Partial Blindness is Hard to Explain
By Bob Branco
When I was a child, I had more vision than I do now. I used to identify colors, traffic lights, tall buildings, underpasses, the moon, lighted streets at night, lines on a highway, etc. However, I did not have enough sight to read a print text book. Therefore I began to learn Braille in the second grade. I knew exactly how much vision I had, but it was, and still is, very difficult to explain. It is the lack of understanding of my vision that started a vicious rumor at the private school for the blind that I attended.
I first attended the private school in 1969 as a fifth grader, and it became obvious that several of the house mothers in the cottage I lived in did not know exactly how much vision I had. I was able to walk around the grounds without a cane, but at that point in my life I didn’t know what a cane was. That was fine because I spent the first twelve years of my life walking around without one, and I thought that was normal, given the amount of vision I had.
The first few weeks at the private school were horrible, especially where the house mothers believed that I was faking, and that I had a lot more vision than I really had. I always wanted to ask these house mothers the following question. Why would I want to leave my home and my family to go to a private school miles and miles away if I had more sight? Wouldn’t I rather live at home and go to public school?
One evening, as the boys were getting ready for bed, one of the housemothers made me go into her office and write my name in bold letters so that I could find my towel and face cloth. Every boy had an embroidered label with his name on it, above his towel and face cloth in the bathroom, but I ended up being the only boy who had the bold print on a piece of paper. The house mother made me walk back and forth several times so that I can learn to find my towel and face cloth. By the way, she never asked any other boy to do this, so this was an individual problem she had with me. No other boy had to write his name like I did, and many of whom had partial vision just like me. On another occasion, instead of playing with the other boys, another house mother made me walk from boy to boy so that I could tell her what color coat he was wearing. This happened during my first week at the school, so you can imagine the impression that I had about living there. However, I was a student, and the house mother was my elder, so despite the foolishness and embarrassment she caused by taking me from boy to boy just so that I could tell her what color he was wearing, I let her do it. Eventually, the rumors about me hiding my true vision stopped, because my mother intervened and made them stop.
If you have partial vision, it is always a good idea to bring a cane while doing errands, such as shopping, because you never know what you might come across. I have a friend who went grocery shopping without a cane, and she asked a worker to help her read the small print label on a can of food. The worker, who didn’t know that my friend was partially blind, said, “What’s the matter, can’t you read?” I am not excusing that nasty behavior, but it may not have happened had my friend brought her cane with her in order to identify herself as a person with limited vision.
When I first received mobility training in my home town, I found myself using my vision in order to spot traffic from the corner of my eye. My instructor reminded me how wrong that was. I shouldn’t rely on my limited vision. I should learn to listen to parallel traffic and do the necessary things I needed to do based on my hearing alone. I think he was trying to suggest that, given my limited vision, I should rely more on my normal hearing.
I now realize that the only people who can accurately know how much vision a person has are the doctors, because they ask the patient to read the eye chart. After that, it’s anyone’s educated guess.