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Vision as a Disability

Smacholdt's picture

Every experience is dependent on the way you frame it. Carmen Papalia was one of the most positive people I’ve encountered in a long time. For me, losing my eyesight is a terrifying idea. Sight is generally considered the most important sense that humans use. It is “essential” to our functioning in the world. However, Mr. Papalia showed us another way of thinking. He framed being vision impaired as not an impairment at all, but as something to value and even celebrate. And after his blind field shuttle tour of Bryn Mawr’s campus I would have to agree with him. Through the tour I was able to get to know both the campus and my classmates a lot better. I felt more connected to my surroundings out of necessity. One wrong step and I felt like I was going to fall down the slope that led into Morris Woods. But I didn’t, which I think that it was largely due to my classmates. This in itself was interesting since it was literally the blind leading the blind. None of us could see. Even our leader could not see perfectly. But as eetong and I discussed on our way out of class, this, in a way, made us feel safer. We felt that since he had had so much experience being in our situation, that he was a very trustworthy guide. Granted, I was in the middle of the line and so protected by both the people in front of me and the people behind me (both would feel uneven terrain before I did.) I was also protected by my height (any overhead branches would hit the people in front before hitting me.) I wonder how my experience would have been different if I had been in the front of the line? By the end of the walk the class had developed a system for oncoming objects blocking our path. For instance, though we knew that a curb was coming up, we did not know exactly where it was, so as soon as my shoe hit it, I would simply say “curb” to the person behind me.

 I also thought that it was interesting that when my eyes blinked open in a few spots (usually right after I or someone around me tripped) instead of helping me more easily find my way, this bit of sensory input just confused me more. Since I had been deprived of sight for a few minutes, I got used to using my feet and ears as my main sources of information, so it seemed like my brain didn’t quite know what to do with these sudden visual clues. It’s amazing how well the body can adapt to change. All in all, I am more in awe than ever of the way that others see the world (and how this differs from my own view.) I’ve also realized that teamwork is a very underrated way of going about things .Collaboration seems to make most things easier. Whether you are going on a blind shuttle tour or trying to solve the environmental crisis, more collaboration can’t hurt.