Introducing Guess Writer: Trevor Attenberg
There was a wee commentary piece on National Public Radio a week or two ago, where a man discussed the prospects of technology geared towards providing sight for the blind. The typical business was reverently alluded to, including implanted telescopes in the eye; digitally processed electronic optic technology, some kind of echo-location sensory enhancement, and neuro-muscular regeneration. Nothing entirely new; but also certainly not out of the question for widespread application. Such talks (usually coming from sighted people or people that recently lost their vision) are often quite frustrating for the blind, including myself. This isn’t simply because we’ve been longing for such technological, technocratically driven solutions all of our lives only to be left on the shelf (although this may be the case with an unfortunate few); quite the opposite is true.
Many of us blind folks give little thought to being blind you see. We go about our daily lives as blue-collared laborers (though sometimes without actual shirts on), private investigators, lawyers, family members, scientists, professors, school teachers, artists, musicians, clowns, vagabonds, etc., only to be reminded of the blindness thing by a shook-up on-looker.
Why for example, just the other day I was on my way through downtown Portland OR. I stopped at an intersection waiting for the traffic to change so I might cross. Sure enough I could tell by the sound of the cars that traffic was running parallel, so it was time to get a move on; but I gave it an extra split second to make sure no one was thinking of turning in front of me. Suddenly a gentleman started in on crying out from the afar corner “you can cross! You can cross!” Well I couldn’t hear the traffic very well with him yelling at me, though this bit of mantraic information was yet one of those countless reminders that I was just a blind dude in the least romantic sense. Just a needy, pitiful blind man, who’s every agitation, is a miracle life affirming reminder of cosmic intervention and how lucky the sighted world is to have cute little functioning eye-ball receptors.
Did you know blindness is the second greatest fear had by Americans behind death?
Well this little run-in with blindness of my own that day—while it startled me a bit—was hardly anything new. I’m exaggerating a bit to say I was startled, as this happens nearly all the time everywhere. But might you be a wee startled too when someone yells at you for doing the tiniest mundane activities like crossing the street, or grabs you from behind by your shirt in order to pull you in a perceived correct direction? This might even piss you off eh? But I do indeed cross the street and walk around out-doors among other things often enough to not feel the need to recall every event tied to it; though sometimes I feel it’s nice to have the sense people are not staring at me. Mostly I put these hurtles behind me somewhere that I can perhaps spew them out on FB or at a coffee shop or something. And “they’re only trying to help” is what you say. All things must pass.
But anyway, this fella on the radio went on with the typical argots: “there are so many living in darkness that dream of sight… So many who cannot see a painting that wish to see the beautiful world we take for granted.” This is insulting not only due to the erroneous description of the blind condition; but because of how it stifles the ability of we blind peoples to create understanding, and integrate ourselves into mainstream society without the fear and stigma blocking our way.
I am not totally blind myself. Often people ask me “how much can you see?” before they ask me how I am and what my name is. My vision is a little hard to explain in a real snappy way that I’d be content to fit into a simple introduction. Crap, I must be blind again. I don’t mind being blind to be honest; but I can tell you those that have zero vision—including no eyes do not live in darkness. At least that’s what they tell me. Many don’t really have much of a concept of darkness from what I gather. Even people that experienced total vision loss don’t attest to being trapped in a black cave. You’d have to ask them though. Why don’t you find one walking on the sidewalk and grab’em by the shoulder? When they say “how are you?” ask them “where are you trying to get to?” After they give you some slightly evasive answer, ask them “how much can you see? Are you totally blind?… What’s it like being completely blind?”
I can tell you that blind people, when treated with humanity and respect do fairly well for themselves and don’t sit around dreaming about the day the light will finally shine on them. I suppose this is a matter of conditioning though. If a blind person here’s about how wonderful vision is and how sad his or her condition is all of his or her life, that person may want to attain vision just to make sighted people shut up and get their grubby hands off. Living in Louisiana (as strangely many blind people do at some point) I hired a person to read some college texts to me. He refused my money, but spent most of his time saying hallelujah, and how it was such a miracle that I could cook and walk and do any of those things that human beings do. When we were starting to run out of time he’d make a phone call to his girlfriend and talk for an additional 20 minutes. “What the hell” he must have thought, “he’s not paying me anyway. It’s a miracle I’m here for him.” And it was a miracle I decided not to reel him back as my volunteer reading eyes.
So if you ever see an upset blind person—well maybe you don’t need to ask “how are you?” You already know he/she’s pissed at you. Just ask “can I help you?” and “where are you trying to get to?” Just rest assure that blind people have many visions, many destinations (especially if they don’t know where they’re going), and they’re probably too content with their lives to have surgery so little telescopes can be planted in their eyes. What’s more, it is these outsider attitudes based on a lack of perception held mostly by the sighted that so often keep blind people from finding work, education, and even meaningful relationships.
Don’t I/they sometimes dream to have regular vision?
Luckily many people, all be it all too few, make it through these hurtles, after they become aware of themselves and acclimated to an imperfect world of sighted folk. For a mass of these successful blind individuals, blindness is painted as a characteristic that helped make them who they are, and that they will not readily surrender.