by Hannah Fairbairn
This is an important book, a remarkable book! The introduction offers the best summing up of blindness that I can remember. Both negative and positive aspects are described with interest and insight, though Michael Nye is a photographer – a visual artist!
The introduction talks about the profound difference between growing up with shame and no support compared with encouragement and the expectation of education and independence. (Blindness memoirs are so often written by those who were encouraged at home.) It also points out the multitude of ways someone can lose sight, and the ugly and damaging uses of the word “blind” to denote unaware or stupid. Michael Nye goes on to say that “blindness causes structural brain changes. The brain reorganizes itself to favor non-visual thinking.” We all know this, but how often is it stated outside the world of blind education?
Michael says, “This project began with a desire to have conversations about the nature of awareness, and the complexity of perception. Perception is deeper than we can imagine and more mysterious.”
The introduction quotes from some of the profiles, such as Dean Georgiev. “Many sighted people think blindness means the world is over. No, it’s not over. You haven’t lived with it. You haven’t discovered it. …”
Marty Hawthorne spoke emphatically about “being fully present in my life. I wouldn’t describe seeing as being a better sense than any of the others. People ignore their other senses – so much is missed – and it prevents someone from going deeper.”
In an email Michael said something we all know, but don’t talk about much: “Our other senses have their own wisdom separate from sight. Our eyes miss so much. Hearing does not improve. What changes is the ability to extract more meaning from sounds. What becomes more sensitive is awareness from a cultivation of attention. I heard many examples of heightened perspectives and heightened abilities as a result of non-visual adaptations.”
He took nearly seven years to record long interviews with visually impaired and blind people. Each interview – really an extended conversation – took place over two or three days. The interviewees, ranging in age from 11 to 90, are sometimes not much interested in sight. Many of them discover deeper ways to experience life. Their conversations are philosophical and positive. His conclusions are radical. His introduction dwells on what our sight-dominated society misses in the perceptions that blind people often develop. He is no Pollyanna! There are haunting descriptions of abuse, but each of his subjects has carved out a satisfying life.
Michael states that among the disregarded groups he has studied and documented over many years (teenage mothers, people living with long-term hunger, and those on the edge of mental imbalance), blind people and those with low vision are the least understood by society. “Most people who see cannot imagine blindness. They are not interested enough to find out. They are too scared. It’s lack of imagination … It’s almost criminal!”
“My Heart is Not Blind: On Blindness and Perception,” by Michael Nye, is available from NLS (DB92924), as well as from Bookshare, and in braille. The print edition contains photographs of each person profiled.