Compiled by Sarah J. Blake
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Since early 2002, I have been communicating with Dr. Ken Tittle, who founded Mariposa, a Christian ministry to train people with disabilities to work as peer counselors and to facilitate full inclusion in the church community. Mariposa's work was solely with people with mobility impairments until he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to participate and provide some information about blindness and my experiences as a person who is blind.
Dr. Tittle's questions about the impact of blindness are very deep and illustrate my reason for developing this site. Assessing a person's visual functioning is often not at all like assessing a person's muscle function. Many factors affect visual functioning. But the impact of blindness is also about much more than visual functioning. The physical impact of blindness can pose a number of challenges socially, and often people who are blind or visually impaired feel the impact of these problems more deeply than they feel the physical impact of their limitations.
I suspect that a comprehensive analysis of the impact of blindness would take volumes. I know that all of the 50 or 60 books I have read barely scratch the surface--and most leave out some very important elements. Visual impairment affects a person in many ways. It affects the way a person learns about, understands, and moves about in the environment (orientation and mobility); the way he accesses information and communicates his ideas; social relationships; accomplishment of daily tasks; perceptions of others about the blind person; and even the blind person's perceptions of himself. My work on this site is an attempt to dig a bit deeper than that surface that has been scratched. Of course, before digging deeper, we must also scratch the surface; and for that purpose I have also provided some basic information about blindness and common adaptations.
If you have recently been diagnosed with a blinding eye condition, I encourage you to learn about it and explore ways to get the most benefit from your visits to the doctor and from other services which are available to you. This site is designed to provide comprehensive information about blindness and topics of concern to people who are blind.
Dr. Tittle posed some questions about blindness to me in early 2004 which serve as an excellent illustration of the importance of discussing the various impacts of blindness. My response provides some very basic information and discussion about blindness and grief, including a discussion of the importance of grieving, situations that may cause people to grieve, and reasons why some people do not grieve openly.
One of the first encounters with blindness is most often the presentation of a diagnosis of an eye condition which causes visual impairment. Consequently, getting information about the condition and its treatment is often the first order of business. The eye care page serves as a starting point for people who want to learn about the eye and eye conditions. The page also includes links to articles about treatments and an article for eye care professionals about the importance of providing referral to appropriate sources of support and information after diagnosis.
Many eye conditions are diagnosed during infancy and childhood. The pages for parents of blind and visually impaired children provide information about coping with a new diagnosis, common issues facing blind and visually impaired children and their families, and links to additional sources of information and support.
One of the most common things I read in letters from parents is, "My child's doctor says that she is visually impaired because of this eye condition, but she won't need to learn braille because she can see large print." Some of these same parents find themselves becoming strong advocates for braille later in their children's lives as they realize that their children are struggling to read for long enough periods of time to finish their homework. Others remain in the comfort of denial, forcing their children to act like sighted children because the doctor said they did not need to learn braille. Occasionally, the doctor is right; but often this is not so. The same problem crops up when adults teeter between the world of sighted and blind, possessing some vision that is useful enough to fool the world--and often themselves--into thinking that they can "pass" without using "blind" techniques. Still, the reality is there, and more often than not it is eventually exposed. "Passing" doesn't work; and those alternative techniques can be invaluable.
The problem of "passing" raises a number of important issues that should be understood in order to combat the shame that many people with low vision experience.
Braille is not an inferior method of reading; it is different. It can be quite helpful for people with low vision who struggle with long reading assignments or who need to present a discussion without hiding behind a book or piece of paper. Many people use it as a secondary reading and writing medium while using print for most of their daily tasks. Some use braille for most of their reading and writing and use print for occasional tasks, such as sorting through mail and reading package directions for cooking. For more information about braille, including links for teachers, please visit the braille literacy page.
When a person has a visual impairment, getting information about and moving safely in the environment can present the need for alternative techniques and creative strategies. For more information about how blind people get around, visit the orientation and mobility page.
Sighted people often wonder how blind people use the computer. Did you know that the first typewriter was invented in the year 1808 for Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzono, who was blind (factoid found on The Disability History Dateline)? Computers and other technology provide all kinds of opportunities for independence and accessiibility. They also provide some unfortunate barriers. To learn more about technology for people who are visually impaired, including computer products and reading machines, please read the article, "An Overview of Technology for People Who Are Visually Impaired".
Examinations in the doctor's office are valuable for providing certain types of diagnostic information. However, they do not always simulate everyday life situations. This makes predicting the abilities of a person with low vision in the everyday life situation difficult for doctors. To read more about topics related to eye exams and low vision, visit the eye care page or the low vision page.
Blindness can provoke all kinds of thoughts and feelings for family members. The following articles provide a glimpse into one family member's experiences.
Adventure in the Park
My grandmother shares the lessons she learned from watching me play in the park.
My grandmother discusses the social problems which can occur when people do not understand blindness.
Living in an Invisible World
My grandmother compares blindness to living in an invisible world and examines the social/emotional issues I faced as a teenager.
Looking for Love
On this page, I have explored the experience of isolation from peers during middle childhood and the factors which I feel affect a blind child's ability to socialize.
"Why Do You Wear Those Glasses?"
Sometimes I feel like my blindness obligates me to answer every question people ask. In this article, I examine some of those questions and ideas for coping with the feelings they stir up.
Emotional Impact of vision Loss
In this three-part article, I discuss what the literature says and my own experience of the emotional impact of vision loss.
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