What Do You Mean You Are Blind


What Do You Mean You Are Blind

      “What do you mean you’re blind?” asked Kerrie’s new friend, Tommy. He had his nose right up to hers, his breath smelling of garlic from the lunch they had just shared. Kerrie is seven and her new neighbor was six, and she had invited him over to welcome him to the neighborhood. “You have those glasses on and your eyes look real big!”

     Nose wrinkling, Kerrie turned her head aside and tried to answer him like her mother and teachers had coached, “Ah, well, I can’t see good. I have to be real close and ah, well, the light has to be bright. And…”

      “But your eyes are looking at me! They’re pretty blue like my mother’s.” Tommy interrupted.

     Reaching out to push away the wiggling hand Tommy had thrust up before her eyes, Kerrie tried patiently to continue with her explanation. “These glasses help me see stuff clearer. But I still have to get close.”

      “How close?” Tommy broke in again, excitedly continuing with his need to know. “Can you read Harry Potter?”

      “Yeah I am right now, on CD.”

     “On CD! Can I see?” Tommy asked.

     Kerrie lead the way to where she had placed the player, picked it up, fingers quickly orienting to the machine’s many buttons and pushed play. A voice with an English accent spoke from the small speaker on the front panel, “The Goblet of Fire!"

      “That’s not reading!” blurted Tommy. “That’s, that’s….”

     This time Kerrie interrupted. “Lots of people read this way. Didn’t you ever have any books on tape when you were little?”

      “Yeah….but….” stuttered Tommy.

      “Okay. You hear the words, right? And it’s like the people in England talk, right?”

      “Yeah. That part’s cool.” Tommy responded, starting to really listen to what his new friend was telling him.

      “And I’m learning Braille this year. I can read with my fingers, too!” Kerrie said, setting down the CD player and reaching for a nearby book. “Here, watch.” Kneeling down on the carpeted floor, Kerrie opened to a marked page and with both index fingers positioned at the top of the page, she began to slide her fingers along the Braille text. “Nancy Drew is my name….”

      “COOL, can I try?” After Kerrie had gotten him properly aligned, Tommy said, ”Ah, ...these bumps are….kinda small. So….how do you read it?” And getting his face right up to hers again, he said, “Do those glasses help read this?”

      “No! You read Braille with your fingers! It’s special and you have to learn it. My glasses help me read the computer.”

      “Can I see?”

     At the computer desk Kerrie brought up a screen enlargement program. “See….bigger, bigger, smaller, smaller…” Tommy’s breathy “COOL,” accompanying each change. “And when you get to a lot of words you have to read…,” Kerrie clicked the mouse and a synthesized voice sprung from the speakers.

      “COOL, I gotta have one! Can I do it?”

      “I also use a white cane,” volunteered Kerrie, going to where she had placed it behind the recroom door.

      “Is that what that stick is called? Can I see?”

     Kerrie’s mother had periodically come to the door of the room to listen to how the kids were getting along, purposefully not coming in, not wanting to interrupt, however when she heard, “…I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours…,” she stepped in. She saw Tommy with a wide-eyed expression wearing Kerrie’s thick lens glasses and Kerrie squinting behind the dark colored lenses of Tommy’s non-prescription sunglasses. It’s hard to say which of them started laughing first.


e-mail responses to newmanrl@cox.net

**1. Woo, that I would have had this guidance at the birth of our child. I am an up front person, but looking back, being the mother of a newly born blind child, I found myself at a loss and I ended up not being myself, that up front person. My daughter could see some, very little, the vision teachers tried to make her see more and we all tried to make her a sighted person. We ignored her blindness, had her not be up front with it, we had her for all intends and purposes hide it , but the world knew and she suffered the more because of it. For shame on any of we parents who will not be up front with who we are, blindness included.

A shameful mother

**2. One of the most important ways we can guide our students is to give them practice and the words to talk about their impairment or eye disease in a way that their peers and others can understand without being defensive or non communicative. This is a wonderful way to give our students power to be proud to be in the world the way they are. To show that blindness needn't be a huge problem but living and doing activities in a different way than sighted do. Good communication about oneself is such a great social skill that is needed to show the sighted community how the blind community lives and exists that is just the same way as sighted and no more "Amazing" than anyone else.

Helen A. Reilly Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Braille Instructor New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

**3. When I was around the age of the child in the story, my mother and I were in a soda fountain/cigar store. I was looking at the magazines, vaguely aware that some of them might be forbidden. Finally my mother was ready to go, and we walked to the car. On the way home, Mother said there was a woman who kept trying to give me a magazine and I had ignored her. I just said I didn't know that. Even now, I imagine myself yelling at her. "Why didn't you tell me", or Why didn't you tell Mrs. Smith that I couldn't see her, and she needed to tell me about the magazine". Any social skills I had, I had
to learn myself. Adults were either too uncomfortable about the subject or
just didn't know what to say. I'd like to think that in this age of civil rights and consciousness-raising, diversity and political correctness, young people who are blind have better skills than I did. It appears this is not the case.

Let's work for a better world in 2006.

Abby Vincent ACB-L list

**4. I thought that the interaction between Tommy and Kerrie was spectacular. Tommy may have felt slightly uncomfortable, but it certainly didn't show.
His curiosity of and fascination with how Kerrie does visual things with non-visual techniques was what showed the most. Tommy's willingness to ask questions
and try out what Kerrie does, and Kerrie's willingness to show Tommy is what kept the conversation lively yet educational.
It is conversations that are so free-flowing, like Tommy's and Kerrie's, that help us as blind people educate the public with ease and not feel so self-conscious
about ourselves. It is when people are uncomfortable about asking questions or trying out your non-visual techniques that create the divide and uneasiness
for me in educating. I often get to feeling self-conscious about myself when the inquiring person has to struggle for words to be politically correct.
I end up being the one to come up with the words to make people feel more at ease. Sure, the inquiring person may not know the correct words to use (if
there are such things as correct words). that's where it takes a lot on our part as blind people to break the ice even when we, ourselves, may not be
comfortable or we feel self-conscious. I don't think that Tommy's questions were too forthright or too many, but I know that there are some people who
become self-conscious about themselves when this happens. I'm a case in point, but I push myself to be like Kerrie and not feel so self-conscious. When
I've succeeded in reaching that inquiring person, I get to feeling good about myself and what I've done to open that person's mind.


**5. I have known kids who are blind, kids who are deaf, kids who had cerebral palsy and walked only with difficulty. The neighborhood in which I grew up had
children of every race, religion, nationality - and ability. We kids didn't care. We played with each other and adjusted our games to fit whom we played
with at the time. A generation later my daughter's best friend in first grade was a boy who was profoundly deaf. By that time she knew her dad couldn't see well. She just grew up accepting that different people were able to do different things and that some people couldn't do certain things that other could. It just came
with the territory. Some nasty person once remarked to me that my daughter seemed to attract disabled people to her like some people adopted defective
pets. Gritting my teeth, I said, "Yes, indeed, I'm so proud that she looks deeper for real beauty than a person's exterior."

Carolyn Clearwater, FL

**6. What a contrast to the world I grew up in as a visually impaired child. My school chums called me, "Four eyes, Goo Goo eyes" and, "Bug eyes".
No one heard of terms like "Visually Impaired". Either you were blind or you could see. Since I could see, albeit with very thick bifocals, my many mishaps must be due to something else. "You clumsy stupid kid!" This was the phrase I grew up with. There was no way that I was going to introduce my few school friends to my partially sighted world. I tried to hide from it, to pretend I was "normal".
Later, as a rehab teacher in an adult training center, I found that most of the students attending the program who had been blind or partially blind from early youth, had very similar stories to tell.
Kerrie is a very fortunate child. She has had the advantage of a unique upbringing. Her parents not only understood Kerrie's adjustment needs, but also knew how to give her the emotional and intellectual tools to allow her to interact with her friend, while teaching him about her world.
Very frankly, this story is a Fairy Tale. I would love to know a child like Kerrie. But in my world 7 year old children do not have the skills or self confidence to enable them to teach other children.
But it could become a reality. If parents are given the education and training to provide their blind children with solid skills, attitudes and hope, then Kerrie's story may become a true life story instead of a fantasy.

Carl Jarvis ACB-L list

**7. I see nothing wrong with the story since it came from children.
That was their way to explain about the difference they both had.
I thought the little girl handled herself quite well.
And yes the boy went home with many more questions I am sure.

Dmgina NFBtalk list

**8. Fortunately, I have not had blind children, but I find this mother very wise in parenting a blind child. Kids say and do the darndest things! It is extremely
important for the parents of a blind child not to communicate a feeling of dependency by a blind child. I think this mom has done the right thing by having
all of the instruments of blindness available for her daughter and exercise due diligence on interaction between her and her friends, but not to interfere
with the daughter's relationships with friends unless inappropriate interaction is happening. This is no more than the parent of a sighted child would
be. This mom scores an A plus in my book.

Jim Theall Longmont, Colorado

**9. This sounds familiar How much can you see? They ask then do not listen to your answer. Hear you working on your computer with voice and expect to be able to sit down and do the same without learning about hot keys. I hear where is your mouse? No one can operate a computer without a mouse! I try to explain hear no way! Sighted people interrupt all the time as if the loudest person has inherent rights to be heard.

Diane Dodson Victoria BC Canada

**10When I counsel children, I tell them it is better to explain what you can and can't see rather than let people assume you are just incredibly clumsy. That
way, if a friend waves at you and you don't respond, they won't think you are stuck up when you actually didn't see them. When you trip off a curb you
failed to notice, they won't decide you are drunk using drugs or just a real space case. It can get exasperating and seem a bother to have to go through
all this stuff but in the long run it saves a lot of misjudgments and misunderstandings. Accepting your vision loss as a part of who you are and moving
on is the first step toward exploring who you really are. It isn't any worse than other aspects like being short, having freckles or any other part of
who you are and it isn't what you lack that is important but what you do with what you have. No one has it all, not even the people who seem too. Blindness
can eat your whole life up only if you let it. It is a small part of the whole package that is you and can be interesting to others and then forgotten
as your friendships move on to other areas of common interest.

DeAnna Quietwater Noriega USA

**11. Yea! That was very good this time, Robert! The mother and the teachers had obviously coached her well. I loved to see the observant silence of Kerrie's
mother. It is very refreshing to see mothers who don't always blurt out and steal the chance for their children to talk out these little kid questions.
She did a fantastic job explaining to Tommy how things worked for her.

Ben J. Bloomgren

**12. This sounds like my story, except I don't consider myself 'blind'. I'm visually impaired. I can read print on a CCTV, have a large print program on my
computer. I did learn Braille a few years ago and I couldn't do it. the dots are too small and the spacing terrible. I love listening to books on CD
but I never do talking books for the blind. They're boring and confusing. I tried training on a long white cane but I leaned too heavily on it and tripped
over it because it went slower than I did.

Patricia H. New York

**13. I too, think Kerrie's mother was very nice and non-interfering. If I were in her position that is exactly what I would've done. It's good that she
wasn't pushy. Kerrie's new neighbor seemed very intrigued by all of her equipment.
Over the course of getting to know people at Center for independent Futures and my neighbors in this apartment building, I have had to explain to them what
I can and cannot see, and generally how I go about my day as a blind person. Unlike Kerrie, I only have light perception and cannot read any standard print,
nor have I ever used glasses. However, everyone has been very willing to accept me into their circle. One thing which has caught the attention of a lot
of people here is my descriptive video collection. They have really enjoyed watching these videos with me. I have also shown off JAWS and explained how
it works, and I tell people that my computer is basically like all other IBM desktop computers. It just has software that allows me full access to the
screen. When my roommate and I first moved in on August 11 of 2004, we hosted a "Blind Cow" dinner and it was a very big hit. At one point during the course
of the evening, we had our blindfolded guests try their hands at various tasks. I gave a neighbor my "Say When" liquid level indicator and had him attach
it to a glass, and then I instructed him to fill the glass with tap water. He was very intrigued. Everybody in attendance said they learned a lot. Happy
New Year to all of you on Thought Provoker.

Jake Joehl jajoehl@comcast.net

**14. Lovely!!!!!

Julie Wootton

**15. Thought Provoker 101 was a very nice story of reactions between two children. Quite refreshing. I am not sure Tommy got the point throughout the
story that blindness was nothing to be feared, that Kerrie was a very independent little girl; but he was certainly on his way to getting it, for after
all, he wanted to be like Kerrie! Witness the glasses switch! Tommy certainly has a much more educated understanding of blindness than do some in rehabilitation
agencies purportedly serving the blind, who ought to know better!

Jeff Frye Overland Park, Kansas Email: jfrye2@sbcglobal.net

**16. All I can say is, it's a good thing these characters are children! If they had been any older, Tommy's ignorance would have been regarded as "insulting"
and "demeaning." As it stands, however, Kerrie can take it casually. Ignorance is the easiest sin to overcome. All it takes is patience on the part of
the teacher (Kerrie) and the learner (Tommy). Children often make better role models than "adults."
The story is helpful in that it deals with some major cliches. One is, "blind" means "darkness." But the truth is, most blind people do detect light, so
that settles that. Also, "reading" does not always mean "eyes" and "print."
The fact that Kerrie is learning Braille and loves reading is the most crucial part of the story. (It doesn't matter if you use print, Braille, or tape;
if you don't read, you're not living!) Not long ago, I read a source that claimed America's Braille literacy rate was around fourteen percent! I brought
this up with a friend of mine, who is getting a Special Education degree. She said that Braille is taught by "word recognition." (When teaching standard
print, this is called the "look-say" method.) Personally, I don't like that way at all. I don't think "word recognition" or "look-say" is good enough.
I learned how to read by phonics, and I asked my friend if it were possible to carry that over into Braille. She told me she had never heard of such a
thing, but that it was an interesting idea.
The only part I find objectionable is the fact that she's reading "Harry Potter." This is not good for any children, period. The problem is, Harry Potter
solves his crises by using "magic"; which, as defined in the books, is impossible. This type of writing causes children to daydream about things that CAN'T
be done, rather than learning to do things that CAN be done. (No doubt Kerrie will start waving her cane around like a "magic wand" of sorts. If I were
her Dad, I would not permit this.)
This brings up another issue: Are there any blind literary characters that could be regarded as good role models? I'll be working on that. Until then, I'll
leave it to the audience.

David Lafleche Thundermist04167@aol.com

**17. Along with talking one on one with people about being blind and explaining how much I can see--darkness, light, and some colors when up close--I've
learned that educating also comes in the form of living by example. I've had a few people come to me and actually tell me that I don't look blind, that
I'm only pretending to be blind, or that I'm so admirable as a blind person because they cannot get over how well I function like sighted people. The
Title, "What Do You Mean You Are Blind", reminds me of those kinds of situations where I have to prove that I cannot truly see what they're doing or are
pointing at. It is not until they've been around me for awhile or have seen me often in public that they realize that my blindness doesn't interfere with
normal daily living.
I was at Wal-Mart one day. I wasn't with John, like I usually am, since I only had a few things to pick up. As I was standing outside to wait for
the bus to go back home, two Wal-Mart employees came out for their cigarette break. As we were talking about the benches having been moved and nowhere
for us smokers to sit, I happened to hear someone's cell phone beeping constantly. Knowing that it wasn't mine, I brought it to their attention in case
there was something wrong with their cell phones. One of the employees told me that she was text messaging. I told her how most of the functions in my
cell phone are wonderful but that they were inaccessible to me. She then asked me whether or not I had a computer. Of course, I thought, "what does a
computer have to do with being able to text message?" She told me about programs like MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger allowing you to be able to text
message people's cell phones. I was thrilled, and we just laughed. Within minutes of that conversation, the customer service employee who had helped
me shop came out and asked the two employees I was talking to to let me know when the bus was pulling up. At the same time that I was telling the customer
service employee that I had a watch and knew when the bus pulled up, the two employees told her that I was alright and could get to the bus with no problem.

The point of the above paragraph is that, these two employees I was talking to had seen me often in Wal-Mart with and without John. They'd seen me
going about my own business like all other sighted shoppers do only with the help of a store employee to find what I needed. They knew that I was blind,
but the fact that I functioned as normal as everyone else in the store was forefront in their minds. Thus, when we were talking about text messaging,
they didn't have to fumble for words and there was total free-flow of conversation. My blindness was either a characteristic or forgotten altogether.

It is encounters like the one at Wal-Mart that make me feel good. Not only does that let me know that I'm reaching people educationally and positively
about blindness just through living by example, but it also lets me know that those who may not have had confidence in me in the beginning now have confidence
in me. When they thought that they had to treat me special and delicately because of my blindness, they found that they didn't have to.


**18. This is to the woman who called herself a shameful mother (response 1):
For years here in Dallas we have had people running the programs for the visually impaired children who insist that if a child can see anything at all,
then that child has no need for Braille. For me, this is denial...denial of the fact that the child is blind, and in need of special ways of learning and
communicating. I know...we have computers now, and books are being read on tape, but there's no substitute for being able to take a book in your own hands
and read it for yourself whether with your eyes or with your fingers.
My parents were uneducated, but they understood that I was blind...even though I could see well enough to do some of the things sighted children could do
at least a little. That's why they very unselfishly took me and left me at the Tennessee School for the Blind in September of 1949. I've always accepted
myself as being blind, and have never pretended to be sighted. I have no misgivings for that, and I won't take it back.

Dan Hollis

**19. One concept I appreciated in this newest thought provoker is coaching. I believe we can not force anyone to do a thing in a certain way. But we can coach them to do so. Coaching is a more natural method by which we learn. It is progressive, normally going step by step, starting by example and uses positive reinforcement to achieve a behavior change. I am sure that all three characters learned by the events laid out in this story. Good show.

Mandy Johnson

**20. I as a parent of a blind child would like to receive coaching lessons on how to coach. I’m afraid that both my ignorance about vision loss and my newness in being a parent make me a poor helper to my new little guy. Where can you find this training?


**21. In a world of conformists and conformist wannabes, I can guarantee it's really difficult to teach kids to self advocate and deal with peers from their own sense of self and not one defined by someone else.
Kerrie did a great job in this anecdote, of sharing info with her friend; if it were only true for all the kids.
Having said that, I'm pretty sure that the more TVIs work on this, the better things will be. NCLB won't exactly help out, but other agendas are in place of it.

Best, kat

**22. I learned phonics when I was at the school for the Blind in Alabama. I am also a Braille reader only. However this was in the 1970's. I think Harry Potter
is okay because even children, especially blind children need to escape from the real world.

Angela Farmer, Dothan, AL USA.