When the men and women arrived with the fire truck and the ambulance, I met them at the door. I don’t remember which of them looked at me as I carried my white cane and said, “You are observant.” What I had observed without needing to use any sight was the sound of my upstairs neighbor crashing to the floor and moaning. When I heard more moaning, I quickly changed out of my pajamas and grabbed my phone, keys, and cane. The door was open, and while I could not see well enough into a darkened room to know what had happened, I was able to get enough information to call 911. The dispatcher asked me for more information, but I also added directions since there are two doors to the building. One was closer. While I was on the way down to meet the paramedics, the grandson of another neighbor asked if there was something he could do. I suggested that he go in and talk to my upstairs neighbor and be comforting.
Later in the day when I had time to reflect on the morning’s events, what stood out was the remark, “You are observant.” People living with any level of low vision must be observant and use all of their other senses. They do not have super-powers to make up for the vision loss; they are just more aware of their surroundings.
If I were to name one skill that has improved as I have lost some of my vision, it would be problem solving. Problems will be solved in one of three ways: by me, by me with adaptive products or technology, or by other people who are assisting me. I have observed that the newer the diagnosis of a potentially blinding eye disease, the greater the likelihood that a person has little or no information that could help with problem solving that requires products, technology, or assistance. I met someone who has been diagnosed with macular degeneration and has experienced some vision loss. This person was reading audio books via Audible and complaining about the cost for someone on a limited income. This person now has a Talking Book machine from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and is enjoying many books free of charge.
I also observed that people were calling a Catholic radio talk show and hearing the titles of books that were being recommended by the host. I called the show to let listeners know that many titles were available in Braille, large print, and audio formats from the Xavier Society for the Blind. There was no time left to add that more materials could be found at Learning Ally, and the National Library Service. Magazines and daily newspapers are also available from Newsline from the National Federation of the Blind. Stand-alone scanners and scanners attached to computers that have screen-reading software can also read regular type including junk mail. Google searches will provide web addresses, 800 numbers, and contacts for information on any eye disease and treatment. People who cannot use the Internet, can get help from their local reference librarian or their State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
It is much easier to love what is left while living with low vision when you are able to participate and stay well-informed about current events and popular culture. People who live with blindness and vision impairments are no longer just observers. They are judges, professors, customer service representatives, writers, publishers, social workers, musicians, singers….