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What is it like to be blind?

February 2, 2019

When my daughter was a teenager, she was asked by one of her girlfriends: “What is it like to have a father who is blind?” After a brief pause, she replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never had any other kind.” For her, my blindness was a fact, a part of me, but not the whole of me, and a part of me that she accepted and dealt with quite naturally. I think children are more comfortable about accepting disability than adults are.

Because I have been nearly totally blind all of my life, I guess I am more accepting of it as well. I really don’t know what it is to see a beautiful Russian ballet, a finely cut diamond or the loving, trusting look in the eyes of my 14-year-old Rottweiler, Mara. But I can appreciate and enjoy the word descriptions spoken to me by family members and friends.

But what is it like for someone who has had sight for most of their adult life to experience blindness? Can you “feel” what it’s like to be blind by putting on a blindfold and doing something that normally you would do being able to see, like wander around your neighborhood alone or drive a car, as someone stupidly did as part of a “Bird Box Challenge” that went viral on YouTube? I hope you don’t.

It is not a good idea to try to pretend to be blind. You could actually get just the opposite impression about what it is like to be blind! You might have a hard time finding things, knock something over, or hurt yourself. You might feel frightened, frustrated or confused. You might then believe that this is what it must be like for blind people. The fact is that blind people (depending on how long they have been vision-impaired or blind and how much training and experience they’ve had learning how to do things without vision) are, for the most part, pretty comfortable with their blindness.

There is a wonderful exhibit that opened just a couple of weeks ago at the Witte Museum in San Antonio called “My Heart Is Not Blind.” It is a unique multimedia photography audio exhibit, created by Michael Nye, which presents 46 blind and visually impaired individuals from around the country. The exhibit is about their experience and perception of blindness. Next to each portrait is an audio player with headphones. Each person in the exhibition tells his or her own personal story. They are moving and sincere.

To hear a sampling of these voices and see their faces visit https://vimeo.com/295096477.

Nye hopes the exhibit will help dispel some of the public’s prejudices toward and misconceptions about blindness by listening with full presence to the conversations of the various participants.

In the words of one of these participants, Frances Fuentes: “Being blind is not an obstacle because my heart is not blind. Having a kind heart, a loving heart, is more important than being blind.”

If you make time to visit the exhibit, which I hope you will, I can assure you it will have a profound impact on your understanding and perception of the condition of blindness and, as a result, allow you as a sighted person to “see” those of us who are blind in a different light.

And that’s how I see it.

Larry Johnson is available as a luncheon and keynote speaker. You can reach him via email at larjo1@prodigy.net or visit his website at www.mexicobytouch.com.