I was going to work on my newest venture of writing fiction (thanks to my wonderful friend and mentor, Bryan) and send out some poetry submissions this morning, but then I entered the WP world and read a few different posts, from others in the Blind/VI community, about the #Birdbox challenge, and I felt compelled to respond with a post of my own.
I must begin by saying that I haven’t seen The Birdbox or any of the videos of the #Birdbox challenge, so you may read this post and say to yourself,” jesus Susan, do some fucking research before you actually write a post”….but what can I say, I am a risk taker and honestly, willing to rattle some feathers on this specific topic. That said…..
My understanding is that The Birdbox is about a woman and two children who are forced to remain blindfolded to stave off the attacks of monsters and ultimately stay alive. The challenge, as I have read, is something along the lines of putting on a blindfold and attempting to do anything from basic tasks to potentially dangerous undertakings. This all seems pretty foolish to me, but doesn’t strike me as having anything to do with being blind, or trying to understand what it’s like to be blind. It sounds like a gimmick that was derived from a movie made purely to entertain (if that’s your thing). Please don’t hesitate to correct me on any of this, if I have missed the mark.
I feel it is important for me to say that I am not a spokesperson for the blind community; I am just a blind woman with some, most likely, unpopular opinions. I find that my views often seem to be in opposition to many of those that I read from other blind and visually impaired people. I understand the importance of education and debunking stereotypes, especially regarding the idea that blind people are helpless, but you won’t hear me joining in the outcry against blindness as something to fear. Blindness scares the crap out of me. This is just my truth, but it has been so since the day I was told I was going blind. Before my RP diagnosis, I was actually less afraid because blindness wasn’t something that had even come close to touching my life. When it did, you better believe I was scared. I still am. But I am not helpless and I am not weak.
In regard to the blindfold challenges (this bird box thing is not the first) and the question of these challenges perpetuating the stereotypes of the helplessness and fear of blind people, I think hearing about the experiences of the sighted people who participate in the challenges is just as important as hearing the opinions of those of us who are blind/visually impaired. Talking specifically about the Birdbox challenge, I wonder if the sighted participants actually think being blindfolded and being blind are the same thing? Maybe we aren’t giving them enough credit.
As far as exercises of blindfolding sighted people to give them a small idea of how challenging it can feel to be blind, I won’t be one of those rallying against it. For those of you who have read my blog for a while, you may remember a few posts I wrote about being blindfolded for some of my O&M lessons, as an aid to learn how to better use Zelda (my white cane). If O&M instructors are using blindfolding as a tool for teaching blind and visually impaired people, the use of blindfolds to educate sighted people doesn’t seem like something unequivocally damaging to me.
Will being blindfolded give a sighted person the exact experience of being blind? Of course not. Is it a terrible thing to give a sighted person an idea of how scary it can be to be blind or visually impaired? I don’t think so.
My first experience of one of these blindfold challenges was through a video posted by an English poet named Dave Steele, who has RP. His wife was blindfolded and walked a block with his guide dog, Christopher. When she removed the blindfold, she was crying and said that for the first time, she felt like she had at least a small idea of how hard it must be for her husband, how challenging it must be to adapt to his ever-changing vision, to blindness, and how hard it must be to learn how to depend on aids like a cane or a guide dog. My take was that the feelings she felt from the blindfold exercise were the kind she couldn’t get from reading about his experiences, and this is a man who writes almost exclusively about RP.
Perhaps my view of these challenges isn’t negative because it was built from a positive foundation, from the reaction of a sighted person, rather than the opinion of a blind/VI person. Perhaps I am totally full of shit and about to piss off the entire blind community. I hope not, but I feel it is important to offer varying opinions. I welcome comments of any kind on this post. I just want to keep learning and understanding. I Just want the conversation to stay vital and alive.