Re-emerging From "Visual" Conditioning

I recently attended an excellent weekend workshop for sightless people, visually impaired people, and their allies, led by Marty Klein, who is sightless himself. He was a model of a relaxed, accessible leader. The structure of the weekend allowed plenty of time for sessions, getting close to other Co-Counselors, and play. Yet there was also time for theory and fifteen demonstrations. Marty gave some theory, and we also divided into the three workshop categories for presentation of specific theory for our group. The key point in my group for the visually impaired is how people assume that with or without glasses, you can see as well as they can.

It heightened our sensitivity to hear the dictionary definition of "blind," read by one of the blind Co-Counselors, with all its negative connotations. I think everyone should read it to see how it colors our reactions to blind people in English-speaking cultures. Marty suggested using the word "sightless" as a less loaded word.

At one point, it was humorously suggested that those of us with vision are "sight-dependent." In fact, by the end of the weekend I had a clear picture of how much I depend on my eyes and how our society adds to the necessity for vision by assuming everyone can see. For example, we have not thought well when designing our transportation system (my field). The horrifying point was brought up that there is a subway system where sightless people fall off the platform because there is no tactile delineator to warn them.

I tried not using my glasses at times over the weekend and got an instant picture of the terror connected to not being able to see. I need to discharge the terror along with the humiliation connected to asking for help from strangers. I only knew a couple of people at the workshop which gave me excellent opportunity to practice.

It was apparent that the opportunity to get close to sight--less people shattered once and for all the image of "poor disabled people." Sightless people are gutsy. Rather than feel sorry for them, I am developing a long list of what I admire. They are individuals with an enormous amount to give us because of their unique perspective. I know now what a loss it is to be separated from people who are physically different. Those of us who are sight dependent can get a good picture of the effects of hurts instilled through our eyes from close contact with those who were sightless from birth. Among those I observed:

(1) We learned to imitate adults and hide our emotions behind masks. We hold our bodies the way they do. We thus lose touch with who we truly are.

(2) Because we were able to see people from a distance and it was not necessary to touch, we were able to literally disconnect from people without apparent damage.

(3) Because we could see, many of us were not allowed to explore things with our hands -- "look but don't touch" -- and miss out on wonderful tactile experiences.

(4) We learn to depend on our eyes to the point of substituting them for our other senses. We become less aware of sound and smell to orient ourselves and depend on artists to open up these areas to us.

(5) We don't appreciate how precious our eyes are and rest them. We get the message that we can't close our eyes and be awake; it is not acceptable to listen to music around other people or go to meetings and close our eyes.

By the end of the workshop I was lying on the floor with my eyes closed, and my body fit like a puzzle piece among the other bodies, not having to face any particular direction, intensely aware. This arrangement was periodically broken and rearranged whenever someone got called to the front of the group. When I got called, I immediately began to discharge as I could feel the attention without having to look around.

This workshop offered a unique opportunity to look at human potential from a broader perspective and realize what we gain from knowing another human. Each one of us has abilities and disabilities, and being sightless or visually impaired does not lessen one's humanness with all that implies. It was also a time to discharge terror based on a "sight-dependent" view of the world which is a serious limitation to total re-emergence.

Sandra Rosner
Albany, New York, USA

Last modified: 2015-07-21 10:16:21-07