Can You Still See


Can You Still See

     "But, can you still see?" It was the question the private contractor had asked Bill and it still resonated in his thoughts as he worked in his garage, bent over his workbench. The company was heavily recruiting for a big contract back in Iraq and they knew Bill was a communications specialist, a 20-year vet who had recently retired. He had told the recruiter that he left the military due to vision loss.

     "Honey, could you please come and look at the washing machine? It’s refusing to work again! His wife’s voice floated to where he was struggling to visually follow a pencil line on the board he was cutting. He was thinking, "Better get up there. Hmm, got to make this line heavier. Maybe be smart to try those non-visual alternatives that counselor from the Commission for the Blind has been talking about.”

     "Woo!" Bill stopped at the head of the steps into the basement where their washroom was. Reaching out with his foot, he found the lip of the first step. “If a guy didn’t know better, these stairs look like a ramp, but if I pay attention… Hmm, if I take that offer to go back in-country, there’d be communication towers to climb, buildings and streets in Baghdad, and hah! Kinda doubt one of those long white canes will help in threading my way through minefields."

     In the washroom, Bill explained, "Okay, dear, I've been thinking about this; must be in the timer. I'll take a look." Setting his tools down on top of the machine, Bill moved it out from the wall to expose the backside of the control panel. Feeling with both hands, “Ah good, hex tops to these screws; not slots that are a pain to get the driver lined up on.

     His voice came out a little muffled once he got the panel off, "Hmm, not enough light.” Feeling the timing unit, he found wiring radiating off to either side, “Got my flashlight, got my magnifier…over there…” Well, this isn’t working so well. Humm.….”Need light sometimes, but out in the open, the desert sun….lots of glare…better go outside and try something like this with my dark glasses on.”

     “Honey! We’re leaving.” His wife’s voice again interrupted his train of thought.

     “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” Outside, Bill leaned into the driver’s side window of his wife’s van , directing his voice to the back, “Hey, you kids, both you boys and both you girls, all of you be good for your mother!”

     “Bill, honey, did you want me to take this vehicle into the dealership and see if they can fix that rattle? Oh, and in the kitchen, that microwave is only turning on or off about every other time. Could you look at it too!”

     Bill stood and watched his family back out of the driveway, turn and disappear down the street. “God knows I love them and it’s good to be home….but, this place is needing so much…money’s tight….that contractor was only asking for a year’s commitment…more money than I could make in four years working around here, if I could find an employer to ire me. Hmm, I need to decide.”


e-mail responses to

**1. This time, the provoker has painted a very real picture of a man losing his vision. Bill's losing his vision, and he's not ready to accept that it's so. The contractor is typically clueless--wanting a confirmation that he can still see. I hope for Bill's sake that Bill was unable to convince him that he can. Right this moment, I would counsel Bill to not even consider going to Iraq to work on anything. Not because he can't do it, mind you, but because he has not mastered most of the little skills he needs to do his work and get along with his life yet.

He's discovered how to climb stairs safely, and knows not to trust his eyes that now tell him the stairs are a ramp. Excellent. How many times do those of us with some vision--but not enough--do dumb things because we trusted our eyes, which failed us? I've walked off a couple of curbs in the past few months without seeing them, and I'm sure I've reached for a few things that were closer or further away than I thought they were. I still wind up doing such things with vision that is essentially stable.
It hasn't really been better and it's not getting any worse. To take a moment and evangelize the NFB training methods, this is why those with vision train at NFB centers under sleepshade. A person who doesn't trust their eyes is much less likely to be fooled by what he/she sees.

And why can't a blind person climb a communications tower? More than a few climbers will tell you that you want to feel rather than see what you're doing. It's better that the thing you just grabbed hold of feel solid than look it, after all.

I wonder how long a cane would have to be for it to be useful winding your way through a minefield? *grin* No seriously, blind or sighted, you won't be doing that in Iraq. We have military robots

So really it comes down to this.. Is Bill employable? Sure. He's got tons of skills that could come in real handy. Should he head for Iraq?
No. He's not yet comfortable with the skills that would allow him to work in an environment where literally there is no safety net. He could get himself ready, if that's what he wanted to do, but he's not yet gotten himself beyond the stage of doubting his own ability.

T. Joseph CARTER []

**2. My first thought on this is, Sheesh, this guy's family can't afford to be without him for a year! She'll be spending both kidneys in handyman fees!

My second thought is something like: This guy was in the military and didn't learn at least a little bit about using his other senses to make up for a vision loss? He's clinging to the last vestiges of his sight because he thinks that's superior to learning how to use tools without sight?
Typical of those who lose their sight gradually or later in life, I still find this puzzling. This is because, never having had sight and having always used such tools as table saw, power drill, etc., to fix things or build things, I either don't appreciate sight at all (correct) or else am so skilled with my hands and ears and sense of spatial connection that it would never occur to me that sight is important. Third, a long white cane wouldn't be any help in a minefield, but then neither is sight, so this guy must be pretty bitter and cynical, and for that reason alone has no business working in a war zone--won't be able to take the stress.

Lastly, do we naively assume there are no blind people in Iraq? how do they cope? I admit, the prospect for me is very daunting, but I'm sure that it's being done right now. If he needs to go for the money, he should go, and sight, or lack thereof, shouldn't stand in his way if he can still do the job.

Mark BurningHawk blindlaw mailing list

**3. The lure of big money has helped fog Bill's sense of reason. He knows that his vision is becoming worse. While he recalls the dangers of the work he performed in Iraq, he feels it might be worth it, if he could just get a couple of big paychecks into his bank account. Bill is probably in his mid 40's, and appears to have a fairly young family, since he feels the need to tell his four children to mind their mother. So his 20 year retirement from the military is probably not going to be enough to provide all the education and other costs of raising their children.
Where Bill finds himself is very understandable. He has too little information to make the important decisions he must now make. He knows of the services available through the Commission for the Blind, but it seems as if the counselor has not been very effective in providing good guidance counseling. All Bill is thinking of are the adaptive skills being offered.
Why has the counselor not promoted the employment opportunities?
In Vocational Rehabilitation we talk a great deal about "Informed Choice", but too often clients are not being given the information with which they can make such choices.

Carl Jarvis ACB-L list

**4. Ah, yes. Privatization or war, or should I say, invasion, should open up some positions for folks who couldn't pass the pre-induction physical.
However, this man would be well advised to learn better ways of managing life in the home front. Even a middle-aged female klutz like me learned to do simple wiring, measuring, and plumbing in rehab. As a partially sighted person, I'm very familiar with "passing". It's just one tool for getting what you want. Eventually the stress, the lying, the making up excuses for fumbling caught up with me. I love my audio books, JAWS, and guide dog as much as I love my CCTB.

Abby Vincent ACB-L list

**5. Get rehab, Man!

Jim Theall

**6. I hope he takes the risk. He will have to do some figuring things out because he can't still see. As a communication specialist, it would seem to me that there would be ways to do the job and he might never land one at home. Have to get something on the resume somehow. I know there have been times when I have run scared away from risk but sometimes you need to take the bull by the horns and take it.

Nancy Coffman

**7. I would strongly advise this man against going to Iraq, because he'd be in harm's way and he could come back with worse vision than when he left, if he were to come back at all. I, too, would advise him to go through a rehab-training program and hone his skills before seeking any kind of employment.

Jake Joehl Illinois jajoehl@comcast.nett

**8. At least the guy was trying to ask the right question, even if it didn't come out that way. What I mean is, he was not in total and complete denial.
Or, is being a little in denial worse, since you can never be sure when self-doubt is the cause of a problem, or vision, or lack of training, or mere bad
luck of the moment.
The only solution is to get lots of appropriate training.
Besides, you have to be slightly crazy to fool with electricity, blind or sighted.
Sorry, this is more serious than I'm letting on. We deal with issues of self perception every day in education and as so often happens, the "Thought Provoker"
doesn't allow the format to deeply examine the issue of when and how people perceive themselves as being blind.


kat Guam

**9. I think it was mentioned that he is a blinded vet. Why wasn't the VA mentioned? if his blindness is service connected, he could receive over $30,000 per year in nontaxable cash benefits, plus blindness skills training, employment assistance, including preference for government jobs, all the adaptive technology he could use, and even paid educational benefits for his wife and children.

Andy Baracco ACB-L list

**10. Robert, this one is a hundred percent easier to stomach than that other one about the little girl. Dilemmas like these often come to us as blind people. By the grace of God Almighty, I have not lost my vision. I was born blind, so I don't have people expecting me to see as I once saw. However, he may still be able to go to Iraq to fulfill that contract, but in a different way. I am twenty-three years old, and I have always wondered how blind people serve their country when the military is not an option. It is one thing for my sighted brother to say, "I'm enlisting." What if I have a reaction to 9/11 and wish to serve alongside him? It won't be in the service, but there must be a place for us.


**11. The skills for compensating for waning vision are out there. Anyone with determination and the willingness to admit they need to learn them can do so.
I don't think your protagonist should take the job until he has a few of them under his belt. His family needs him alive more than they need a big paycheck.
It sounds as if his kids are still pretty small. I've always believed it is what you are willing to put into living that matters more than what you lack.

So Bill, go for some skill training.

DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

**12. Robert when I was reading this provoker I found myself thinking that horrible expression "Super Gimp"
A super gimp is a disabled person who is irreplaceable. No one does anything as well as them. They encourage others to lean on them no matter what. Blindness would be inconvenient if he admitted they had a disability!
But of course he doesn’t it's just to dark to work inside.

Diane Dobson BC Canada

**13. Hi,
For 28 of my years, when someone asked if I could see a little bit or "how much can you see?" or "Can you see at all?" I would explain how I considered
myself totally blind, since I read Braille and use a cane. I would tell them I could see light, dark and colors, but not texture or shape. This seemed
to satisfy most people and myself.
After my right eye was enucleated (the left one never had sight) people would still ask me the same questions. I had gotten so comfortable with my earlier
answers that they came to mind immediately, yet I wanted to be honest, so, in many cases, I tell them what I used to see and that now, no, I don't see
anything, including dark; it's kind of a twilight. In some cases, all of this explaining might be more than some want to ever know.
One thing that has concerned me, though, is that sometimes, when a guy asks me, and I don't know them, I don't really feel I need to tell them just how
very blind I am, as if my safety might depend on his wondering just how much I do see. I think this is a cultural thing because I am not afraid to tell
females the truth about my having absolutely no vision.
I like being able to let people know that I do know what colors are, because I often ask people what color this or that is. If I don't know what color
something is, my brain assigns colors anyway.
I also have been discovered trying really hard to see things as I used to when I could see light, dark and colors. I tend to have my eyes wide open when
I am walking, or concentrating on something but otherwise they are partially or all the way closed. Because I do this, some people do guess I do still
see something and might not believe me when I tell them I don't see a thing.
People in the NFB have almost always told me I should be honest and tell everyone that I am totally blind, but, as I've stated, I am afraid to tell some
males who might be more likely to take advantage of me if they knew.
It's like "how much do you weigh?" or "how much money do you make?" we usually do not want to answer these terribly personal questions, and these days
I am feeling that someone's asking me about how much I see or not is really another of those truly personal questions that I have a right not to answer.
So, even at my age, I still have mixed feelings.


Lauren Merryfield, Everett, WA

Sounds to me like Bill in the thought provoker should start using those alternative methods his counselor at the blind commission told him about.

Either that or make it a habit to carry a very high powered, high-intensity, spot light around with him, like a 120 volt ac operated 110,000 or 500,000 candlepower halogen or xenon spotlight like truckers use but are wired to run off their vehicle's electrical system.

If Bill's duties working in Iraq will involve doing steeplejack work up on communication towers and getting around in areas not known to have been de-mined, I am of the opinion he is just asking for trouble by trying to do that sort of work under those sorts of conditions.

I note he did not mention he unplugged or pulled the fuses to the dryer so he is risking serious electrical shock by trying to work on an appliance with live 220 volt power to it. Not even a sighted electrician would attempt this!

Bill also sounds like he needs white cane training as he thinks the basement stairs look like a ramp! And he is trying to check for the location of the stair treads with his feet, not a cane.

Yes, Bill needs training in alternative methods of doing things, like mobility, carpentry, electrical work and general skills of daily living.

Just my two cents worth.

Brian K. Lingard B.A. Ottawa Canada ACB-L list

**15. Bill has to be realistic. He would be crossing the line from gutsy determination to foolish pride. If he was having trouble fixing a simple washing machine,
he would certainly struggle with a communication tower, which is infinitely more complicated. Sure, "low-vision" people can work; but when it comes to
electrical equipment, that's playing with fire.
Furthermore, the idea of going overseas, regardless of the money he could earn, would do more harm than good. His family needs him to be home. His wife
needs her husband, and his children need their father. No amount of income can make up for being emotionally deprived. (And, I might add, this would be
true whether he had eye trouble or not.)
Sorry, but I'd have to vote him down on this one. I admire the guts and tenacity of blind people. But there has to come a time when this guy must face reality,
and hang it up. The sooner he does so, the sooner he can begin the path to a new occupation. Will it be rough at first? Definitely. But he'd be better
off starting now, so he can get it together that much quicker.

**16. Not only is he trying to adjust to blindness at home, but he's quite preoccupied with how he's going to manage back in Iraq. Aside from other respondents
addressing the issue of how he will be able to function when he goes back to Iraq, there's the issue of adjusting to blindness at home and the expectations
his wife and kids still have of him. After all, the notion is that the husband is the bread-winner and handyman to fix anything and everything that breaks
down in the house. This notion is perpetuated by many societies around the world. If you, as a blind man, cannot do what most sighted men do, then you're
either half a man or not a man at all. Thus, not only does he feel as though he has to keep up with the standards and expectations in the work force,
but he has to do likewise at home for his wife and kids. This is not to say, of course, that this doesn't happen to sighted men as well because it does.
Regardless of whether he was blind or sighted, I'm sure that his wife might reach a point in which the man is a waste of time to be with if he couldn't
fix the washer, car, microwave, or anything else she wanted or needed fixed.
In addressing his blindness and adjustment to blindness, I don't think that he's being given enough time to adjust. Nor do I feel that he's giving
himself enough time to adjust.