Blindness FAQ

Here are the answers to some questions that i am asked all the time. I will add questions and answers whenever I think of them and have the time to write. Let me know if there is a question you would like to have answered here. And don’t worry that you are asking a stupid question.

Q: How do you use a computer? Do you have a braille keyboard?

A: Blind people use ordinary computers with the help of special software called a screen reader. This software reads aloud what is on the screen in an artificial voice, and in some cases, displays it in braille. Braille displays are very expensive, however, so few people have them. A standard computer keyboard is used. Remember, good typists aren’t supposed to look down at the keyboard while typing. :-) The keyboard is used for giving the screen reader and other software commands as well as for typing. This is because using a mouse is not a practical option for a blind person.

Q: How can a blind person cross streets?

A: Instead of looking at the traffic lights or watching to see if cars are coming, a blind person listens to traffic patterns to know when it is safe to cross. This is true whether the blind person uses a cane or a guide dog. A very simplified explanation is that a blind person crosses when their parallel traffic goes and the cars in the street in front of them are stopped.

Q: How do you tell that there is an obstacle in front of you and avoid hitting it?

A: There are two answers to this question. The first way a blind person can avoid hitting an obstacle is actually to have their cane hit it instead. The cane is not just a decorative object to let people who see it know that the person carrying it is blind. The cane serves a vital purpose. The cane allows a person using it correctly to gently touch obstacles in the path and thereby find a path around the obstacles.

If the obstacle should someday happen to be you there are a few things you should know. First, don’t panic, the tap of a cane against you should not cause you any injury. You should not touch the blind person or their cane, but saying hello to let the person know you are there would be very much appreciated. The cane also lets its user know when there are stairs, uneven terrain, or icy spots. It also is used to find the boarders between sidewalks, grass, streets, Etc.

The second way that a blind person can avoid obstacles is by hearing them. Most people do not attempt to develop the technique of hearing the difference between open spaces and walls and other obstacles, but with practice many people are able to do this. This is because sound waves are constantly bouncing around in the air. Have you ever been told to listen to the ocean in a sea shell? Actually the sound you hear is evidence that it is really never silent, so there is always some sound reflecting off objects in your environment and back to your ears. Rustling wind and the sound of a tapping cane can provide even more auditory feedback to assist in locating objects, or the empty space where a hallway can be found. People can also be detected in this way, but they tend not to be as easy to track, especially in a noisy environment where the very faint auditory clues used for navigating are drowned out. Don’t be surprised if you see a blind person looking a little lost and confused when in a loud area. It can even be a little scary to be lost in a crowd or in the middle of a noisy room.

Q: Do you dream in color?

A: Blind people who were not born blind can dream in color since they at one time did see colors, but if a person has never been able to see color they would not be able to dream in color. A blind person who has never been able to see anything at all would never dream visually. Usually people’s dreams, although sometimes very strange, do reflect what they experience in their waking lives, so blind people normally dream that they are blind. They will experience their surroundings in the dream just as they would experience their surroundings if they were awake. I often dream that I know what things look like in my dream even though I don’t dream about how I know those facts. For example: I might know that I am in a room in a house that is painted blue, but I have no idea why I know that, because in my dream I am not able to see the color of the walls or anything else. If I had not experienced sight as a child I probably wouldn’t even think about colors when dreaming, unless I was worrying about what to ware in my dream. :-)

Q: What’s the hardest thing about being blind?

A: I don’t like to wine a lot, but this question is an open invitation to a good stress relieving complaint session. :-)

Many people think that stairs and rough terrain would be hard for me, but I rarely have any trouble with that. Ice isn’t a problem either, since if I use my cane and pay attention I know when something like that is in front of me. I usually don’t miss seeing things either. I’m just used to not knowing what people and new objects look like, and if I want to know I can always ask someone. No, what I find to be the absolute worst thing about being blind is not being able to drive a car, or even ride a bike by myself. Having your own method of fast transportation is so much a part of how this society works. If I lived somewhere else I suppose something else would be the biggest problem. I remember going to the bank and finding that it was closed except for the drive through window. Since I was a walking person, I was not allowed to get my banking done even though other people could. That was very irritating. Now I don’t have that particular problem, but I still have transportation problems. In fact they are worse, because I not only have to find a way to get myself to places, but I have to find a vehicle that is safe and legal for my son’s car seat.

Other pretty annoying things about being blind include: not being able to read useful information such as street signs, menus, labels on food packaging, and handwritten notices. Having to ask for and about food at gatherings. That can be bad because you might just ask aloud something like “Are there more meatballs?” And then a person in line in front of you says, “yes, I was just going to eat the last one, but you can have it.” No one else would have to announce that they wanted it. I also find that I have to tell the person filling my plate that i don’t want a particular thing because I don’t like it if it contains —-. Inevitably that item is whatever the person closest to me has brought and they are somewhat offended. All kinds of mildly awkward things require discussing when being helped, which would not need to be if I could do everything on my own.

It can also be frustrating when I wish to be friendly to someone who is busy. I usually can not find a person in a crowd unless they are talking. If they are talking I don’t wish to interrupt, but I can’t just smile, nod, or wave to them. I also have difficulty knowing exactly where to stand to get their attention without budding in. Then they stop talking to the other person and I sometimes immediately loose track of them and start talking to empty air. That is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen, so I try very hard to avoid it by being quiet when I am not sure anyone is there listening to me. Then the person wonders why I’m not talking to them. :-)

I also have the impression that many people believe me to be less credible then the average person. I have no idea why a blind person should be dismissed as unimportant when it comes to seeking information. After all, the average blind person reads more than the average sighted person, and when a person is blind they must have more information in order to cope with even simple things in life.

Q: Don’t they have some kind of braille or talking device to help you do that?

A: Yes, no matter what the task is, there probably is some kind of braille or talking device to help a blind person do it. Fore example, there are timers, scales, measuring tapes, color identifiers, money identifiers, GPS systems, barcode readers, thermometers, and the list goes on and on. The problem is that all of these items, besides the talking clocks and timers, cost about 10 times as much as any device a sighted person could use. And contrary to popular belief, these things are only very occasionally paid for by any government agency. That means a blind person must think hard about what devices are really required to live and what can be lived without. A color reader is great, but it also doesn’t do the same job that a pair of fully functional eyes can do.

Most of the time a blind person tries to find their own way of getting by without too many gadgets. Some of the most useful things can be one’s own labels. I use stick on or magnetic label tape to label things like cans of food and the buttons and knobs on appliances. My memory must also be made extensive use of. I memorize how many clicks to turn a certain knob, or what exact size shape and rattling sound defines a package containing a particular food.

Q: How do you deal with your money?

A: This is such a common question that you might already have heard the answer. I mean
one other than, “Money, never have any of it to deal with anyway.”

There are basically two options for dealing with paper money. Either it can be sorted in to separate pockets in a purse or wallet, or each bill of a particular denomination can be
folded to identify it. Each person may have their own method, so I would never trust that a
bill handed to me by another blind person will be what I think it is based on how it is
I happen to fold fives in half, tens are folded in half widthwise and then folded again
lengthwise, twenties and ones are not folded, but they are put in separate pockets. I
haven’t had to deal with anything bigger than a twenty in a very long time, but there are
still some folding options left for them in case it is ever necessary.
Coins aren’t a problem since they are all different. The only problem that sometimes occurs
is that I can’t really tell the difference between a Canadian quarter and a U.S. quarter.
I’ve accidentally tried to use the wrong one many times.
In some countries all the money can be identified by feel, but I haven’t had enough
experience with it to share any details with you.

In order to organize the money in the first place, it is necessary to ask the order of
the bills as they are handed to me by the clerk, banker, or friend. I can also put bills
in the scanner I have at home, because my computer has a program that can identify money.

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