Category Archives: Mending misconceptions

Mending Misconceptions #4: What Do Blind People See

Nothing.

Blindness is the absence of sight.  There is no darkness, or shadow, or whatever you come up with in an attempt to understand how a blind person “sees”.  There’s just nothing.

When you close your eyes, you can still perceive light and shadow which is what a large portion of blind individuals “see”.  According to Vision Aware, only 15% of people are fully blind or NLP (no light perception). Think about a scene happening behind you.  With no eyes on the back of your head, you’re left with only the information that you can hear and maybe touch until you turn around.

Most people don’t think too deeply about vision.  A blind person sees shadows, and visually impaired means you just haven’t tried glasses yet.  But once you get past 20/20, vision corrected by glasses and totally blind, you realize that a person’s vision can vary greatly.  Fully blind, light perception, tunnel vision, usable vision but unable to read print, glasses but not corrected enough to not be legally blind, blind in one eye, etc. Vision is on a spectrum.

A person doesn’t have to look visually impaired  (i.e.,  have filmy eyes or a squint) to be blind.  I mention that because many people have been disbelieving of, or even rude to my visually impaired friends asking for assistance.  They neither look blind nor wear glasses, so why can’t they just read the sign? If it isn’t too far for the sighted person to see it, then the VI person should see it too, right? When my friend tells them that they’re visually impaired, and can see the sign, yes, but not read it from that distance, some people don’t believe them.  Most do, but some seem to have an issue with assisting someone who looks “normal”.  It’s as though they have to be able to visually perceive the disability for them to feel good about themselves, or like they did a good deed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I get people not believing that I can see because of the filmy look of my eyes. In elementary school, my peers would challenge my claim by asking me to tell them how many fingers they were holding up. Now, I’ve gotten people asking if I can see something, or what color something else is. It doesn’t happen very often now, but it does happen. Though now I no longer care about proving anything to anyone. I know what I can see, and you’re probably a stranger to me, so why should I go out of my way to have you believe me?

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With all of that said, you should keep in mind that sometimes a visually impaired person will use the terms interchangeably.  I do.  And I have some usable vision.  Sometimes it’s just easier to say that your blind rather than trying to explain that it’s hard for me to describe what I can/can’t see.  No, I don’t see shadows.  Or not in the way you probably mean.  I can see light, color, shapes but so can you (presumably).  My vision has worsened over the years: I can no longer read money, not see as far, but I never know how to describe what I do see.

How would you describe your vision?

Once you’ve figured that out, you should check out my latest mended misconception, on echolocation.

Mending Misconceptions #3: Do Blind People have/use EchoLocation?

This was originally posted on December 3, 2016, at 8:00 PM on Blogger.

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Last week, I was hanging out with one of my friends, ostensibly doing homework. But every now and then I’d check on his progress, and he’d have gotten distracted by social media. So I’d jokingly reprimand him. So, there was one point when I asked, and he told me yes, he was working to which I responded “no you’re not.”

“How do you know that?” He asked, not even trying to deny it.

“Your head is ducked and your looking at your phone right now.”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing!” He seemed shocked, but fascinated. “How did you know that?”

“Well,” I told him. “Your voice was lower, so I figured you were either looking away from me or down. But your voice was also a little muffled as a result of having the phone in front of your face.”

“Oh my God, you have like, echolocation (or maybe he said sonar)”

…I’m pretty sure he was joking—at least we laughed about it afterward—but it’s what prompted me to write this post.

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According       to Wikipedia—an undoubtedly trustworthy source—there are two types of echolocation: animal and human. For the purposes of this post, I’m only going to include the definition of human echolocation, but there’s a link to the animal one, in case you want to compare.

—Note: I feel it’s wrong to differentiate animal from human, it perpetuates the mistaken idea that humans are not animals. We are.,

• Human echolocation is the ability of humans to detect objects in their environment by sensing echoes from those objects, by actively creating sounds – for example, by tapping their canes, lightly stomping their foot, snapping their fingers, or making clicking noises with their mouths – people trained to orient by echolocation can interpret the sound waves reflected by nearby objects, accurately identifying their location and size. This ability is used by some blind people for acoustic wayfinding, or navigating within their environment using auditory rather than visual cues. It is similar in principle to active sonar and to animal echolocation, which is employed by bats,, dolphins and toothed whales to find prey.

***

I do not use echolocation. And I do not know of anybody who does. For me, personally, I can see. And though my vision has worsened this year, I still have enough to get around some (certainly not all) objects. But thinking about my fully blind friends, none of them echolocat either. Now, there are instances wherein I (or a blind person) is in an open area, like a parking lot, and because of how your cane or voice echoes, you can tell. But it isn’t echolocation as described above. It’s just going off of experience and sounds/information that anyone might gather.

Sighted readers, think about it. You expect sound to echo more in an abandoned lot. Or the wind to sound/feel differently, right?

But I don’t want you to go away feeling like an a-hole for asking your blind friend if they have sonar.. There’s this  famous man, Daniel Kish,  who taught himself how to  navigate using tongue clicks. He claims that it was because his parents raised him like a sighted child, i.e.,,, not imposing on him their ideas of blind appropriate activities. I believe he uses a cane sometimes, but he relies a great deal on his clicks.

So he started an organization where he would teach other people how to use their clicks. And honestly, it does seem like a pretty good system; he rides  bikes, climbs trees (well, I’ve done that without the aid of echolocation),  and other activities that are typically viewed as, if not impossible, than nearly so, for blind people to perform. But people in the US aren’t very receptive to his method. And I’m pretty sure it’s for the same reason I hesitate, it’s “weird”.

It would add to so many blind stereotypes; people already think there’s a couple thousand (or more) Dare Devils strolling around. That’s sounds very self-conscious doesn’t it? And you might say that if it helps, why not do it? To that question I ask how would you feel in my place? Imagine yourself walking down a city street clicking. It’s not supposed to be very loud but, now imagine yourself as an observer. You would steer clear of that undoubtedly crazy person. Or if any of you have taken voice lessons. Some vocal exercises are so silly that, even with your instructor you initially feel hesitant repeating them. Or you don’t do it with confidence. Not until your comfortable, anyway.

So now you might say that I, or the other stubborn Americans just need to try it out and, like those silly vocal exercises, we’ll get used to it. But let’s be real here. I’m not overly self-conscious yet I don’t necessarily have a “F the world” attitude. And it pains me to think about clicking down the street. All the things people would say. If they just stared, well, who cares, I can’t see ’em anyway. But others can be very vocal with their opinions… Just imagine.

But maybe the reason people are resistant isn’t because of public opinion. Maybe it’s because there’s already a system that I, and others feel work for us. In the article I linked above, Kish seems to believe that most blind people have the “it if ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality”, and while that may be the case for some. Others may genuinely like their techniques. Or maybe we’re such creatures of habit that to go so completely out of our comfort zones is terrifying. Relying on, and trying to learn a new technique.

I’ve said that I think this method is cool. And I don’t think I would be opposed to trying to learn it (preferably with not a lot of people around, at least initially), but I have a few issues with some of the arguments he’s made.

Kish feels that his method will lessen blind people’s dependence for sighted aid. I can agree with that. He also seems to feel that blind people are trained to expect assistance. And that is where I disagree. He talks about his free childhood that lead him to develop. his echolocation skills.

My family treated me like a “normal’ child (you can find evidence of this in the scar above my left eye from a game of tag when I was 8); I also used to ride my bike. And I climbed trees too. Okay, it was two trees in fourth grade but still.

The echolocation technique may have come in handy during that game of tag (I got distracted by the sun) but I wasn’t really coddled, or I don’t feel I was when it came to playing and just being a kid. Of course I know some people whose parents are super strict and don’t seem to realize that blind isn’t the end of the world. But some parents grow out of that; it’s what mobility instructors, vision teachers, and any other type of instructor are there for.

I’m aware that there are some places wherein this is not the case. That there a mobility teachers who don’t teach effective travel skills. And people who aren’t assigned vision teachers, and so have no real support system in school; no one to make sure they have the proper materials in the appropriate format. And that sucks. And we certainly have a long way to go in terms of widespread support and awareness, but I feel, in the US anyway, things aren’t so bad.

But maybe I’m wrong. I try to be unbiased, and not filter the world through a NYC lens. Because this is a pretty awesome city. And even we have our problems. I’ve even been screwed over by “the system”…

And yes, I’m fully aware that I could also just be being overly sensitive.

Ah well.

In short, there are blind people who utilize echolocation. But it’s not an inborn skill. It has to be taught. And it involves, in the case of Daniel Kish, tongue clicks. But I do know of people (well, I’ve been told stories by teachers) about people who sometimes tap their canes to get a feel for how much is around them. It has something to do with how the sound echoes.

But I also know people who are fully blind and just naturally have amazing spacial awareness. I suppose it’s akin to some sighted people being natural athletes and others who can barely keep their balance.

Before I go, I want to share a few links with you all. First,

this is the piece I wrote for blindnewworld.org. They have a section on their site called #MyBlindStory and both blind and sighted people are welcome to contribute. Well, the latter only if they have had interactions with a blind or visually impaired person.

After you finish my piece, I encourage you to look around the site. Their mission is creating a new world for sighted and blind people by making the former more comfortable with the latter, and helping the latter have their voices heard. Or at least, that’s my interpretation.

The next link is to a podcast episode featuring Daniel Kish  (first shown to me by my sister).

Note:Kish is not the first story.

And finally here’s a link to the most recently mended  Misconception.

So, what do you all think of this human echolocation?

Mending Misconceptions #2: Do Blind People Count Their Steps?

One day during some point in my high school career, I was walking to the Vision Resource room (the place where vision and mobility teachers work). As I walked down the hall, a group of boys were standing in front of the door so I ended up walking past it. I could always tell which was the right room because it had double doors And. I realized that I’d passed it because there  was a long stretch of wall after it.

So, when I realized this, I turned back. This time the guys noticed me and as they moved out of my way, one of them was like:

“Yo, move outta her way. You messing her up, she’s trying to count her steps.”

I sometimes respond to people talking about me as though I’m an object, rather than a person. But this was not one of those times. Instead, I.  just laughed softly as I walked into the room. I think that’s the first time I’d had that experience, of someone assuming that I, and consequently all blind people counted their steps.

A more recent instance of people assuming this happened about two weeks ago. I was on my way to my third day of training for my job when a construction worker stopped me. I was about to walk onto whatever they were working on  so he offered to assist me to the corner and, consequently, around the site.

The guy grabbed my arm, and I had to correct him asking politely if I could instead hold his arm (I’ll write a post on how to properly guide a blind person in the future).

But anyway, after correcting the guiding position, we setoff. As we walked, he told me what street we were approaching. I made some sound of acknowledgement and he responded, in a very stereotypical Brooklyn accent:

“So, you counting your steps or what?”

***

I don’t do it. And I don’t think I know anyone that does.

It’s so inconsistent. Like, one day it may take you ten exuberant steps to walk from your home to the store. But fifteen slow, dragging ones as a reflection of the dreary weather.

Now, this isn’t to say that no blind person counts their steps, some people may. But it’s a silly generalization.

Now, some people may, subconsciously know how many steps are in their room, or how many steps it takes to get from one room to another. But I think that’s getting into memorization/familiar territory. I’m sure many Sighteds can get around their own homes with their eyes closed, and without counting their steps..

In case your interested here’s a link to the first mended misconception, on our supposed extrasensory ability.

And here’s another link to a surprisingly accurate WikiHow article on interacting with blind people..with photos (I know you Sighteds like like those).

Happy reading.

Mending Misconceptions#1: extrasensory senses

This was originally posted on March 1, 2016 at 7:19 PM on Blogger

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First, I’d like to say that I did not forget to upload on Saturday night.  I actually had most of the post written, but I’ve been having computer and wifi trouble (nothing knew because both my laptop and the wifi in my dorm suck).  Okay, to the post:

So, I thought I’d do a series of misconceptions that need mending.  They won’t be uploaded weekly or on any real schedule, but whenEver I think of some.  But whenever I do make them, I’ll link them all together.

The first misconception I want to discuss is a pretty common one: extrasensory senses.

Whenever people have asked me if my hearing was better than the hearing of others’, it was always hard for me to answer.  Wouldn’t it depend on how good the hearing of the other person was? And the same for smell?

So, depending on how I felt that day, I would ask them these questions.  I would try to lead them to the same conclusion: that it’s all relative.  I know fully-sighted people with exceptional hearing, and fully-blind people with fairly poor hearing.

I think that we just have to depend on our senses more so it may seem better, but its nothing special.  This world is so visual that most people don’t know how good their hearing or sense of smell could be, because they don’t try.  Most people depend on their eyes first and hesitate to trust their other senses.

Close your eyes one day, at some random street corner, and see how much you notice: the scent of exhaust and coffee, dirty water dogs and perfume.  What do you hear?: heels clicking smartly, a child babbling.  Is it possible that you hear farther than you see?

On the other hand, it might not be the best idea to just stop in the middle of the street, close your eyes and do nothing.  But you get what I mean, right? Don’t even try extending your senses, just take it all in, see how much additional information you get.

Then try it with your eyes open.  Does it make any difference for you? Can you now smell the coffee before seeing Dunkin Donuts?

I genuinely believe that it’s not a special skill/superpower.  As I said before, it’s a visual world.  So people who just have naturally good hearing or smell, notice these things automatically.  But most people don’t even think to try.  It’s no one’s fault, it’s just how it is.  Like the world is built for right-handed people, because 90% (or so) of the population is right-handed.

A hunter or soldier cultivates their other senses because its a matter of survival, same concept for blind and low vision people.

I think I have pretty good hearing, and a fairly good sense of smell. But I am definitely guilty of relying on the bit of vision I have. I’ve tried walking around with my eyes closed (and my cane of course) and I’d always walk into things. Well, more so than usual.

Below I’ve linked an article that my vision teacher (click here for a definition) showed me in eleventh grade. It was published in the Times two years ago called Why Do We Fear The Blind, and it’s really interesting.

Well, till next time

Ciao