The Bright Side of Blindness
by Manming Wu, RNIB Yorks and Humber volunteer
“Great,” I say,” of course I’ll write a Christmas blog about sight loss”. Then I wonder how I can possibly conjure that fuzzy festive feeling talking about… well, sight loss.
I like Christmas. It brings out the best in people. Thoughts turn to the happiness of others and strangers find kind words for each other where, ordinarily, no words would be exchanged at all. Realising the good in people must be a contributor to that festive feeling, right? So, let’s talk about how blindness can bring out the best in people too, and how that can make us feel good all year round.
I’ve always been visually impaired and now, in my (early) thirties, I believe, ironically, blindness helps us see something that otherwise, we might have missed – a unique form of strength and kindness.
The four categories of people I have noticed this in, are me (and perhaps other visually impaired people, although everyone experiences sight loss differently), people I know, people I don’t know and my kids. (I know, technically my kids fall under category 2 but I’m giving them a category all to themselves).
Me: Finding strength through sight loss
When you can’t see, life takes more effort. I’m nothing special. In fact, I think I’m the epitome of average, but being visually impaired, you work a lot harder than your fully sighted peers to achieve ‘average’. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact that anyone with a disability must face. With this in mind, my parents taught me that I can do anything I want, it just won’t be easy. Hard work and self-belief can bring me wonderful experiences and exciting opportunities. I have been fortunate and had plenty of both so far. My visual impairment has almost been a motivator for me to do more and do it better, even if that means I have to do it differently. Occasionally, the goal is something big such as backpacking around the world or learning the art of ballet. Mostly though, the goal necessary, like going to the shop with the baby and the toddler; then returning home with four pints of milk, a loaf of bread and still one baby and one toddler (ideally the same ones). Whether I’m navigating barely-lit corridors of the Tran-Siberian Express, an unfamiliar stage or the minefield that is my local supermarket, all necessitate more effort from me than it would from a fully sighted traveller, dancer or shopper. Not allowing sight loss to stop me doing things I want or need to, takes a kind of strength I’m not sure I would have realised, if I could see. As I said earlier, I’m not special. I’m just like many people in the world with sight loss, or any disability for that matter. Just as there’s no bravery without fear, there’s no strength without difficulty. Whilst we can’t always be as strong as we would like, the strength we do summon should be recognised for what it is – something rather special.
People I know: Those who help us, will help others
My husband, family and friends are the best people ever. They are supportive, loving and lots of fun. They are also the people who stop and read labels to the lady clutching a magnifying glass, squinting at use-by dates in the fruit and veg aisle. I think they would have done that anyway, because they are so awesome, but I also think being familiar with sight loss makes them more likely to notice when someone needs a helping hand (or eye). When you are used to differences in people, whether that’s a disability, race or a set of beliefs, you automatically become more accepting of differences in new people you meet. Maybe if everyone had a friend who was different in some way, the world would be a nicer place!
People I don’t know: Kindness and blindness
Before I had a cane, when I walked into something, fell off something or knocked something over (which was frequently!), my embarrassment was often multiplied by sounds of onlookers tutting, or even laughing. This made me feel, quite frankly, a bit rubbish. When the object you walk into or knock over is another human, that rubbish feeling is infinitely more pronounced; even when the other party is clearly looking down at their smart phone instead of the path in front of them. Comparatively, when I use my cane and these incidents occur (yep, still frequently!) people invariably show kindness. On a recent solo trip to London, no fewer than fourteen people offered me help. Granted, two of them worked for the London Underground and were doing their job, but that still leaves twelve people who took time out of their day to be kind to someone they didn’t know. That’s kindness I might not have seen (excuse the pun!) if I could see.
My kids: Kids don’t care if you can’t see
Kids are naturally inclusive. If they have a parent who is visually impaired, they not only accept it, but they have a head start in learning to embrace differences in people. My two year old daughter already understands that our family are a team and we all help and care for each other, because that’s what families do. I don’t mean we help Mummy because she has “poorly eyes” but we help Daddy, Baby and grandparents too. Like any toddler, she enjoys helping (or un-helping) around the house (although I must give credit where it’s due, she is in fact, a tiny sock-pairing ninja). She also remembers to check-in and say “Mummy, I’m here” at regular intervals when we are out. I keep her close and I know she is safe regardless, but this is her way of helping me and I’m proud that she does it. There are many things she does and says that are probably unique to kids of visually impaired parents. It’s great when these things make me proud, better still, when they also make me laugh. Recently she told Daddy that “Mummy’s special stick is not for playing”. She clarified that it is not in fact a fishing rod, nor a Lightsaber, but “… is for helping Mummy when she can’t see.” After a pause she added “… you should put a light on it for Mummy.” Why had I never thought of that!?
Finding the bright side
So, you see, it’s not all bad. I’m not trivialising the difficulties associated with sight loss. These difficulties are different for everyone and I’m living with my own version of them every day. Depending on where you are on your sight loss journey, it might be impossible to find any positives at this moment. But I promise, they are there. Some people will be lucky enough to see the lights twinkle this Christmas, and others will not. But if we all learn to view sight loss from a new perspective, we might just find the bright side of blindness. That will give us a good feeling, no matter what time of year it is.