubby read it to me,) learned the menus, and now read my local paper daily. Anyone can dial in and listen to the demo by dialing 888-333-8181. There's also an Ohio Radio Reading Service, but the telephone option is more convenient for me.
Do I Vote? How? Yes, I vote regularly. I won't go into my political leanings, but I'm very thankful for the "Help America Vote" Act. Before my voting precinct got an electronic voting machine (which uses similar technology to my JAWS screen-reader and tactile controls,) I had to use the sighted assistance of a poll worker. Now I'm sure my vote is really MY vote.
Where can I find help if I have vision loss? Since my goal was to go back to work, I was able to get help from my local Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI.) This is a division of the Rehabilitative Services Commission (RSC.) To my admittedly limited knowledge, they decide whom to help on a case-by-case basis. My local county's Committee to Aid the Blind has helped me get a couple of "big-ticket" grants. The Lion's Club is another organization whose mission is to assist people with blindness and vision loss obtain items they need. You can check your local Yellow Pages or your favorite search engine for information on these organizations and more.
Where can I learn more about issues concerning the blind? There are a variety of organizations whose mission is to make blind people's lives fuller and richer, and to contend for better living and working conditions. The organization I joined is the National Federation of the Blind. "We're not people speaking for the blind, we're the blind speaking for ourselves." You can find more online at http://www.nfb.org.
By Lelia Jo Cordell from Springfield, OH
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Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Blind Person But Were Too Shy to Ask:
What do I see? This is a question I get a lot. I never mind answering it. Blindness comes in a wide variety of degrees. Some people have no sight at all. I can see light, shadow, and movement. Everything looks dark and blurry to me, though. If you're familiar with the "Lord of the Rings" movies, you probably know what I mean. I see the way Frodo sees when the ring is on his finger. Or, think about old movies set in London. ("It was a dark and foggy night.") Sometimes, more often now than even a few months ago, I can tell if a color is bright or intense. Red tones are fairly perceivable to me, don't ask me why. My color vision is far from reliable, though.
Do I watch TV? In a word, yes. As folks used to do when radio was in its heyday, I fill in the blanks using my imagination. I prefer programs without a lot of background music that covers ambient sounds. I tend to enjoy talk programs more these days than anything else. Also, Jeopardy is, and always has been, my #1 favorite program. It keeps my mind sharp. I had to give up Wheel of Fortune; I can't see the puzzle anymore, darn it!
How do I match my wardrobe? I was more or less sighted most of my life (my vision has always been poor,) so I know what colors look like. I also know most of my wardrobe because I've had most of it for some time. If a sighted person can give me an idea of the color of a new item, I can make an educated judgment of what matches. For folks who've never had sight, there are tools available that will identify colors. Another strategy I use is to hang matching outfits together. On "lazy days", t-shirts and jeans are easy.
How do I know which way clothes go on? You may never have noticed, but most clothes have tags and seams in the same places all the time. During my early days of orienting to my vision loss, a specialist worked with me to help me learn the right way to put everything on. Now my method is second-nature to me, just like it is for you.
What about hairstyles and shaving? I've never been a slave to fashion, so a simple braid suffices to keep my hair out of the way. I braid it myself, just like I've done all my adult life. Sometimes I ask help trimming my nails. Other times I manage, if not perfectly, then at least sufficiently. I brush my hair and teeth just like you do, but without watching myself do it like you might. Shaving can be trickier, since I have to remember where I left off, lol! I use a regular razor, though, just like anyone else. I rarely cut myself - no more often than you might. A visually impaired man I know prefers an electric razor. To each his or her own, I suppose.
How do I know where I am? For any blind person, correct orientation is the key to avoiding disasters. That's another area where familiarity is an advantage. I live in the same home where I lived before I lost my sight. I know it very well. I'm also a quick study, so can readily learn a new environment provided it isn't too complicated. If I walk into a new environment and a sighted guide gives me a quick mental picture of the space (chair straight ahead, kitchen door a couple of steps ahead and 90 degrees left, etc,) that's a great help. Please remember to warn me of obstacles too, thanks!
Why don't I run into things? I do, actually, you just don't see me, lol! Again, because I've lived here awhile, I know where things are. Inattention is the most likely culprit for mishaps within my home. Other likely culprits are sighted folk who move things around and our spoiled dogs who are prone to forget I need maneuvering room.
What about money? Coins in the USA are relatively easy to identify, because there are obvious differences in size and weight. Additionally, some coins (quarters and dimes, for example) have roughened edges. Paper money is tricky. That's why I'm grateful for hubby, my sighted guide and helper. He identifies bills for me. Any trusted person can do this task, though. Once the bill has been identified to me, I've developed a system of folding so I'll know the difference without having to ask again. If you've seen the movie "Daredevil" with Ben Affleck, that'll give you an idea. There are tools that can identify paper money, but I don't own one.
How do I read the mail? I don't, actually. Hubby faithfully reads the mail to me. I could use the scanner in my multi-funcion printer in its optical character recognition mode, but that's too slow and clunky for me. For leisure reading (I'm a lifelong bookworm), I have Talking Book machines. More about my tools in another article.
What about cooking? Believe it or not, I'm not a bad cook. I usually use the same basic items a sighted person would, like oven mitts. (They're easier for me than potholders.) I also have a few "blind-friendly" kitchen tools that help me be safe and make my "non-blind-friendly" stove and microwave controls accessible. I remember recipes for a lot of things, like the round steak I made hubby for Father's Day. When necessary, I draft sighted assistance, especially for reading long recipes. Cans are really tricky. I usually have sighted assistance so I don't end up with green beans instead of peaches, but I also have an audio labeling tool.
Hope these little articles of mine are opening a new world to you - the "blind side" of life, lol!
By Lelia Jo Cordell from Springfield, OH
Thank you for this interesting article, I really enjoyed it. when I was a young child we had a family friend who was blind, he would go out on his boat fishing, and also reroofed his whole house, as a child I wondered how he managed so well. I do not know if he had some sight or not but I do remember that everything in their house (he was married) stayed in the same place always. (07/02/2010)
Very interesting article. My Grandpa was blind and when we would go to visit them he would always feel our hair and face to see how we had grown since the last time we had been there. I always thought it was so cool the way he could tell a one dollar bill and a five dollar bill. But later found out he had pulled a good one on us kids. My aunt had folded them so he could tell which was which. Thank you for bring back some wonderful memories. (07/02/2010)
I wanted to write you a note to thank you for writing on this subject. I too get those questions a lot. I am not blind, but have less than half the sight of a seeing person due to a brain tumor on my optic nerve in the brain. I underwent 3 brain surgeries for the removal of the tumor back in Chicago, IL 20 years ago. my sight is best described like this: get a sheet of paper and dot it wildly with a pencil all over the paper until filling half the sheet with the dots and then look at it and whatever white you see on the sheet is my sight. The black dots is all the sight I lost due to the tumor and the surgeries. It is difficult to see everything at once for me, but with time and alot of patience I can eventually see the whole thing. I had lost all my vision by the 3rd. surgery but thank God I regained some of it back. but, I am grateful for what I have.
I tried to get handicap status but the judge who was on my case didn't agree, because of that I wasn't able to be helped with any kind of therapy because of my lack of money and insurance and ability to move around on my own.
Thanks for your post.
Rosa Gonzalez, Las Vegas, NV (07/02/2010)
What an interesting article! And yes, it did answer a lot of questions that I, myself, have wondered over the years but felt it was impolite to ask. This does open up a whole new world into the life of the blind. Thank you for writing this! (07/03/2010)
Thanks for sharing. (07/03/2010)
So interesting! I notice that you didn't whine once. There's a lesson for us all there.
On your next article, could you explain more about how new technologies have made life for the blind less difficult? And thanks for broadening our knowledge.
Susan in Omaha (07/03/2010)
By Susan M.
Jo, thanks again for more insight. Keep em coming. (07/03/2010)
Jo-There is nothing "just plain" about you! Thank you for opening our eyes to your world. I do have one question I have always wondered about, if a person is born blind, what kind of dreams do they have at night? Since they have no actual visual input, are they more sound based, tactile, or because they have no visual absolutes, are their dreams just free to totally wander (as most dreams do anyway). A long time ago when I first asked this question, I was writing a short story, never could get an answer, now with your kind help maybe I can. Thank you. Pam email@example.com (07/03/2010)
By Pam Hanna
Wow, I found this very interesting! Thanks so much! God Bless you and your hubby! (07/03/2010)
Wow, thanks for the great feedback so far. I love it! Keep it coming!
Ya know, it never occurred to me to ask what a totally blind person's dreams are like. I'll get back to you on that, k?
And I promise, my next article will be about some of the tools that have made my life easier. Keep watching for more from "the blind side," lol! (07/03/2010)
Thank you for answers that we all have been curious about. Mine is wondering if a blind person when going on vacation has there family members taking photos of there trip? I would think a tape recorder taping the sounds of a trip would be more of use and fun for that blind person because you could tape sounds of the roller coaster ride as it goes down or the music or voices in a play, no one ever says at a vacation place to not record the sound they just say no pictures. I also wonder if a blind person is afraid of heights? Thank you again Have a great summer. (07/03/2010)
Thank you so much for sharing this. I have often wondered how someone that is blind can manage so well. It's marvelous. (07/03/2010)
Seamstress, I can't speak for all blind people, but I'm only mildly freaked by heights. It's the feeling of emptiness more than the visual, and always has been, for me, at least.
And frankly, I'm only as good as my sighted assistant at some things, lol! My adaptive technology helps me a lot, and I'd have more gadgets if I had the money to buy them and someone to teach me how to use them. Specifically, I'm yearning for a tool called a talking color identifier. I'm mismatched today thanks to hubby, guys just aren't color-conscious!
Oh, yeah, someone mentioned the lack of whining? I learned early on, whiners are no fun! I know a couple of real whiners and avoid them like the plague. My positive attitude gives people a smile, and that's a good thing. It's so much more fun to smile! (07/04/2010)
I am just so happy to have read this article! What a blessing you are, thank you so much for sharing this with us!
By Robyn Fed
Thank you very much for answering questions sighted people have wondered about but were shy to ask, you answered them with great understanding and humor, and now have many, many Thirfty-Fun fans! God Bless! (07/05/2010)
I learned a lot from you Jo and it brought to mind of an elderly blind man who rented canoes years ago for the lake in our county and I was amazed how he was able to give people back appropriate change. Folding the dollars differently had to be the way he did it and now my years old pondering is resolved thanks to you. (07/05/2010)
Thank you for educating us. This was fascinating to read, and it's good to know that you have a devoted husband who's a willing and eager helpmate! (07/06/2010)
Thank you for your wonderful and informative post, you are truly an inspiration! (07/07/2010)
Thanks, everyone, for your uplifting feedback. WildIrish, I thought I was the helpmate, lol! Scooterrhea, I'm, um, not trying to be an inspiration. I'm just trying to educate those who honestly want to learn what a blind person goes through. Thanks for the compliment, though.
Also, I have yet to get the answer about what a lifetime blind person's dreams are like, sorry about that. I have my monthly NFB (National Federation of the Blind) meeting next Saturday, though, and I'll keep working on the question. Looks as if this article will also have a sequel, lol! Thanks again, everyone! (07/17/2010)
Hi, I thought I'd leave this here, since it was on this thread the original question was posed. I asked the two ladies I know who were born blind, whether there is any visual aspect to their dreams. Their answers were the same: since they've never experienced sight in waking, they have no visual aspect to their dreams. As in their waking, their dreams' sensory input centers on their remaining senses.
Since I had sight until 7.5 years ago, I still see in my dreams. My vision in my dreams is, of course, better than that in my waking life. However, as my visual memories fade somewhat, the visual aspect of my dreams becomes less vivid.
Hope this answers your question. I'll try to remember to include this info in a future article, too. (07/25/2010)