Did I lose my sight or did my blind spot enlarge? When I first began my journey as a person with low vision four years ago, I thought I had lost my sight. I only knew how to operate in a world using my vision. How can one function in a world with limited vision? Yes, I have other senses, but I can never gather the full picture by just hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting. I guess my ability to use my imagination, in the same manner children do, was my saving grace. I still, however, needed my vision to fully interact with my surroundings.
Climbing stairs, reading printed materials, operating my cellphone, watching television, and even matching my clothing, became obstacles. Either I missed steps because I didn’t see them or could not read data — a necessary component to my work as a scientist — because the print was too small. Certain color families would blend together making feel as though I was colorblind. As a result, I received many bruises from walking into objects or falling from missing steps. It was difficult to maneuver in the world or even the safety of my own home.
Frustration set in.
This was compounded by the societal stigma that made my failing abilities a “disability.” I also became frustrated with the amount of time it took me to complete simple tasks like sweeping a floor. To combat fears and frustrations, I enrolled in a center that teaches those with low to no vision how to operate in a visual world. It was a godsend.
I saw people with varying visual impairments — some who acted as if they had not lost their sight, others who were on a quest to restore their sight, and still others, embracing technological devices that temporarily restored their vision or helped them successfully navigate with the sight that remained.
In watching them, I realized that I was thinking about my condition in the wrong manner. My sense of sight cannot be lost nor can any of my other senses. However, it can be reduced. I still have the organ that provides sight, but it is not functioning at the same level it did prior to the situation resulting in the reduction of my vision. Therefore, I don’t need to look for ways to get it back. I may sound repetitive but that was what I continually told myself. I can’t get back something I did not lose.
Shifting focus, I thought about attributes I possessed that could help me see with limited vision. Nothing came to mind until I saw a father who was totally blind running after a small child who appeared to have no visual limitations. If it was not for his identification cane, I would have never known that he was blind. So, I sat in the park analyzing and realized that my ability to truly interact with my surroundings had been compromised without the impairment. I allowed my sight to dictate what I saw and inadvertently ignored the information processed by my other senses. This father used the sound of the child’s laughter, the pressure from the child’s footsteps, and the smells in the air to guide his pursuit after the child. He, the father, saw where to run despite having no field of vision and no sight as most perceived it. The father used a culmination of all his other senses to see.
As a newlywed, this scene brought me a level of peace, as I considered how amazing it would be to chase behind my own children or play “catch me” with my husband.
I needed to adapt and register the information processed by my other senses in my conscious mind. I needed to imagine. Take the information from my sense of taste, touch, smell, and hearing to create the picture in my mind. After completing imagination exercises, I now build furniture in my spare time, and enjoy lots of international travel — including sightseeing with my husband, Cliff. Those with sight deem these types of mobility and fun impossibilities, but I recognize them as the start to unlocking the true ability of sight.
Dr. Sophia Sparks is scientist specializing in toxicology. Her work explores water soluble toxins. She lives in Dallas and is a regular contributor to The Washington Informer.