by Olivier Giulieri

I'm not blind, but as a kid I had a learning disability, dyslexia. Learning to read and write letters was very difficult for me. For example, even though I had perfect vision, I couldn't differentiate between "B" and "D" because these two letters are symmetrical, so for me these were the same. In braille, I would have been confusing "H" and "J" or "E" and "I" because the dot matrices are horizontally symmetrical.

For a while I thought I was not smart enough, but I learned that Einstein had dyslexia too, and he was definitely smart. That made me feel much better, and with time (and special training), I eventually learned to read and write. It just took me longer than other kids.

Many years later, I went to engineering school. There one of the required subjects was industrial drawing. In the first class, the teacher gave us some exercises, and I finished in no time. I didn't even have to think; all the symmetries were obvious to me. The teacher looked at my copy and told me I didn't need to come to his class, that I should just show up at the end of the year for the final exam. That's what I did, and it worked just as he had said. I was the best student in his class because visual thinking was the gift corresponding to my handicap of dyslexia. Today, I'm a software engineer specializing in user interface. I'm very good at finding the best way to place information on computer screens to make it easy to understand and navigate.

Recently I was vacationing in Taiwan. While I was there, I went for a massage. When I entered the massage parlor, I saw five masseurs. Every single one of them was blind. I had heard that masseur was a common job for the blind in Asia, and that they are the best masseurs. I expected I would get the same massage from a blind person as I would from a sighted person, maybe just better. But to my surprise, it was a totally different experience. The massage blew my mind. It was like watching Garry Kasparov playing chess.

The massage parlor was offering many different types of massages. I chose reflexology, an alternative medicine method involving foot massage. The Asians believe that the feet and hands reflect the body, and that by massaging a certain part of the feet, it can heal the corresponding part of the body.

The blind masseur gave me a foot massage, then he told my Taiwanese friend who translated for me a summary of the state of my body. He said many things, but most importantly that I had problems with the right shoulder, the neck, and a sore throat. Indeed, 15 years ago, I broke my right shoulder, and it is weaker; as a consequence tension builds up in my neck. I suppose I compensate for my shoulders' dissymmetry by over-exercising certain muscles of the feet when walking. I didn't have a sore throat but I was already quite impressed that he could feel all that simply by touching my feet. The next day, I got a sore throat! This impressed me even more because it means that the masseur could feel the problem before the symptoms started to affect me. Such a level of accuracy in the diagnosis is really incredible.

Before writing this article I did some research on the Internet. I learned that in South Korea, only blind people can be masseurs. Also, one of Japan's longest-running series of films is the story of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and swordmaster.

Some of you, young blind readers, could become the best masseurs or reflexologists in the world. Why settle for less? Louis Braille was only a kid when he invented the Braille system. No sighted adult had ever been able to come up with anything better. The system sighted people proposed before Louis' system was to use huge letters because sighted people couldn't imagine how sensitive the touch of a blind person is.

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