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Things I’ve Learned About Blindness & Vision Impairment

I’m approaching one year since I started volunteering with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).

Each Wednesday, I spend about two hours paying bills, reading stacks of mail and organizing any personal paperwork for the lovely, 73-year-old man I volunteer for. (Read more about him here.) Those two hours each week are his opportunity to make sure he keeps his life in order — from doctor’s notes and appointments, to making sure the WiFi is paid for. D

Throughout the year, I have been bombarded with questions from people who haven’t worked with the blind or visually impaired. There are many incredible things that I have learned about those who are blind or visually impaired.

Yes, you can live alone with blindness/vision impairment

My person (that’s what I call him), Dean, lives by himself with his guide dog. He always has and he probably always will. Through MABVI, you are able to get as many volunteers as you need for your daily tasks, including: grocery shopping, clothes shopping, paying bills, reading mail, someone to exercise with, etc. Even with non-MABVI services like house cleaning, laundry pick-up, etc., living alone is easier now than it has been before. Dean keeps himself busy through his many organizations, friends, church, and audiobooks.

No, you can not pet the guide dog

Please don’t do this. I can’t tell you how stressed I was guiding Dean down a busy street in Back Bay, and people all around were petting his dog, Thor. By petting a dog that is technically working, you can undo the years of training in that one single action. Plus, dogs are dogs — they get distracted; and when they are distracted, they cannot guide their people properly. If you really, really want to pet the dog, then ask first; and make sure the guide dog is not trying to get his person from point A to point B in the process.

Yes, some blind/visually impaired people have jobs

Technology has been advancing and becoming more accessible, that it has become easier to send and read emails, type up word documents, surf the internet, post on social media, etc. There are many apps and software programs that are allowing technology to be more accessible. For instance, there is an iPhone app that can tell what dollar bills you have when you hold it up to the camera. The world is full of endless possibilities for those that are differently-abled.

No, not all people will want your assistance

Most blind/visually impaired people are able to cross the street or get from Point A to Point B on their own based on training and/or experience. However, you can always offer to help by simply asking if they need a guide. If they say yes, have their hand hold the back of your arm and guide them along. Be sure to warn of any steps, curbs, turns, etc. so they know to follow. Another good tip for seating a blind person is to take their hand and place it on the back of the chair.

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Now, below are some of the questions I have asked regarding blindness. Some may seem sort of inappropriate, but I was truly curious!

When eating with a fork, is every bite a surprise? (if you have a plate full of different foods)

No, you know based on the texture of the food and the location of where it is — all of that is mapped out at first bite.

Losing even just a regular pet is difficult, how difficult is it to lose a guide dog?

Very difficult! When you’re used to having a dog guide you everywhere, it is hard to change from that to a walking stick or cane. Depending on the organization you get guide dogs from, however, you can start training with a new dog as soon as the next day or two. Organizations such as The Seeing Eye can be contacted at any time; even when a dog simply doesn’t work out.

How can you cook without vision?

Through the use of hands. Using utensils to cook can be hard, since you aren’t sure what you’re using or cutting. Dean simply uses his hands to flip anything on a skillet, check to see if the flame is high or low enough, etc.

(For those who previously had vision) What are some things you miss from having vision?

The two main things Dean misses are being able to see Christmas cards and what they look like; and seeing his daughter. She was a young child when he lost his vision, and simply being able to watch your child grow up is a blessing.

There are many other questions I have. It’s truly inspiring to see people continue and thrive in their lives when having an impairment. For some, it’s not even an impairment at all, it’s just a different way of living. For me, I’m sure I’d have a very difficult time – but it’s easy to say that when you’re on the other side.

Interested in becoming a volunteer through the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired? Apply online here. If you would like a volunteer for yourself or a loved one, fill out the Service Referral Form or call 617-972-9119.

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