New insights on sight

My meeting with Paul went very well, he is such a nice person to talk to and very helpful, full of information and ideas and also insightful when it comes to the “bigger picture”. I asked him if I could record the interview, as this will give me the chance to listen back to it without forgetting anything he mentioned. And he mentioned a lot! I’m glad I did this, because sometimes we can’t take everything in straight away and re-listening helps to also pay attention to things we might have missed. I cut down a version of interesting things Paul said in the meeting, just a few of the main points that when I listened back to it really stood out:

He explained to me how often when doing something for “disabled” people to make their lives easier also many others can benefit from it, from installing a lift in the museum to the inclusive text of the Discovery Pens, which are not only used by visually impaired people but also by people who have dyslexia or just children who rather like to listen than to read. Here are other important points I took away from it:

– reading is very different to listening as audio always imposes something, takes away something of the “raw” imagination

– colours are still relevant, although a blind person might not know “what” the colour is they still know the associations with it, which draws on experiences and the other senses they use – for example a blue sky means a sunny day which means that one can actually feel the warmth of the sun

– that only 1% of visually impaired people are blind from birth (like Paul) and only 1% can read and write Braille – those stats were really new to me and something I didn’t expect! He calls himself a “stereotypical” blind person because he has been blind from birth, has a guide dog and reads and writes Braille. Yet only 1% of blind people are like Paul.

– being visually impaired is so personal and different for each individual, it is very hard to generalise and say this is how visually impaired people perceive the world because they all do it differently. Most visually impaired people became blind at some point in their life, hence why they have a recollection of how the world looks like. Yet the journey into blindness is very personal, which means no two people go through the same process.

– our society is more and more going into the direction of seeing disabilities not as a “lack” of something but actually just as another form of living in a certain way, which can be just equally as useful and interesting

Paul also showed me the various devices he uses in his daily life, from little audio recorders to different settings on his iPhone and computer, as well as the actual Braille typewriter (from the 1950’s) and a very expensive more modern device which is a single-line type and read device. We also talked about how the new Canute device which is currently being developed can help to make Braille more accessible.

Two other things he pointed out were a book called “On sight and inside- a journey into the world of blindness” by John Hull which I will definitely read and an art project called “Living Paintings” which creates tactile paintings for blind people to explore: http://www.livingpaintings.org/homepage

In the one hour we spent I learned so many things and it really helped me to gain a better understanding, especially because he pointed out that becoming blind is such a unique and individual process something I really want to take into account. Also how the perception for a visually impaired person that wasn’t blind from birth (so 99% of them) has to do with memory and their cultural upbringing and experience (which is the same for us), but we are able to refresh our catalogue of images whereas someone who gradually became blind can’t anymore, so how would it be to be “stuck” just with the memory of how things looked like? And the same catalogue of images? I think the book he recommended might be a good starting point to get to know about one person’s journey into exactly this.

He also mentioned neuroscience and how they try to analyse the brain functions of blind people, which is something I’d like to look up as well.

After the meeting I feel like I really have to confront myself with many more things to somehow actually pin down what is it that I want to focus on and whether I want to document something? Or conceptualise a message somehow?

Most importantly, what is the message?

What I know now is I shouldn’t focus too much on the flower, its colour and shape, but rather the seed.

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