Many people assume that if you are blind and travel with a cane (or, in my case, an adorable guide dog), all you see is black. This is actually not true, on many counts. There are as many causes of visual impairment as there are blind or visually impaired people, and many have varying degrees of vision.
People I know who are totally blind often tell me that they see nothing – not black, just nothing. Sure, technically, black is the absence of colour, but the truth is that black actually does have a form in the visual realm.
Personally, I have no vision in my left eye, but I don’t see black in it. Since I have visual memory from higher vision as a child, I can tell you that, for the most part, I just see an absense of any colour – more of a bland gray, if you actually have to put a colour to it. Also, I see a little light in the far left corner of that eye, not unlike a candle flame. This is nearly constant, whether my eye is open or closed; thankfully it doesn’t affect my sleep!
My right eye is much more complex, because I had so many operations as a child. I have enough vision to see light and dark, some sharply contrasting colours, etc., but everything I see is two-dimmensional. I walk into a room and everything I see – people, furniture, my hands – look like flat pancakes. So I could never confidently walk into a crowded hockey arena sans cane or guide dog and hope to safely find a seat without crawling over people simply because my visual perception is so skewed.
So why should you care? Maybe you won’t, and that’s OK. But I had a ten-second conversation with my boss this week that dumped my perception of myself and my eyeballs on its head: I am guilty of the very thing that I accuse others of doing, assuming that because my vision isn’t perfect, that it doesn’t exist.
I stepped into my boss’ office to follow up on an email I had written suggesting changes in spelling and grammar for a Word document he had sent me. He thanked me, and said “That’s why I sent it to you; get another set of eyes on it.” Without missing a beat, I replied, “Well, ears; my eyes don’t work!” He paused for just a split second and said, “Yes, they do!”
I was so surprised I nearly dropped my coffee. “What do you mean, my eyes work? You know that I use JAWS to use a computer…”
He calmly told me, “Yeah, but you can walk into my office and know if it’s sunny when you look out the window; you get a bit blue if you don’t get outside during the daylight hours; you sometimes turn on lights if it’s dark and you’re the first person here. So sure, your eyes don’t work perfectly, but they do ‘work.'”
What this perspective means for my life and my outlook, I just don’t know. But I think, for the first time, I need to start looking at some of the double standards that I – and by extension others like me – have unknowingly put on myself.