Living Life Blind: From the Mouths of Babes

My husband is legally blind. He has a disease of the retina called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is hereditary and progressive. I wrote an article about Retinitis Pigmentosa recently, and after it was published, I received a comment from a reader about the piece. The reader expressed his disbelief that people with a hereditary, blinding disease present in their families would choose to procreate.

I wasn’t shocked by the reader’s comment. My husband and I have lived with the “you poor man” syndrome for a long time, despite the fact that he is one of the happiest, most well adjusted people I have ever met. I was, however, reminded of how much I still have to say about living life blind. As I did some research about resources for the visually impaired for another piece I am working on, I came across the most extraordinary page.

There is a 2001 project that was conducted by the North Dublin National School Project in Dublin, Ireland by ten and eleven year old students about what it is like to live with a visual disability, and how others might make life easier for people who are blind. There I found some of the most reasonable advice I have ever come across. Illustrated by the students’ artwork, these simple, sensible ideas were thought up by the children.

We should put in more automatic doors. -Niamh and Aisling
Automatic doors are helpful to people who are living life blind in several ways. First of all, an automatically opening door provides a very helpful auditory cue to the blind person to identify where the door is. It also eliminates the necessity to find the handle, and determine what type of handle it is (we’ve become quite fancy and varied with our types of entry in recent years).

We should stop throwing litter, as this could be a hazard for people walking on the streets. -Caitriona
Litter is absolutely a hazard for someone who is blind. Any unexpected debris can present a problem. It is very easy for a blind person who is cane traveling to sweep their cane right over a piece of slippery trash, only to then step on it. My husband would like to add that there is nothing more annoying than getting your cane caught in the handles of a discarded plastic bag. This is a common, frustrating problem.

We could make beeping noises around holes that are being dug up by a builder. -Caitriona
My husband and I were walking down a street some years ago when we came upon the most frightening thing I have ever seen, as someone who is partnered with a blind person. A large, six-foot-deep hole had been dug out of the sidewalk, and a large iron rod was sticking straight up through the center. I still shiver to think what might have happened if my husband had discovered that hole while traveling alone. Construction work in public areas is a very challenging, very constant hazard for people who are blind.

If we have to park our cars on the path, we should always leave enough room for a few people at a time to get by. -Emma R.
Emma was really thinking about the needs of blind people. Not only does she recognize the potential problems for a blind person caused by cars parked where people walk, but she also remembers that many blind people will be traveling either with a guide, or a dog, and will require enough space for more than one person to pass. I will expand on Emma’s point by adding that cars parked in cross walks and in front of curb cuts in the sidewalk also present hazards for people who are blind. Also, cars parked too shallowly in a driveway, hanging out over the sidewalk, are a big no-no.

As I read through the ideas from the children, I was struck by how simple and straightforward the logic of kids tends to be, and how much we can learn from them. I assure you, with a little adherence to the guidelines set by the ten- and eleven-year-olds of the North Dublin National School Project, folks who are living life blind may find that the world is a safer, easier place to navigate.

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