What Does It Mean to “Act Blind?”

By William H. Grignon


Recently, I posted an article on the PCB-CHAT email list titled, “What Does It Mean to ‘Act Blind?’” I even noted that this article was available in the latest offering from Choice Magazine Listening. Typical of the PCB-CHAT list, I got no responses.


The article, written by a blind reporter, discussed the kerfuffle surrounding the NFB’s protest of the CW network’s decision to cast the blind lead in the series, “In the Dark” with a sighted woman. Besides the aesthetic and political issues raised by the hiring of a sighted person, the author expounded on the concept of “acting blind.” As someone who once had some sight and has had to adjust to total vision loss, I thought I would give the query some consideration and share my insights and impressions.


Slow: Losing my vision has caused me to move more slowly. Ever find yourself in a hurry? Find yourself in a rush? How does that work for you? It’s when we are in a hurry or under emotional stress that we forget details in our environment or rush to get things done that lead us to slam into a corner, trip over an obstacle, whisk a glass off a counter to shatter into oblivion. It’s all about slowing down, consciously so, making sure of that next move, assuring that injury or destruction won’t attend our next parry with reality.


Small: Losing my vision has caused me to move in smaller motions. When’s the last time you flung your arms out in a dramatic gesture indoors? It’s probably the last time you hit someone in the nose or sent a vase cartwheeling across the room. Not only are we slower, we are smaller – smaller steps, smaller gestures, smaller circumferences of ostensible proximity.


Soft: Losing my vision has caused me to reach and move more softly. We soon learn that lumbering through life like Frankenstein or the Living Dead, with clenching hands thrust forward in ramrod reach into the next unknown, doesn’t work very well. Instead, we trail with soft hands, reach with soft fingers, step with soft shuffles, and wend our way through life with supple hips and shoulders, anticipating encroaching corners, always ready to slide, side-step, and insinuate ourselves into the next safe space.


Seeking: Losing my vision has caused me to seek with senses alert. Ever try to follow an arm-lead through a nightclub thundering with thudding beats and thronging with flailing dancers? How well did that work for you? It’s when it’s quiet and we have the chance to breathe that we notice just how much we rely on our hearing to give us a soundscape – maybe not exactly radar or echo-location – but at least a 3-dimensional sense of surrounding spaces – an almost intuitive kinesthetics that allows us to “see” more than the sum of our vision – so long as we keep it slow, small, and soft.


Strategy: Losing my vision has caused me to strategize. Where a sighted person can just stand up from a meeting room seat, walk to the door, and make their way to the rest room, I sit there, scoping out the room, remembering how I got to where I am sitting, pinpointing as best I can the location of the door and the best way to get to it, then, with a big breath, get up and try to follow the mental crumbs I have left in my wake – not exactly the formula for spontaneous abandon.


The extent of the circumscription of my ostensible horizon was brought forcibly to me one day on Cape Cod. Standing with a sighted companion on the bay side, where the low tide uncovered miles of flat sand, my companion said, “Go ahead. Run as fast as you can for as long as you can. You won’t hit anything.” And, so, I took off. As I pounded over the hard-packed sand, I realized just how compressed My motions, my self-concept, and, maybe, my life had become. Sadly, I have not repeated that mad dash into the safe unknown, and there are times I feel as though I am wrapped tight in barbed wire while other times, I wonder if I have shrunk myself to meet a plodding compromise with existence. But most of the time I don’t even think about it because it has become such a second nature that I had to stop and actually analyze my navigations through life to write this article. And, as I write this article, I don’t know which is the best and worst of these alternatives.

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