A Sense of Blindness

I will preface this post by saying I am not quite sure what its purpose is! Entertainment, enlightenment, education, rant—all of the above? As a writer and someone who often has too many thoughts running through her head, random things come to me.
This morning I was cleaning the bathroom—a necessary evil, but a task I loathe. As I ran my fingers around the sink basin feeling for soap scum, toothpaste residue etc, and as the cleaning solution unclogged my nasal passages better than any drugstore decongestant that perception about blind people’s senses wafted into my mind.
Yes, we have all heard it. If you lose one sense, the others take over—become stronger, Mother Nature’s way of providing superhuman compensation for the loss of sight, smell, hearing, taste.
I lost all my vision at age eight, and I remember everyone telling me, my parents, my little friends, my other senses would get stronger. The Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man were popular TV shows I loved, and I waited and waited for these superhuman gifts to arrive. Sadly they didn’t.
Do blind people hear, smell, taste, and feel more acutely than their sighted counterparts? Next to how do you know when your guide dog needs to go potty this is probably the most common question I get as a blind person. To my knowledge there is no scientific evidence to prove the senses of blind people are any stronger than anyone else’s, and from my own personal experiences and observations of other blind people I know the answer is probably not.
The reality is the other sense doesn’t grow stronger but we learn to rely more on the senses that remain. In other words, we might pay closer attention to sounds, smells, textures etc. Without sight, one has to use other senses to accomplish daily tasks, travel independently. There is no magic in this.
One example I always used when talking to kids is how I might know when I am close to a supermarket. A sighted person could obviously read the sign, see the shoppers driving crazily in and out of the parking lot. After some prompting, the rattle of shopping carts was usually shouted out with glee. ”Elementary, my dear Watson.” Listen, sniff, and feel for the clues. Are they always correct? Nope. I have tried to board more than one FedEX truck thinking it was a city bus based on the sound, but my point is anyone not just blind people can use their other senses to get all sorts of information about their surroundings. Remember Dining in the Dark? This trendy concept that began in Europe invited diners to pay big bucks to eat in total darkness the thought being the meal would taste better if they could not see what they were eating. There are probably times it is better not to see what you are eating, but it was not the lack of light that sharpened the palette but concentration and lack of visual distraction by the way the dishes were presented. The sad thing about this perception of blind people’s senses is not that people actually believe it—usually once you explain they get it and the explanation makes perfect sense. It is that many blindness professionals and blind people themselves purvey this perception.
As a blindness rehabilitation professional myself, I have witnessed professionals openly or discreetly belittling blind clients or coworkers, because they felt they weren’t using their other senses to their maximum potential. A person just isn’t feeling the Braille cell. Another person can’t tell by listening when the kettle is at boil. I, myself, have never been able to hear overhead canopies. Does this make any of us less capable or less aware of our environment? No! Everyone, whether blind or sighted is an individual, very unique. Someone may have calluses on their fingers making feeling Braille difficult, another may have a slight hearing loss, or just be totally clueless at times. I often fall in that latter category. I know just as many sighted people who can’t feel a rough texture on a counter or walk right in to scaffolding because they just weren’t paying attention.
Today, we all have so many distractions to keep us from paying attention—texting, information overload with constant notifications, so my challenge to everyone reading this is to take a walk or sit outside listen, smell, run your hands along the grass and truly enjoy what is around you. You never know what you might discover.

1 Comment

  1. Robin Christopherson

    Dear Bonnie

    Great post and sentiments I completely agree with. It’s a common question I get too and I always say the same thing – you just use the senses you have left as much as you can and that may often seem like they are enhanced somewhat. There have been times when people I’m with are staring at a departures board and wondering out loud when the next train is when it’s just been announced over the tannoy. On the other hand, however, there are times when my hearing abilities seem lesser than sighted people I’m with – namely when I’m trying to hear someone talking in a noisy environment. My theory is that people are unconsciously getting a reincorcement to what they are hearing by seeing the lips of the speaker moving. I know for a fact that my hearing is fine but nevertheless I am consistently less able to follow a conversation in a noisy room than others present. This does seem somewhat ironic to me – that hearing which is so important to us is reliant on sight in these situations – but hey-ho.

    Keep up the great posts.

    Robin

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