Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Born Blind Vs. Becoming Blind

There is definitely a difference between being born blind and becoming blind later in life. I myself was born legally blind but was not fully without sight. Over the course of my life so far I’ve met people from both categories.

Some of the people I have met who were born blind say they would rather have it that way because then they don’t know what they are missing. Others are on the other side of the fence and say they wish they could have had sighted experiences to reflect back on. A definet advantage to being born blind is the ability to learn necessary activities at a young age.

When a child is young their little mind is like a sponge absorbing everything around them all at once. Their ability to retain and recall information is quite high compared to that of an adult. For instance, a child at the age of two or three living in a bilingual household learns two different languages at the same time. They can transition between the two easily because they are around both languages every day. This applies to the blind community as well.

If born blind, the child has the opportunity to adapt to their surroundings easily because the situation is a constant in their life. Teaching mobility with a cane can be done while they are learning to walk. Learning to use other senses such as touch and smell helps them to observe the world around them. They can learn brail at the same time they are learning their letters and sounds. Learning all of these things at a younger age helps make them become second nature to a child. To them it’s normal. They’ve never known any other way.

On the flip side of the spectrum however, a person that’s born blind has no mental images to compare to at times when it would be helpful. When learning geometry, they may have trouble visualizing the model they are assigned to find the area of. In addition, Algebra for some is tricky because it’s hard for them to visualize a problem or formula they’ve never seen. Colors can also be an interesting prospect. If a person has never seen a leaf as it’s changing in the Fall, how can the colors be adequately described? There’s no mental recall of the visual attributes required to fully grasp the way something appears.

A person who became blind later in life has the exact opposite effect. Depending on at what age they lost their vision they may have a plethora of visual memories to reflect back on as needed. They may already be familiar with colors, shapes, physical features, etc. While a person who was born blind may be able to feel a shape the mental picture of the image may prove to be more difficult.

If a person describes to me a squirrel running up a tree, my mind immediately processes and displays a memory of having seen this myself at one point or another. When I went back to college I had to take a remedial level math class. When my instructor or note taker told me a math equation, geometric shape, graph, etc I was able to picture it clearly in my mind from before I lost my sight. This made it much easier to do the problems in my head.

When learning to navigate my town, the fact that I had already seen the layout assisted in this tremendously. I already had certain routes mapped out in my head. I could recall where in a parking lot a store was located which allowed me to get there quicker and more safely.

Nevertheless, as mentioned before being able to learn necessary tools such as mobility by cane and brail is much more ideal at a young age. It is common for a person to have little warning that they are going to be blind. Some lose their vision in an accident. Or, maybe they are like me and knew of their poor vision but didn’t expect blindness.

Learning these tools once sighted methods are set in stone in your mind can be overwhelmingly difficult. Reading by touch instead of sight is challenging for some people (me included). It’s like learning to read all over again times two. Not only do you have to learn the way each letter is configured in the raised dot system; you have to acquire a sensitivity to be able to feel each individual dot of a letter at the same time. If a person has rough callused hands it can be harder for them to feel the dots as separate bumps. One letter in brail can be made up of as many as six of the raised dots.

When I took a brail class through the Washington Department Of Services For The Blind, there was someone in attendance that this was a problem for. They said a letter that contained more than two dots felt like one big bump when they scanned it with their fingers. It took them extra time to fine tune their sense of touch to be able to feel the dots properly as individual letters.

I have been asked on countless occasions whether or not I would have preferred to have been born blind. To answer that question is simple for me. No, I’m glad I was able to see even if only for a little while. The visual memories I have are precious to me and I can’t imagine not having them. I was able to see all my childhood experiences.

I got to see all my friends and family. The only pitfalls there are the family members I haven’t got to see yet. I still had sight when my family went to Disneyland, Knots Berry Farm and Universal Studios. I’ve seen Mt. St. Helen’s in real life and pictures of when it blew. Ocean waves crashing into the shore is a beautiful sight I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion. I rode as well as saw an elephant. When I sit around a camp fire in the summer I have comfort in knowing I’ve seen that too. I’ve watched lots of big thunder and lightning shows. I had about twenty-two years before I couldn’t see fireworks anymore. I was able to see the whale from Free Willy when he was at the Oregon Coast. I’ve seen huge mansions and old dilapidated shacks.

Even with all of these memories there are just two that I hold closest to my heart. I was able to have four wonderful years of seeing my oldest daughters face before the view got too distorted that I couldn’t make her out anymore. I will never forget the way she looked the day she was born. The pictures of her first day of school are engraved in my mind along with the way she looked the first time she laughed at my mom. The other memory I cherish is the way my Uncle Donny looked before I couldn’t see him anymore. He unfortunately is no longer with us. Even if they come up with a cure for my eye conditions that allow me to see 20/20 I will never see him again until I join him in heaven. I can still imagine his blue eyes and crooked grin as though he were right in front of me. Those two faces I will never ever as long as I live forget.

So as far as the answer to which would be preferred? My answer is simple. It depends on who you ask. Everyone is different and all have unique and individual opinions. That being said if you want to know how someone feels about it… ask them.


  1. Greetings! I am really curious about one thing, of course if that's not too much to ask could you please tell us the place where you spent your childhood?

  2. Why did you become blind?

  3. Have you ever tried describing these memories and images to somebody that was born fully blind?
    I would like to hear it.

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  5. Learning about how the loss of one sense can improve other senses at school, when I stumbled into this post. I was really touched by it and wanted to encourage your optimism and willingness to share your story online. Have a nice day! :)

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