by Ernest Jones
(Reprinted from "The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin," June 18, 2013.)
(Editor's Note: Ernie is a member of the WCB, United Blind of Walla Walla chapter. Ernie lost his sight in later life and has been writing a monthly column for his local paper, giving advice and encouragement to his neighbors, blind and sighted alike.)
Why do many people think going blind is the worst thing that could befall them? When told they are legally blind, they go home and try to hide this fact from their family, their neighbors and friends. For some reason they don't want anyone knowing they are blind, and because of this reticence they miss out of a lot of life.
"People are not helpful at all," a friend, I'll call her Mary, has said to me more than once. Mary refused to use the long white cane, and when going to church or into stores she tried to hide the fact that she was legally blind. But she would voice her complaints to me: "People won't help me, they just ignore me."
"But Mary," I would say, "they don't know you need a little assistance because they don't know you are nearly blind. Why do you refuse to tell them you need a little help? If you would tell them ..." but she would cut me off and angrily say, "They should know I can't see."
A young lady I talked to downtown said, "I enjoy your column. I wish my dad would admit to others that his eyesight is fading. He just sits around and feels sorry for himself."
I recall that when I first knew I was legally blind, I also tried to hide my fading eyesight. I was surprised later to find that some folks thought I was stuck up. Unknown to me, I had passed them on the street but had not even seen them. Only later, after hearing of my eyesight loss, did they begin to understand why it appeared to them that I had ignored them. I explained to them that my eyesight loss allowed me to see an object clearly once I had focused my full attention on it, but I could walk right past another person and never see them.
If you find that your eyesight is fading, that you can't see well any more, stop hiding this fact. Let others know. For centuries, it was common for the blind to be treated like they were helpless and had to be waited on, like they never had a chance to live. That should not be the case today. The worst thing a blind person can do is to just sit at home and feel sorry for himself. This action only makes the blindness harder to bear, and makes the blind person's life and everyone around him depressed.
If your eye doctor has told you, "You are legally blind," don't just sit and have a pity-me party. Seek out help. Learn to use the white cane and get out of the house. After you know how to walk well with the white cane, you will find new life opening up for you. You can take walks around your area, whether in town or in the country, and enjoy the sounds, smells and environment around you.
Do you like playing different card games but can't see well enough any more? Take some lessons in learning braille. Some people find learning to read braille exciting and relaxing. Even if you don't want to read braille, learn enough that you can once again enjoy playing your favorite card games. Today, because of braille I can play Uno with the best of them; I even win occasionally.
Another way to help change how the sighted view the blind is to get out and do things the sighted people feel the blind can't do. I enjoy gardening, and many times have been asked how I tell plants apart. You may not like to garden, but there are many other things even the blind can do. I have a blind friend who did electrical wiring for a neighbor. He also cut through the wall of her house and installed a new window; yes, the window was level and squared fine, a professional job. You can even use a computer, as software is available that allows the blind to navigate a computer just as well as the sighted.
Actually, finding your eyesight fading just might give you more time to do what you have always wanted to do but never had the time. The last thing you want to do is to confine yourself to that easy chair and feel sorry for yourself. Don't feel ashamed - get out and enjoy the day.