What do YOU see in the dark?

Us sighted people are so ridiculously dependent on our vision.  It is the be-all and end-all of our existence.  Put us in a dark place when it’s not bedtime and it doesn’t take long before we’re searching for some light, and if there’s none to be found, then for somebody to clutch, or something familiar to hold onto…  Of course by now you’ve noticed and taken a quick look at your pupils right after you’ve shut your eyes tight or after there’s been an absence of light.  Major pupil dilation!  It’s like our eyes are in panic mode, our pupils straining, urgent to soak in any stray ray of light that might be found.

Straining, scrambling, reaching, yearning…for light.  Why are we so uncomfortable in the dark…?

This Easter, when my family was over we blindfolded ourselves and, using Cody’s cane, walked around the house in order to find our own Easter treats.  We all had varying reactions to being in the dark; I was especially aware of keeping an “upper bumper” with my left arm. I did this because even though the cane protects you from waist down, anything from waist up which may be overhanging could surprise you.  I’ve seen Cody hurt in this way.
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My mom started out completely disoriented but ended up with a cheerful celebration when she arrived at her destination!

2015-04-06 18.39.132015-04-06 18.40.07My dad kept remarking over and over, “Wow, this is really much harder than I anticipated!”

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Putting on a blindfold as a person who has used sight their entire life does not simulate Cody’s reality, not even close…but it gives us a taste of the practical challenges blindness presents.  From the moment Cody was born his brain did not depend on sight but on the numerous other senses and pathways at its disposal to gather information and process the world around him.  Us sighted people have used sight from the beginning (although it takes a while for it to develop entirely), we are entirely dependent on it, it gives us by far the bulk of the information needed to process our surroundings.  So, when we are blindfolded and navigating in the dark, our brains are still functioning visually – remembering landmarks and estimating distances visually, using our visual memories to help us figure out the lay-out and structure of objects around us.

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Try to imagine how the brain of a congenitally and completely blind person functions, not based on visual memory but on tactile memory, scents, etc.  Try to imagine how these memories are stored and recalled…it’s hard to, isn’t it?  How I would love to be able to talk to Cody about these things.

As a way to get a small taste of blindness, to gain an amount of awareness and respect for the challenges faced by those living with blindness, I challenge you…  Take one activity today and do it with your eyes closed or blindfolded; whether it be pouring and drinking, brushing your teeth, or walking the length of your house.  Pay attention to how your brain attempts to adapt and what your feelings are.  Let me know…

What do YOU see in the dark?

 

Perceptions

“There are things known and there are things unknown and in between are the doors of perception” – Aldous Huxley

One by one we open these doors, learning about our world based on what we perceive through them as we make our way down the hall towards knowing.  The doors are many, and some need to be stepped through over and over.  I have heard and read over the years that 75%-90% of our learning as a child is through vision.  That means the vast majority of our perceptions, leading to our knowing, is due to what we see around us.

Cody’s perceptions, leading to his knowing and understanding, come from his senses of hearing, touching, tasting and smelling.  What a small sighted child first sees in one glimpse, will take repeated exposure and explanation, within context and with creativity and sometimes great difficulty before Cody will begin to grasp what this sighted child saw in that moment.  And even then, due to how Cody perceives, his understanding and knowledge will always be different…different in a way those of us with sight could never understand.  We as sighted people may never believe his understanding of a bird taking to flight, or the grandness and shape of a mountain, or the vastness of the sea could be adequate or complete without the benefit of sight, but then again…is there a “right” way to understand?  Is there a “right” way to perceive?

I showed Cody today how the rest of us were decorating Easter eggs. He was so excited to come to the table and help.  As soon as he felt the hard boiled egg, he started to become very upset.  When Cody is upset, he bounces up and down on his seat, bites his hand and screams.  Often this reaction means his expectations were not met and he is trying to regulate himself in order to deal with this dichotomy.  I always then mentally list the possible unmet expectations.  Often I don’t realize what it is until much later, or even another day.  It took me about 8 hours or so to figure out what it was today.  I realized I used the word “Easter egg”…”Cody, do you want to come help us decorate Easter eggs?”.  To Cody, “Easter egg” so far has really only meant one thing; the plastic pull apart colourful eggs you buy to be filled with candy and hidden during an Easter egg hunt. Therefore, to Cody, “Easter egg” means “chocolate or candy”.  Peeling the hard boiled egg and putting some salt on it to have him eat it did not help either…hard boiled egg and chocolate are really not comparable!

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With a battery operated beeper placed beside each large plastic egg to act as a sound cue, Cody was able to search around the backyard later and find his true “Easter eggs”!

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