Braille Monitor                                                                                                           November 2004

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Half a Cup

by Dave Hyde

Dave Hyde
Dave Hyge

From the Editor: Dave Hyde currently serves as secretary of the Rock County chapter of the NFB of Wisconsin, is the affiliate's director of governmental affairs, coordinates the Imagination Fund for Wisconsin, and is the newly elected secretary of the affiliate. At work he develops and schedules professional development activities for vision teachers and O and M specialists all over the state. In his spare time he coaches goal ball.

In the following little article Dave grapples with a frustration faced by many competent blind people. His conclusion sheds some light, even if it does not solve the problem. This is what he says:

Until she died, my mother never poured me more than half a cup of coffee. I'm sure this was something she learned from some book or class about how blind people did things. Somehow, some way, she learned that handling more than half a cup of hot liquid would be hazardous and must be avoided.

She and I discussed her half-cup habit over the years and agreed that I should have a full cup like everyone else and that I didn't spill a full cup any more frequently than she did. But every time she poured it, the cup was half full. As I grew up, I realized that there was a difference between what she knew from experience about blindness and what she had learned from sighted professionals about it. She had taken some parent training when I was very young, part of which involved eating under blindfold. She told me that it was very hard, that she was afraid of spilling, and that after the experience she understood how hard it was for blind people to eat.

Strangely enough, I have never had any problem transporting food from the plate to my mouth, drinking from a full cup, or locating things on a table. I have done it every day because I have only two choices: eat or starve. I have always preferred the former. Looking back, I can now see the difference between what my mother was taught and what she learned. Mom was taught that she couldn't do things as well under a blindfold as she could when she could see, but the lesson she drew from this fact was that my experience would always be just like her lesson under the blindfold.

The first of these statements is true. It is hard for a sighted person to do things under a blindfold. The blindfold simulates total blindness and requires the participant to do things in a way which is new, uncomfortable, and fearful. I have often likened learning of the skills of blindness to learning to drive a car. You can't or shouldn't assume that, just because a person owns a car, he or she can drive it. Driving requires instruction and practice. Eventually, however, driving becomes easier and ultimately a matter of habit. The difficulty with my mother's simulated blindness was that she didn't stick with it long enough to develop skill. Incorrect though it was, she learned her lesson well. Even after being around successful blind people at conventions; seeing me married, employed, and successful; and knowing that many of the things she couldn't do under blindfold my friends and I do all the time, she still remembered how hard it had been for her and behaved accordingly.

The best solution I found for dealing with the coffee was to thank her for the half cup and then go back and fill the cup the rest of the way myself. Both of us recognized that the cup was only half full, and she wasn't offended having me add more coffee. Even with the best of intentions, some things cannot be unlearned. But my wife--she who has a solution for everything--has solved the coffee problem in an entirely different way. If I want it, I get it myself.

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