Sudden blindness

A few years ago, there was one of those questions at the end of Any Questions? that asked the panel what they would miss most if they went blind. And most of the panellists said things like seeing the faces of their children or grandchildren.

A programme has just started on Radio 4 with two people who actually did lose their sight suddenly and unexpectedly – viral meningitis in one case, diabetes the other – and they actually said it was no longer seeing faces that did bother them most. In particular, it was people ageing they didn’t see. “What does my brother look like, now he’s grown up?”

That puzzles me slightly. Maybe it’s my pragmatic face on life, but what I’d miss most, in order, would be reading, driving and the internet.

I’ve always been a massive reader – everything, all the time. Printed words surround us on adverts, signs, directions. Even if you can learn to read Braille as quickly as reading normal text, there’s an issue about how much text is available in Braille. And surely audiobooks and having text read to you is just so much slower a way of consuming information than scan reading it for yourself.

And without reading, without text, the whole of the riches of the internet and computers and online life fade away. Again, it’s possible to use a computer with text to speech or brail interfaces, but that must be so frustrating compared to the speed of assimilation of information through your eyes.

And driving. Clearly if you went blind, you’d have to give up the amazing freedom that comes from owning a car and being able to go anywhere you want any time you want. I learned to drive very late in life after being a bit of a driving refusenik in my teens. Until I was 25, I entirely got around on foot and on public transport – I still can’t even cycle. And I coped. I could get from one end of the country to the other; go camping in Scotland or Wales by train. So I know I can cope without a car. But I’ve got so used to it now, I know I would really miss the freedom of just leaping behind the wheel, topping up the tank and driving to the other end of the country at a moment’s notice.

The other conundrum that sometimes gets asked is – would you rather go blind or deaf? As someone who sings and makes music, how would I cope without music? But compared to losing reading, losing singing would not be so severe.

Here’s a link to the BBC R4 programme.

The younger woman is now talking about such awful things – boyfriends who stole from her, and got her to sign things by telling her they were something else – a premium bond encashment form instead of a gas bill. And two men who noticed her dog, followed her home and forced their way into her home. I hope they caught the bastards.


2 comments on “Sudden blindness

  1. This is an interesting question. As a person who has lost vision gradually and a musician who loves to read, I’m glad I have my hearing. There are new electronic devices called Refreshable Braille Displays, which are blowing the door off the availability issue. Files are downloaded to a tiny device which displays one line of Braille at a time. As for the speed of audio text … The new digital book players allow you to increase the speed without changing the pitch, so it is possible to read quite fast. Personally, I can’t handle the really rapid speech. As for driving … when I was younger, I went all over the US with my guide dog, using public transportation, occasional rides and my feet. Nowadays, there’s a joint project between Virginia Tech and the National Federation of the Blind to develop a car blind people can drive. The first version was driven by 20 blind people — mostly teens — last summer. If you’re interested in knowing more, I did an article for Suite 101 about it:
    The Blind Driver Challenge: How Will Virginia Tech’s Car for Blind People Affect Society?

    Feb. 18

    Virginia Tech is developing a car blind people can drive. Some, including blind teens, have already taken the prototype for a spin. Can blind drivers advance science?

  2. niles says:

    That article is fascinating – thank you so much for your comment.


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