Below are a number of short stories about people’s experiences with low vision and its challenges. Put down your favorite beverage before you read the second story.
A Low Vision Tutorial
What does it mean to have low vision? Few things regarding low vision are absolute. What can be said that is universal? There are many diagnoses, and degrees of vision, but there is little understanding of low vision.
One area that is often overlooked is that there is an increased requirement for visual interpretation that every low-vision person must employ. It can be the visual land of the unknown until mental evaluation illuminates what one’s eyes are physically relaying.
A true story comes to mind. Back in the day, a friend and her boyfriend, both young and visually impaired, were out walking to the local grocery. Each day they would follow the same route and view a gas station in the near distance. There was something strange that caught their eye. It appeared that there were two men standing at the corner of the station. Why were they always there? Was this an indication of some kind of illegal activity? They decided reasonably to avoid the area. Eventually, their curiosity got the better of them. They decided to investigate. When they arrived at the gas station for a closer look, they found that the two men standing at the corner were actually two innocuous phone booths.
The conclusions we reach can be off base or spot on, tragic or humorous, as noted above. Welcome to the world of those with low vision, a world where every day is an adventure.
— Valerie Ries-Lerman, Sacramento, Calif.
That’s Not Powdered Sugar …
A few years ago, I was given a chinchilla in trade for some work I did for a friend. We named him Chewy, and he was a delight. They are not supposed to get wet as it’s not good for their fur, so they take “dust baths” where they roll around in chinchilla dust to keep their fur clean and shiny.
I was making cupcakes, so I asked my husband to go to the pet shop to purchase a bag of dust. I asked my son to put it upstairs and thought no more about it. I was concentrating on making frosting, so I reached in the cupboard for the confectioner’s sugar. It was a new bag, so I opened it and dumped some in my bowl with the butter. I tasted it and it didn’t seem sweet at all, so I dumped in more sugar. I tried it again and it was still bland as could be. I started sputtering at the bowl when my son appeared and started killing himself laughing. I didn’t see anything funny as my son continued to laugh. Well, I had opened the chinchilla dust and was dumping that into my bowl instead of confectioner’s sugar because both products come in a plastic bag and they both feel about the same. My son hadn’t taken the bag of dust upstairs; he’d put it in the kitchen cupboard. He wanted to go outside to play, so he thought he’d retrieve it later and no one would be the wiser. He was definitely wrong! That gave my family something to laugh about for years, especially if I said I was making a batch of cupcakes!
— Jeanne Donovan, Haverhill, Mass.
Another Look at Low Vision
It is always fun meeting new people. That is, of course, unless you are in a crowded store looking for your spouse. Does that shirt look familiar? The color, the design? That’s got to be him. Well, “Hi, honey!” No, not him? “Oh, sorry! I thought you were my husband.” “Your husband? What? You mistook me for...? Are you blind? Drunk? Just plain crazy?” “No, I’m just legally blind.” “Legally what?” “That’s right, legally blind.” The looks that come to their faces!
Then the explanation starts. “I can see the big things, not the smaller ones.” This works very well, if you are in fact not addressing someone that is, shall we say, obese. “Can’t see details?” “No, I can’t drive.” The driving part they can relate to, and the light of recognition starts to register.
Then there’s the fun at the office. Is that my work buddy Laura in the red top coming my way? That must be her, because I saw her closer up wearing that color earlier. I better not seem rude. I’ll say, “Hi, Laura” as I pass by. It’s not her? My explanation? Yes, I’ve had plenty of practice!
The possibilities for social misunderstandings are many. That is why I decided to use a white cane. “You can’t see?” I get a lot. Or, sometimes someone will actually come right out and accuse me of faking it. Once again, the “explanation.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind educating people. That is, if they are open to honest communication on the subject. Often, though, they seem to have already made up their minds, made their assumptions, and come to their conclusions.
That is why I so much welcome those that come right out and ask questions. Every low-vision individual has a story to tell. A different story, it’s true, but with similarities that we all share.
— Valerie Ries-Lerman