This story explains a good deal about how people with low vision see the world.
A friend returned to his old school and entered what used to be the common room. He saw the piano in the far right corner and made straight for it; but it was gone.
So how come a piano can vanish in the twinkling of an eye? My friend was seeing the commonroom via a memory, the mental image of the room which remained stored in his brain. His current weak vision failed to reveal the missing piano to his eyes.
In other words, we who have weak vision depend on our brains to complete the visual picture we see and its great. Unfortunately the reality spells a danger not known to our brain and that’s when we get into trouble. That’s why we sometimes appear to actually see quite well while other times we appear pretty well blind.
It’s the brain that does It stupid!!!
It occurs to me that people with normal seeing and hearing abilities may not fully understand the power of the smartphone, the computer and, in particular, the power of the screen. Like many in my position with poor sight and hearing, I know far more of what is going on looking at a screen than I do, as often as not, face to face and in a crowd or meeting. Let’s try to understand how this works and maybe the understanding will help guide newbies to sensory disabilities to overcome their initial puzzlement and learn to get the best out of appropriate technologies.
What is it about the screen? Why can I see more of my daughter’s face on screen than when she is across the dinner table from me? Why can I read headlines on screen but not when I hold up a newspaper?
Face to face images depend on reflected light -second best and the lighting circumstances vary greatly and are normally not within one’s control The smartphone or computer screen is made of thousands of tiny but potentially powerful little lights called pixels. The colour, the intensity and the size of the bits that make up the image can all be controlled to meet the needs of variously damaged eyes. Its as if the screen is alive, electrified and vibrant to weak eyes while the real world can appear dull to some of us.
Another way of thinking about all this is to understand that damaged eyes are a bit like a damaged camera and the cameras on modern phones are fantastic. So while my wabbly slow functioning eyes struggle to see whether her face has glasses or lipstick, the digital camera sorts it all out and, with my nose close to the screen in my case, I get it, well much more of it. On a zoom call, I might even get to be able to recognise the face which is talking and I never recognise a face when out and about.
I guess the message is clear. Encourage grandma to try something new digital because, when she has got over the first uncomfortable experience of something devilishly new and fangled, she might surprise you and herself by seeing more than she bargained for. She might even start reading again or browsing for clothes online.
Pets for partials is doing the rounds as a moan about guide dogs being too much given to people who are partially sighted, not totally blind. I have a guide dog and a little sight too. Perhaps all this is the tip of the iceberg of a highly sensitive visual disability issues. i.e. is it right to lump us altogether as vision impaired to facilitate the magical two million sight loss population?
After all, only ten percent of those with significant sight loss have no vision at all and their lives are very different from the lives of those of us with diminished sight.
The issue is this: Should resources be more focused on the totally blind or should we continue on the roll towards larger numbers of people with sight loss? Professor Ian Bruce at RNIB lead the charge for the two million in the late 1980’s and the aging population statistics point ever upwards over the next ten or twenty years.
I don’t look back through rose-tinted glasses but the second world war opened up opportunities of rehabilitation, work and government financial support for the totally blind. So I wonder if we should be refocusing on the latter and their specific needs once again. I am old enough to remember the lovely quiet grounds in Sevenoaks, Birmingham and Torquay where newly totally blind people could hope to relax and move around with appropriate help, encouragement and blossoming confidence. These very places now are given over to posh flats for the seeing with money and totally blind newbies have to sort it all out in the hustle and bustle of our cities and towns often, sadly, without a supporting peer-group.
Perhaps we should replace the pets for partials with time for totals.