How Much Can You See?

How much can you see? This question is the one I get asked more than any other when discussing my blindness. Typically, the person asking this question is sighted and is asking it because they believe that knowing how much I can or cannot see will give them some idea of my capabilities. Of course, it might help them understand some things but leave them confused in other ways.


I remember a few years ago I was a member of an online community and could not convince anyone that I really was visually impaired. Because this group was populated by fans of professional wrestling they thought that I had chosen to play a character. They also thought they had tripped me up when I made a comment about playing a video game. No way could a person who cannot see play a video game. They also tried to set me up by posting a topic about the kind of car you drive. Of course, I don’t drive and cars don’t hold any interest for me so I stayed away from that thread.


I could have convinced them I was telling the truth if I had provided a photograph of myself. Well, there’s always the thought that they could simply claim that I had found the picture to fool them, this was 2002-2003 but such a thing wasn’t hard to do back then if you really wanted to do so. Also, as I’ve written before I have very few photographs of myself. I did show one of them this press release that was sent to my University after I graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind with Ginny in the summer of 2002.


I also remember an incident a few years earlier during my first semester in college. I had a friend who wanted to know how much I could see. As I was explaining my answer, she interrupted with an impossible question. She wanted me to describe what green looked like. This is literally an impossible question to answer. You can describe something as being green, you can say that the grass is green for example. But not all grass is green so that would not entirely be accurate. Green is a descriptive word by itself it is used to describe things but really the only possible way to describe green is to say that it is not any other color. But if you were going to describe the color green to someone who had never had vision that answer would be less than helpful.


My answer to the question of how much I can see has changed over the years. Right now, when I answer that question I essentially say that I can’t see anything. This is not entirely true. However, I don’t use the limited vision that I have for anything so for all intents and purposes I may as well see nothing. That’s what is known as functional vision. I can see some things and can perceive light although that is sometimes tricky in that I sometimes see light that isn’t there.


As a younger man my answer was different. As a child I could see a lot better than I do now. My right eye never formed so I have no vision in that eye and never have. My left eye only partially formed and so I did have some useable vision in it. As a child, I could read large print and I had no problem identifying colors. I could ride my bike without any serious accidents although I did do stupid things that either did or nearly got me hurt but I was a boy and that’s kind of what we do.
I watched television and movies although I did sit close to the TV when doing so. When I was in 4th grade I got glasses that were basically giant magnifying glasses. They did help me to see things better but I stopped wearing them after awhile because they screwed up my depth perception. I would reach from doorknobs that were out of my graspe because they appeared to be much closer to me. It was very disorienting.


In 6th grade I liked to run. I used to run around the junior high building to the point that once a teacher asked me if I was going out for track. It was his way of telling me to slow down. I took stairs two or three at a time and liked to jump off the last few to the landing.
Then in 7th grade, things started to change. I was in the same building but to me it seemed darker. I started to run less and less until I wasn’t running at all. I could still see where I was going but I had to be more cautious when I walked.
In eighth grade two things conspired against me to ensure that I walked with a cane at school from that point on. I was over at a friend’s house and we were goofing off in his basement. He had this flat board that was on wheels I’m guessing it was used when they moved to their new house and we were playing around on it. I don’t recall how it happened but to make a long story short I ended up skinning my knee.
A couple of days later, I was walking back to the main classroom building from the arena where we had both music and PE class. I was coming from music which was upstairs and as I walked by one of the staircases to take me downstairs, I lightly bumped my knee on the railing. This didn’t hurt me, I barely noticed. Except for the fact that it was the same knee I had skinned a few days prior. The bruise broke open and blood started to run down my leg. So I walked to the nurses office and had to get a bandage on my knee. But they didn’t know I had skinned my knee the previous weekend and so to them what had happened looked a lot worse than it really was. So meetings were held and I was handed a cane and told to use it going forward. The district also paid for an Orientation and Mobility Instructor to come to Huron once a week to work with me.


I don’t really know when seeing colors started to be an issue for me. It was probably around the same time but I can’t really say for sure. I remember having a disagreement with my braillist over the color of the cover of my history books, they were blue but they were kind of a dark blue and I thought they were actually red. Yes, I know those two colors aren’t easy to mix up but when I actually focused on the cover I did see it as blue but when I only glanced it appeared to be a redish purple color. That was in eighth grade so I still had some color perception then.


Eighth grade was also when I had exploratory surgery done to see why I might be losing my vision. I actually don’t recall what they said the problem was if they figured it out at all. Things just seemed to gradually get worse over time until I am now where I am vision wise. Nothing useful but still a little.


While I am on this subject I want to talk about my biggest pet peeve concerning my blindness, aside from when people think it also means I must be stupid or unable to speak for myself. I really hate when people alter their language or expect me to alter mylanguage. Right now, as I write this I have the ‘Dragnet 1967’ TV series paused on my television. If someone were to ask me what I was doing a half an hour ago I would have told them that I was watching ‘Dragnet’.
But for some people they object to my using the term watch. Watching involves seeing and I am only listening to ‘Dragnet’. I understand the logic of the conclusion but it doesn’t make it any less idiotic. People do not listen to TV they watch TV. If I were listening to the ‘Dragnet’ radio program on my iPad or computer I would say I was listening to it because that is a radio program and people listen to the radio.
Some people think that when they make the observation that I don’t watch TV that they are very clever. They think I’ve never heard that one before or something. It amuses them. It just makes me want to flip them off.
What is even worse and thankfully it doesn’t happen much but I see it happening more in the future the way this country is going is when people will ask me if I’m offended when they use words like “see” or “watch”. No, I’m not offended when you use the correct verb for what you are doing. In this country we are now so scared of offending people that we are willing to abandon all logic and reason to avoid doing so.


Going back to what I said before, I used to play video games. Not many and not very well. I could play football games on the easiest level until about 10 years ago. I think I could probably still do it but haven’t tried in awhile. I could play by a combination of memorization and sound. Memorizing the navigation of certain menu screens and the different sounds made when playing. The fact those games had commentary certainly helped.


A few of the things I used to do as a child with vision are now things I miss doing as an adult. I miss riding my bike. Yes, I could ride a tandom bike and have been trying to acquire one of those for years. They’re kind of expensive and even if I had one I’d need a place to store it (my apartment won’t work) and then I need to find a riding partner. I can still shoot baskets but it isn’t as easy as it used to be. These days it is pick my spot, have some aim me where I need the ball to go and do my thing. That other person then has to do ball retrieval as if I move I will need to be reset. Fortunately, that act is quite repetitive so I can find a shooting rhythm.


This post was inspired by Jena‘s post on the same subject. If you haven’t checked out Jena’s Blog I highly recommend you do so. She is a very talented writer and knows how to tell a good story. Tell her I sent you.


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