There was one blind kid enrolled at my elementary school, and just one blind student in my collegiate class. I can’t remember sharing many words with either of them. It’s also rare to meet disabled people in corporate America, so as far as I know I’d never had a meaningful conversation with a blind person my entire life.
Among the places I now volunteer, the most revelatory experiences have come while working with the blind. A local organization provides free services to blind citizens, including reading mail or books aloud, escorts for shopping trips, help with job applications, & more.
The work I’m given is different every day, but the constant is that each day teaches me something new. Here are 3 thoughts I’d like to share:
The sense of human connection that develops while being with blind people differs from what I typically experience in the world. From the moment you meet each new person (gently touching your right hand to theirs before shaking), you feel you will become known solely by your inner person, and not at all by appearance. The first time I understood this simple but powerful reality, it felt so freeing — as if all our inhibitions had suddenly been cleared away.
In a way, to be in the presence of the blind is to be fully present. Conversations often feel sharper, as no one signals wavering attention through wandering eyes or handling phones. Even in silence, it feels as if you are in a constant state of being “perceived.” Because this makes communication so satisfying, I think there could be a market for blind therapists, nurses, or life coaches.
When I dove head first into volunteering I sought to make a difference in my city and in the world. Amid the inevitable ups & downs, I sometimes question the impact. Does reading with underprivileged 3rd-graders a few times a week make any impact on their chances of ending up in college, or even jail?
But watching people navigate the world without their sight has brought appreciation for life’s small victories. One of the first tasks assigned to me was to record audio books for people to listen to at their leisure.
As I recorded a few chapters from a book of short stories, I visualized a person listening to the tape and enjoying the author’s words, partly because I leant my voice to them. If that ever happens then I will have tangibly improved someone’s life, even if for a moment. I can think of no other word than joy to describe the sense of happiness that brought.
3. Blind Spots
Regardless of our lens prescriptions, there are points where we walk through life as blind as those without sight. How many people take flights without seeing the pilot? Who can see what goes into medicine we ingest or the food in restaurants? A life of faith requires believing in a God you cannot see, and even atheist scientists believe there are dimensions we may never perceive.
Some of the things my blind friends do — unassisted — are so deft and uncanny I sometimes wonder if it’s all a hoax, as if I entered the movie Get Out. It’s truly remarkable what a determined human spirit can accomplish, and the American independence ethos reigns supreme especially among the blind.
Yet there are certain points when someone must lend a hand to complete the task. Jumping in at these moments — the “blind spots” — has caused me to learn some things about humility and trust. There are times in life when the best thing is for an individual to rely on other people, regardless of the individual’s vision. In the halls of the blind service office there is a profoundly shared awareness that none of us can quite handle our lives on our own (despite how we’re inclined to keep up a facade).
Lately I’ve been considering my personal blind spots. What are the things I don’t notice in social situations? What are the gaps in my knowledge on local or global issues? When is it best to ask for help, and why does doing that feel so uncomfortable?
Going forward, I aspire to make better connections with strangers, and ask friends & family to be candid about my blind spots. Perhaps more joy will come from others than from within.
— April 12, 2018