Future Reflections  Summer 2006

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What Do You Mean, You're "Blind"?
Thought Provoker 101

by Robert Leslie Newman
Web site: http://www.whitsacre.info/vip/thought.htm

Editor’s Note: In the fictional vignette below, Robert Newman illustrates how raising low vision children with a positive NFB approach to blindness can help these kids feel confident in discussing blindness and in reaching out to make new friends. Newman, who is himself blind, is a career rehabilitation specialist with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and a long-time member of the NFB. He started writing his Thought Provokers several years ago as a way to explore the diverse and often thorny issues which surround the adjustment to blindness process. This Thought Provoker and others are posted on his Web site. Here is Thought Provoker 101:

Thought Provoker 101

“What do you mean, you’re blind?” asked Kerrie’s new friend, Tommy. He had his nose right up to hers, his breath smelling of garlic from the lunch they had just shared.

Kerrie, age seven, had invited her new neighbor, six-year-old Tommy, over to welcome him to the neighborhood.
“You have those glasses on and your eyes look real big!”

Nose wrinkling, Kerrie turned her head aside and tried to answer him like her mother and teachers had coached her: “Ah, well, I can’t see good. I have to be real close and, ah, well, the light has to be bright. And…”

“But your eyes are looking at me! And they’re pretty blue, like my mother’s.” Tommy interrupted.

Reaching out to push away the wiggling hand Tommy had thrust up before her eyes, Kerrie patiently continued with her explanation.

“These glasses help me see stuff clearer. But I still have to get close.”

“How close?” Tommy broke in again, excitedly continuing with his need to know. “Can you read Harry Potter?”

“Yeah I am right now, on CD.”

“On CD! Can I see?” Tommy asked.

Kerrie lead the way to where she had placed the player, picked it up, and--fingers quickly orienting to the machine’s many buttons--pushed play. A voice with an English accent spoke from the small speaker on the front panel, “The Goblet of Fire!"

“That’s not reading!” blurted Tommy. “That’s, that’s….”

This time Kerrie interrupted. “Lots of people read this way. Didn’t you ever have any books on tape when you were little?”

“Yeah, but, but….” stuttered Tommy.

“Okay. You hear the words, right? And it’s like the people in England talk, right?”

“Yeah. That part’s cool.” Tommy responded, starting to really listen to what his new friend was telling him.

“And I’m learning Braille this year. I can read with my fingers, too!” Kerrie said, setting down the CD player and reaching for a nearby book. “Here, watch.” Kneeling down on the carpeted floor, Kerrie opened to a marked page and with both index fingers positioned at the top of the page, she began to slide her fingers along the Braille text. “Nancy Drew is my name….”

“COOL, can I try?” After Kerrie had him properly aligned, Tommy said, ”Ah, ...these bumps are….kinda small. So….how do you read it?” And getting his face right up to hers again, he said, “Do those glasses help you read this?”

“No! You read Braille with your fingers! It’s special and you have to learn it. My glasses help me read the computer.”

“Can I see?”

At the computer desk Kerrie brought up a screen enlargement program. “See. Bigger, bigger, smaller, smaller…” Tommy’s breathy “COOL,” accompanying each change. “And when I get to a lot of words that are hard to see, I can do this…,” Kerrie tapped some keys and a synthesized voice blared from the speakers.

“COOL, I gotta have one! Can I do it?”

Encouraged by Tommy’s enthusiasm, Kerrie continued, “I also use a white cane,” and pulled her cane out from behind the recroom door.

“Is that what that stick is called? Can I see?”

Kerrie’s mother had periodically come to the door of the room to listen to how the kids were getting along. She had purposefully refrained from coming in, not wanting to interrupt, however when she heard, “…I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours…,” she stepped in. She saw Tommy with a wide-eyed expression wearing Kerrie’s thick lens glasses, and Kerrie squinting behind the dark colored lenses of Tommy’s non-prescription sunglasses. It’s hard to say who started laughing first.

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