Category Archives: Blindness

At the end of the day, I’m applying for personal freedom

I have decided to take the big step and get a personal assistant. If you know me in person you’re either thanking God or the universe, or you’re wondering if I hit my head on something and turned crazy.

 

This wasn’t an easy decision to make. I previously frowned upon blind people who chose to have a personal assistant and wrote them off as lazy and stupid enough to not be independent. I prided myself in not having to rely on assistance for doing anything. But what was starting to bug me more and more was the fact that although I definitely am very independent, and not just in a blindness sense, I do sometimes need help to do things and relying on friends just became less and less of a good solution. Sure friends help each other out, but how much and how often should you expect a friend to take his or her time to help with bits and pieces you can’t do yourself, such as filling out inaccessible forms, take you places you don’t memorize the routes too because you go there once every blue moon and help clean up after a party? Seeing as everyone has different opinions on how far the call of friendship goes there’s not a standard answer to this.

 

There’s also another reason I don’t want to rely on neither friends nor family for more than casual help that won’t require them to take too much time out of their schedule. It’s the issue of gratitude. Now, being grateful and thanking someone is not something I have a problem with. But I have ended up in situations where I’ve been perceived as ungrateful, as being too grateful or even thanking people in the wrong way.

With an assistant, those burdens are taken away from me. I employ someone who gets paid by the wonderful well fare state to do stuff with and for me and I don’t have to worry if I thanked them in the right way. And they are there to help me do things when I need them done. Not when it suits my friends.

 

Before I would have seen this as being less independent, but now I will argue that it increases my independence on many levels, because I wouldn’t have to rely on my loved ones to get things I find hard to do myself. And if that’s not freedom, I don’t know what is. Besides, shouldn’t every pop diva out there have a Personal assistant? 😉

So, are you born blind? When to pop the question and when to shut up.

Because as with everything else, there is a right and a wrong time.

 

Not so long ago I made a post on facebook that said how annoying I thought it was when strangers asked me out of the blue, such as on bus stops, whether I’m born blind. Most of the commenters sympathized with me, but I got into a discussion with one of my blind Facebook friends who didn’t really understand my problem. Wasn’t it just positive that strangers tried to learn about disabilities?

 

Yes. It’s very positive when strangers are trying to learn. And I don’t mind questions. But as I pointed out to him, no constructive conversation about disability starts with that question. I would forgive a young child for asking questions out of the blue. After all, I’d rather provide them with proper answers than having them ask their parents who will most likely just guess. And then how will the kids learn? But grown-ups really need to know better.

 

So when is the right time?

 

Really, just use common sense. Are you born blind? Is a personal question and without any talking beforehand, it’s really invasive. It’s not quite as personal as “So what are your sexual fantasies?” But if you’ve literally not said a single word to the person you’re asking, it kind of is just as invasive. And do you really expect someone’s first words to you to be that personal?

 

Now, if we’re going to have any sort of regular contact, you can ask me once you know me. Whether you ask the first time we meet, or a year into the friendship totally depends on the situation. But I’d like you to know the important stuff about me first. For example what food I like what bands I’m into and my favourite travel destination. Then, if the curiosity gets the better of you, ask by all means. You may even have things I wanna ask about after I’ve gotten to know your important stuff.

 

As for strangers, I sometimes have very good conversations with people I’ve never met and will never meet. Sometimes during those conversations the question may come up, but never ever has it started a fruitful exchange. And it probably never will in my case. Some blind people don’t mind you asking straight away. We’re all different, but assume they won’t like it and avoid it until you feel it’s safe to try.

 

And one last thing. Regardless of whether the blind person is born blind or have become blind, don’t say anything along the lines of “Well, then you don’t know what the world looks like”, or “So then you know both worlds.” There is only one world and though I have never been blessed with eye sight, I know what the world looks like. My perception will be different to someone who has been able to see, but it’s no less accurate. And besides, sighted people even perceive the world differently to each other.

A rant about landing a mediajob

I’ve talked a lot about work, my work, other people’s work, the importance of work and difficulties of getting work on this blog. And in fear of both repeating myself and sounding very frustrated, which I am to be quite honest, I’m going to talk about challenges of getting media work when you’re blind.

 

First things first. Getting a media job is hard for anybody. The competition is fierce wherever you are in the world and even in supposedly uncorrupt Norway, nepotism rules in the media industry. So it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that is the key to land that lucrative job.

 

I have been trying for quite a while to both work freelance and get a media job here in Norway so that I can make money tow work more freely with my music, although my situation on that front is slowly but surely improving. Working freelance has its own challenges and I’m not going to discuss them in this post, but applying for media jobs is a bit like hitting my head against a brick wall.

Today a journalist is supposed to be able to do everything from writing and sub editing to photographing and creating video content. This is good in one way I guess. Media houses everywhere are cutting costs and thus jobs and it makes sense for them to employ multi-talented people. But the truth is that leaves out some good talent. And not just blind media professionals who are talented on the writing and the audio side of journalism. I have come to understand that just because your eyes work, it’s not synonymous with being good at creating visual content.

 

Ironically, I am quite good when it comes to visual content, because I have an intuitive understanding of what illustration work with what story. And I’m not the only blind media professional who have these skills. However, looking at most media jobs and seeing “Good eyes for pictures” or “Video editing skills” as a description of most of them, I feel like the world is trying to mock me and I take it personal. Most of my sighted journalist friends have to work with visuals in their jobs, even for radio. So the visuals seem unescapable.

 

The really sad thing is that instead of looking at my talent and ask me how to get around the visual challenges; I am just told that I don’t meet all the qualifications. And in some cases, I’ve been told right out that I’d not be able to do the job because of the visual skills required.

 

In Norway there is absolutely no reason not to employ someone on those grounds. Government funded assistance and secretary funds make it possible for a blind person with the appropriate skills to operate efficiently within any media organization. And in England there is Access to work which helps with similar things.

 

I wouldn’t apply for a job as a photo journalist. But I could instruct a work assistant or secretary to film certain things for a documentary or news report and they tell them how to edit it. I would still be the one creating the content. They would just press the buttons of the most likely, inaccessible software for me. Because that’s another thing. only the BBC in my experience have software I can use for audio editing. However, with today’s technology it’s possible to make audio editing programmes screen reader friendly. And in case of getting a job, it could be fixed. At least with some software.

 

My journalist friends in the UK often ask me why I’m not doing more journalism work, since I’m a good a journalist. My only answer is that I haven’t been able to show my talent to someone who matters and that I don’t know the right people. I have made full length radio documentaries, presented live current affairs shows and worked for one of the world’s best mediahouses, so I’ve got to know journalism, a little, right? But these days I’m wondering whether I’m kidding myself that I have journalism talent at all.

 

Again, it boils down to one thing. Attitude. There isn’t something wrong with me, but with the society who produce employers who don’t want to give chances to people who have to work a little bit differently, but who can work just as good and efficient as any of their other employees. I’ve talked about me, myself and I in this post. But I dedicate this rant equally to any visually impaired media professionals who are facing similar challenges. And wonder sometimes whether they do have talents. I don’t blame you if you’ve lost sight of it during your jobsearch. And if you’ve been lucky enough to land the dream job and keep it. Cudos to you and your hopefully liberal thinking employers.

the Blindtrap

I don’t think I know a single blind person who has escaped the “blindtrap”. Not entirely anyway. What is the blindtrap? It is variations on thinking that you’re somehow inferior because you’re blind. This feeling of inferiority can be manifested in many ways and some of them are extremely subtle. It can be obvious things from passing comments such as “You’d be so much more attractive if you could make eye-contact” and not getting jobs because of employers attitudes, to sighted people excluding you from helping out on communal cooking and decorating because they may think it’s difficult for you to join and being more efficient at many practical things because they can see.

 

I am sad, but not ashamed to say that I too am caught in this trap more often than I like at times. And I have to remind myself that sighted people are not better, sexier, more intelligent, and more capable than me just because they’re sighted.

 

I remember having a conversation with a good friend of mine whom I also used to work with. I couldn’t work out what I’d done for my team leader to dislike me so much. I felt like an annoying insect she wanted to smash against the window every time I had to speak to her.

“I think she sees you as competition. She’s pretty and blond like you, but you’re twenty years younger and fit. So maybe you remind her of what she used to be,” my friend said.

I was astonished to hear this. How could anyone see me, a blind girl as competition? “Don’t be ridiculous,” my friend said when I pointed out that since she was sighted, she’d always be a lot more attractive than me anyway.

 

I’ve talked with this particular friend a lot about my inferiority issuex. And he has made me understand that I am just as sexy, intelligent, capable and resourceful as someone who can see. I’ve

even had men, both sighted and blind, asking if I’d have their kids because they’d want to make sure their kids got well brought up by a capable woman with strong ethical principles. And that’s a huge compliment.

There are many small and easy steps sighted people can take to avoid giving their blind friends or family members feelings of inferiority .

  • Involve them in communal activities. Not sure of their abilities? Ask. “Can you cut these onions?” If the answer is no, suggest something else, or let the blind person tell you what he/she can do
  • Expect them to pull their weight. If you’re having a party where everybody is bringing stuff, make sure everybody is bringing stuff. Last time I checked, blindness doesn’t interfere with ones abilities to bake a cake or buy a bottle of wine. This is also important for parents who have both blind and sighted kids. I was expected to do housework just like my brother was. Different chores yes. But I had no excuse not to do them.
  • Unless asked for, don’t take over a blind person’s chore because you can do it quicker. If you do something regularly, be it house work, cooking or gardening, you’ll get good at it no matter how well you see.
  • Don’t pick up objects to be helpful. My friends often pick up my handbag or cane when we’re leaving a restaurant without telling me, only for me to spend ages feeling for it on the floor. It makes me feel a little stupid. I know it comes from a good place, but….. Just leave it for me to pick up.

This list could include more points, but I can’t think of any right now. But as long as you use your common sense and ask questions you should be cool.

What blind people can do? Soul searching, living and learn to recognize that it is possible for a sighted person to sometimes feel inferior to you because of who you are or what you can do. I still fall into the blindtrap, but not as frequently as when I was younger, or for different reasons. I probably always will in some cases. But having sighted people around me who just treat me like a normal person and don’t act like my blindness is an inconvenience for them or a reason to exempt me from daily life, does a lot to make me feel as valuable as them.

 

Can sight be a hindrance?

As practical as I can imagine being sighted must be I sometimes think sight can be a very big obstacle.

I was discussing a new type of vegetable pasta with a friend of mine and told her how much I liked it, because it didn’t drop my blood sugar levels the way regular pasta does. Especially white pasta. It even tasted like regular pasta. Her reaction was quite funny. She started lecturing me about how stupid the advert was and that she wasn’t tempted to try it at all because of it. Besides, the pasta was different colours because they had different vegetables inside them.

What surprised me, was that just from seeing, the pasta had put her off. I also thought that pasta came in different colours, because I’ve seen that in Italy. But that’s beside the point. The conversation taught me just how quickly sighted people use their sight to judge and that’s sad.

Sight is a remote way of perceiving the world around you, meaning that there’s no need to get up close with objects or food to get a rough idea of what they are. But the key for me here is remote. You’re not up close and personal with what you see, well not always anyway. So if you see something new, you can’t really know what the object is like.

Food is a great example of this. I used to waitress in Dans Le Noir in London. A restaurant where diners eat and drink in the dark, not knowing what they are eating and drinking. One thing a lot of customers said when they came out after their meal and was told what they had consumed and saw pictures of it was: “I’m glad I didn’t know what it was, or saw it, because I probably wouldn’t have chosen it. But it tasted divine.” That tells me sight is a weak sense. But unfortunately a weak sense that has taken over most sighted people’s lives and dulled their other senses.

Sighted people also judge people faster and sometimes on unfair grounds. Blind people do this too, but usually based on more than just appearance.

One time for instance, I was going out to meet my class mates in St Helier, the capital of Jersey where I went to summer school to improve my English. I was sixteen and my host family was scared to let me go on the bus by myself, but they couldn’t exactly force me to stay in.

My bus came in a little earlier than the other girls busses. I decided to cross the road to the point where I was meeting them, but I missed the crossing. And before I knew it, I had three Jersey skater boys offering me a hand. We had been warned not to mix with, or date the locals. Apparently Jersey girls hated Scandinavians, claiming that they stole their boys, and there had been some ugly cat fights, so when a couple of the other girls stepped off their bus and saw me with the boys, they came running and out of breath asked me if they had done something to hurt me. In fact, the boys had been extremely polite and well behaved, but apparently they looked a little trashy. Perhaps if I’d been sighted, I’d not been so nice to them.

So here’s a challenge for my sighted readers. Next time you’re in a new place, close your eyes and experience the place for a few minutes without sight. Do you notice something you didn’t when your eyes were open? Do you smell, hear and feel things you didn’t realize were around you? This is also good to do in a familiar place, like your favourite café.

I always joke that if I get to see one day, I’ll be a ninja, because all my senses will be so well developed. Just imagine how much richer your world would be if all your senses played as big a role in your life as sight. I personally think it would be pretty awesome.

My Naijalife part 4. What it’s like to be a blind foreigner in Nigeria

I’m going to talk about this topic from the point of view of a foreigner. If any blind or visually impaired Nigerian happens to stumble across this blog, comments would be greatly appreciated.

Before I went to Nigeria to record for the first time, I was apprehensive about a lot of things from whether this was a real deal to how I would be treated as a blind person. When I was in university, my parents used to live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I didn’t like the attitude the locals had towards me there being blind. People would randomly come up to me in the street or in shops, pat me on the head and say “God bless you dear”. My experience with African immigrants who were a generation older than me wasn’t great either. And I was accused of being possessed by “the spirit of blindness”, being too scared to allow god to heal me and a few other ridiculous and hurtful things.

Surprisingly therefore, my expectations of how I’d be treated in Nigeria were pretty low. After all, I was going to a developing country where disabilities seemed to be caused by evil spirits.

But I was positively surprised. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t referred to as ‘the blind woman’. OI was ‘the white woman’, which isn’t much better. I prefer to be referred to as Linn or Lioness, but the truth is, strangers are always gonna refer to you by your appearance. For example the man with the long beard, the girl with the square glasses etc. so I am not going to complain about that.I do it myself. Being the white woman is somehow a break from being the blind woman. My blindness takes second place. And nobody has accused me yet of being possessed by evil spirits.

I’ve had a few negative incidents, but that was mainly with my first label where the CEO, who has little education and I suspect low IQ, sent in a press release where he referred to my blindness as an “imperfection” and asked me to write a song where I “encouraged the handicapped”. Can you blame me for dumping that label? LOL. Handicapped might have been ok to say in 1856, but in 2016 it’s pretty off.

But after I changed label, I’ve had none of that. In fact, most people who meet me don’t realize I’m blind, so imagine how puzzled I got when a girl at a video shoot asked me if my leg was ok. I was holding my stylist’s arm so she must have assumed I needed physical support. Those kinds of assumptions can be quite confusing at the time. I think everyone knows I can’t see, though that’s not the case, but actually they are indirect compliments. Blindness doesn’t always come up in interviews either. But when it has come up, I’ve only had positive experiences talking about it, because blindness related questions tend to be about my blog.

The real challenge for me when it comes to being blind in Nigeria has more to do with practical matters. Public transport systems and roads are not developed, so I can pretty much forget about getting around independently. And that’s why I couldn’t live there twelve months of the year. I’m a spoilt girl who is used to going out to get what I want when I want and not having that freedom is depressing. My team is more than willing to help me with anything I may need, something I’m grateful for, but it doesn’t quite make up for lack of freedom and flexibility. Being a white woman alone in Lagos comes with its own risks, but had I been able to drive, or get around independently by other means, I would have enjoyed more mobility and freedom which would have made daily life easier.

Being a blind foreigner in Nigeria is fun and exciting as long as I am busy working and have access to a gym or a pool. But for day to day spare time living, it is just too restrictive in the long run.

Blind babes and body image

The fact that I’ve never had an eating disorder is pretty remarkable. My parents were perfectionists in absolutely everything from the cleanliness of the house, to their children’s marks. And since I can’t see, I got some very early lessons in what looks good and what doesn’t.

I think it started when I was around seven. I can’t remember how the subject came up, but I’m guessing I must have been eating my share of the Saturday sweets. When I was little we only really had sweets on Saturdays unless there was a special occasion. But What I do clearly remember is mum saying something along the lines of “I hope you’ll never get fat. Because most blind people are fat and absolutely hideous to look at.”

Perhaps because I was so young, I thought what mum had said was very funny and I asked her to list the names of the biggest fatties in the blind community. I then asked why blind people were so fat and ugly. And she said it was because they ate too much and moved too little.

I never really forgot the conversation, although I didn’t ponder over it then. I was a very active child anyway. I did athletics, swimming and horse riding. And since I was a very picky eater as a child, I was very skinny anyway.

When I was 12, I got the kind of puppy fat most young girls get and grow out of. Looking back, I don’t really think I was fat. I remember using size small and I couldn’t have weighed that much. But mum was very good at reminding me. “No, you can’t where that. You’re too plump.”

What I didn’t know at 13 was that I’d grown out of the puppy fat stage. I only found that out later. So, being quite slim, I was convinced I was really fat. I could only compare myself to myself, so there was really no way of knowing what I looked like. I also didn’t know that your stomach not being ironing board flat sitting down was normal.

But I never really dieted. Instead I comfort ate when there was food around to comfort eat, which in our house wasn’t often. And throughout my teens, I was convinced I was on the larger side because of my dad’s “spare tire” jokes and hints that I needed to lose weight and join a gym. My dad was obese, so he probably was just taking out his resentment about his weight on me.

I think my teenage angst about my body was pretty average, but with one big difference. I couldn’t see what other people looked like. It’s only as an adult I found out that I was a relatively slim teen. And only because I saw my clothes from that period as well as having been able to explore what kind of bodies people around me had. Not necessarily always by touching, although having been able to feel waistlines of very close friends has helped. But also through information about measurements, BMI and learning that not everyone has the same body type and build.

Had I known all these things as a child, I would perhaps have resented my parents less every time my weight came up. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have had issues with my own body and wishing for it to be more perfect, but I would have been able to look at things differently had I known there was so much variety in sizes and shapes. At least I’d like to think so.

I know other blind girls and women who have experienced unfounded negativity in relation to their bodies from well-meaning parents who want them to look good. But I also knew blind people who have been completely spared from everything to do with body issues because they are blind.
I don’t think either extreme is good. You don’t have to be a size zero with and hour glass figure, but knowing what’s healthy is very important. Weight and body issues are things blind people need to be aware of. But there are good and constructive ways to raise this awareness. And having known blind women with eating disorders and my own resentment towards my parents growing up, I’d say that when it comes to any negative criticism, one has to be extra careful with a blind girl, or guy for that matter, who doesn’t always know the bigger picture.

My relationship with my body is a lot less complicated now, luckily. As I mentioned, I’m a lot more aware of a lot of factors that play a role in what makes someone fat or slim. I still have days and times where I’m not happy with parts of my body. But that’s normal. And I know I’m strong and healthy which is the main thing.

The importance of working, aside from making money

As someone who is blind, I am perfectly capable of holding down a full time job. And not only that, but I can be a very positive asset to my work environment and work colleagues. However, getting to prove that I can hasn’t been and isn’t that easy.

It actually started with my parents, may they both rest in perfect peace. They did their upmost for me to be as normal as possible. But when it came to work, they had this really strange attitude that there wasn’t anything I could do. My brother was a newspaper boy and when he was old enough, he started working in the local supermarket. He earned his own money and I was jealous. Not only did my brother work, but most of my friends did too by the time we reached our teens. I only had sighted friends where I live, so the weekend became a little boring then since I didn’t work.

To some, my position may have been enviable. Because I was told there weren’t any jobs I could realistically do, since both shop work and newspaper work required eye sight, I was given tasks to do around the house and thus received pocket money from my parents. I technically worked for the money, but it wasn’t at all satisfying. I tried suggesting other types of work I could do so that I too could make money, but my parents just laughed it off and pointed out that I got money anyway, so what was the problem? They really didn’t get it.

When we had to work a one day job in school to raise money for children in faraway countries, or for local causes, I usually played the piano and sang at old people homes. The old people enjoyed it, so it was nice. But I still had the feeling that I was doing that because my blindness stopped me from doing a “proper” job. In hindsight, I see that not many of my friends could have done that to raise money and so what I did for the old people was great. But as a teenager who just wanted to do whatever I could to blend in, it wasn’t cool at all.

My constant talking of wanting a normal job outside the house, must have really got to my dad in the end, because for two summers in a row, he arranged for me to work a week at the oil firm he was working for. I worked in HR and I had a really great time there. I was busy typing up Cvs that the head of HR had read onto cassette tapes (Yes, it was just before they got extinct) and sending out everybody’s pay slips and holiday money. The workplace was adapted yes. But I was doing exactly the same work as the other employees children who were working there with me. In fact, we helped each other to get the job done. I came home every day that week feeling as if I had contributed to society, or at least the HR department of that firm.

I later went on to have other jobs and now I work for myself. And although working for myself initially was something I did because getting employers to see that I can work with them is a struggle, it is now something I find much more rewarding. Because I don’t profit anyone except myself and those I choose to share it with.

I’m not opposed to regular employment and at times I wish it was a little easier to get part time work, or work in general, just to supply my music career. But as it is, I am trying to make it work without regular employment. Forever Living was my answer to a supplementary income to help my artist and writing career.

My purpose though with this post, is to stress the importance of work. Not necessarily just for the sole purpose of making money, but for someone to feel like a valuable asset to society. There are obstacles that make employment more difficult when you’re blind or indeed have other disabilities, but with open discussions and good will, most things are possible.
If you happen to have a disabled son, daughter, friend, spouse or romantic partner who lacks confidence to work, or badly want to, please be that person who pushes them to explore different routes to achieve what they want to do. Perhaps this is especially important in these days when unemployment rates are rising around the world. Disabled people are harder hit by this, but there is no reason really why they should be. You can, you dare and you want, or replace the you with me, are a good place to start the motivation. Basic, but effective.

I hate being blind when…..

I usually don’t have an issue with being blind. In fact, I have addressed all the perks about being blind
previously on the blog.

The Nigerian producer, singer and songwriter
Cobhams Asuquo
held a talk once about
The gift of blindness
And I don’t disagree with him. In fact, I share all his sentiments on blindness and sight. I think being blind has opened up a lot of opportunities for me and has forced me to work hard to achieve things I wouldn’t necessarily have strived for had I been able to see. I would even go as far as to say that I am a lot more independent than some sighted people because pride has made me find solutions to everyday problems that I perhaps wouldn’t have felt so bad at asking to get help with had I been able to see.

But we all have bad days or moments when everything just seems impossible. After all, we’re human. I hate being blind, or as a friend like to call it, extremely short sighted, in those moments, because I get reminded of physical limits I don’t think I should have. But it’s ok to be angry sometimes and acknowledge the difficulties, just as long as it doesn’t become a habit and you wallow in self-pity every day.

Be assured that the following list isn’t talking about things I face every day, or things that always make me feel bad when I do face them.

• I hate being blind when websites or pieces of technology I need to use right there and then doesn’t work with JAWS or voiceover and I need to get a sighted person to help me.
• I hate being blind when people talk to me as if I’m a mental retard.
• I hate being blind when religious nutters offer to pray for me. Indirectly they’re saying I’m not good enough for neither God nor humans the way I am and I need upgrading. At least that’s how I perceive it even though they probably just want what they think is best for me…
• I hate being blind when my normal routes are being dug up and I get lost because I don’t understand how to take another way around to get where I need to go.
• I hate being blind when my friends are posting photos on Facebook that I don’t understand, the content of not even from the comments section. I miss the old days when Facebook had more text. That isn’t to say I need everyone to always describe photos in-depth, or stop posting photos altogether in solidarity with me. And I do sometimes click like if I can discern what the photo might show. But I do feel a little excluded at times
• I hate being blind when confronted with Instagram or snapchat. Sighted friends tell me it’s no big deal and that I’m not missing out. Wrong. I am, because it’s a world I can’t take part in. at least not on an equal footing with the sighted.
• I hate being blind when I can’t see my own music videos and album covers.
• I hate being blind when the bank send me snail mail and have no option to send Braille mail.
• I hate being blind when I don’t have the mental energy to find the way to somewhere I’ve never been before by public transport or walking and end up taking a taxi.
• I hate being blind when I can’t assess my own makeup and oversee the work of new makeup artists.
• I hate being blind when I’m faced with bad attitudes that prevent me from getting hired for a job.
• I hate being blind because society is made for sighted, able bodied people. And if it had always been built with all kinds of censory and physical challenges in mind, then disabled people would arguably not have been disabled. Or at least a lot closer to being able bodied.


Of course, we can start eliminating disability by changing attitudes. That goes for both abled and disabled people. But that’s a topic for another post.

How do blind People pick up on non-verbal communication?

There is a common assumption among people that if you are blind, you lose out on most face to face communication. That is because 70 per cent of it is non-verbal. To think that I lose out on that much is depressing if nothing else. Especially for a journalist who likes to be on top of everything all the time.

But I am convinced that I don’t lose out on everything that isn’t verbal. Sure. I can’t see looks passing between people. And I can’t pick up on grimaces and nods to symbolize certain things. But a lot of the non-verbal communication does not actually require sight as much as it requires a high social intelligence.

One thing a lot of people underestimates is the physical energy between two or more people who are communicating face to face This may sound a bit new age, but it really isn’t. For instance, think about a time in your life or a place you went once where you felt uncomfortable. It could have been that two girls in the school yard refused to play with you, or it could have been a house of a friend or relative where you just didn’t feel at ease for no good reason. That’s energy and we as people reflect it all the time.

The type of energy you choose to reflect affects how people see you. That’s why you sometimes find the not so pretty girl having tons of admirers whilst the beauty in the corner may get the looks, but that’s all.

So what, apart from the words being said am I picking up in conversations?

First of all it’s the tone of voice. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. And because I need to be more sensitive to those things, I pick up nuances that may be so minor you think they’re not noticeable. But they are. A slight hesitation, an almost inaudible sigh or a small laugh entirely changes the meaning of a sentence.

The second thing is how well you know the person. Picking up on the non-verbal stuff is a lot easier when you know someone well than when you haven’t met them before. I can usually work out pretty quickly whether my sister or best friends are having a good day or not without saying so, whilst with strangers, it takes longer.

Thirdly, it’s body language. If someone is standing close enough, I can sense whether they’re leaning forwards or pulling back. I can also feel someone close to me gesturing, either because their hand touches me at some point, or because I feel the movement in the air around me.

And finally, it’s the energy and mood. The mood of a situation is a pretty good indicator of what someone is trying to communicate. And that hardly needs any verbal explanation.

Of course I get it wrong sometimes. I think someone is annoyed when they’re not, or I can be fooled to think someone’s happy when as a matter of fact, they’re depressed. But guess what. Sighted people get this wrong too.

No, I can’t see you nodding at me from across the room. But I don’t think I miss out on as much as some might think.