What is it like to be blind?
A girl I knew, who came to the Georgia Academy for the Blind, from a local public school, to take some industrial arts classes, asked me that one day at recess when I was in high school. At the time, I didn’t know how to answer this question, but I will attempt to do so here.
First of all, instead of relying on my eyes as many sighted people do, I have to rely on my other four senses to tell me what’s going on in the world around me, and use my mind’s eye to picture places, people, and objects as they are described to me, through other people, books, audio described movies, and my own creative imagination.Let’s explore in the next few paragraphs, our senses, and what it’s like to rely on all our senses to allow the world to communicate it’s messages to us.
The sense of Hearing
As a deaf person relies more on his or her eyes his/her sense of feel, to communicate the messages of the world around them, as a blind person, I rely on my ears to “see” the world around me. For instance, I can detect many different sounds around me, where a sighted person only notices a couple of distinct sounds throughout their busy lives.
While doing research for a book I am writing about the healing power of music, I read something very interesting and yet common in Don Campbell’s book called Healing at the speed of sound. According to Campbell, he had to close his eyes to really hear the sounds inside and outside his office environment. If he hadn’t closed his eyes, he would have only heard the honking of a car horn, and the music playing on his stereo system. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, but it’s completely normal for a sighted person not to notice all the different sounds around him or her.
Many of you rely on images, colors, lights, and graphics to tell you what’s going on around you, and some of you have even said that you like to view images in a blog post to tell you what a writer wants to convey to you. You may also prefer to watch a video than read a book or listen to an audio podcast. However, in my case, I prefer the exact opposite.
The reason I don’t include pictures and other graphics on my blog, is because it’s difficult for me to find images from other sources and add them to my blog posts, unless they are presented as JPG or PNG images. I can provide links to videos I find helpful or relevant to my posts, but I have to have sighted assistance creating videos of my own.
Here is a little experiment for you. Take a moment, (unless you are driving), close your eyes, and truly listen to the sounds around you. What do you actually hear?
Smell and taste
I am linking these two senses together, because they are so closely connected. For example, if you smell something cooking from another room in your house, or from a nearby restaurant as you go for a walk, your mouth begins to water. On the other hand, if you smell a foul odor from a paper mill, food gone bad, or some other source, you may cover your nose, or gag. I’m not saying you should taste everything you smell, but some foods have a strong odor, and you must get past the smell in order to taste the goodness within.
When you closed your eyes and listened to your environment, did you take a moment to detect any distinct odors in your home, office, or car? If not, take a moment to do this now and tell me what you smell. If you close your eyes while eating, did your food have a distinct smell or taste than it did while you were looking at it? What differences did you notice?
The Sense of Feel
Last but certainly not least, we will discuss the sense of feel. Notice I said “feel” not “touch.” The reason for this is that the sense of feel is more than what we simply touch, it’s the vibrations in the air.
Let me give you an example of the difference between mere touch and the sense of feel. First of all, pick up a piece of paper, put your hands on your computer keyboard, or touch someone’s hand. You are touching the person or object, but are you really feeling what’s under your fingers? In an introduction to Psychology class I took when I was earning my associates degree in communication through Kaplan University’s online degree program, I learned a lot about each of the five senses. For example, although we use our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, and the rest of our body to feel, hear, see, smell, taste, and perceive the world around us, our brains receive the messages that the world communicates to us, then sends them to our sensory organs.
I’m not going to go into any scientific explanation, because that would bore me and you both, but suffice it to say, that we are often desensitized to certain sounds, sensations, odors, and even certain images in order to focus on the important things in life. For example, we don’t our tongue touching our teeth and lips, or our clothes on our body unless we stop and think about it. As a blind person, I even desensitize myself to certain sensations, and ignore certain sounds in the background, such as the hum of the air conditioner or the fan in my room, to focus on other sounds, and sensations.But, here is another question to ponder. Can you feel sound?
Well, this question has two answers. No, you can’t touch sound, like you can touch the object that makes the sound, but you can feel the vibration that makes the sound you hear. Let me give you a musical example. When you hear a certain pitch, such as middle C being played on a piano, or even the lowest C on the keyboard, there is an area on the back of your neck where the neck meets the base of the scull, which detects the vibrations of music known as the overtone series. Although you may feel these vibrations, you may not notice them unless you close your eyes. I’m not sure whether this relates to my blindness or not, but I have learned how to feel these vibrations, thus my world is connected through music, whether it be traditional or environmental, as I have explained in several previous blog posts.
Now, let’s go back to the first experiment I suggested that you try. While listening to all the different sounds around you with your eyes closed. Try to feel some of the vibrations that create these sounds, especially the tinkling of bells, chimes, or your favorite piece of music. What do you feel? Can you describe the sensations?
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Although some of you who read my blog are visually impaired, many of you are blessed with the sense of sight. As you try these experiments I have given you, on your own, please share your experiences with me, because I really want to know what a sighted person experiences when he or she tries to rely on his or her other four senses along with his or her eyes. Let me know what you feel, hear, smell and taste, and tell me if you experience any differences when you close your eyes while doing these little exercises.