It’s normal for sighted people to wonder how we the visually impaired people interact with the outside world and make sense of things around us. People obviously feel that there is no other more painful situation than having to spend the entire life in the absolute dark. As a result, various questions run through their mind when they see a visually impaired person living a comparatively normal life. With the help of modern technologies and wisdom of our leaders, life has been much better today for persons with disabilities especially the visually impaired people mainly because of the fact that we were the first to receive formal education. Based on our capabilities and knowledge, there are many platforms today where we can exercise our rights to participate in the mainstream society. Due to such great transformations in the lives of visually impaired people who were once deemed useless and burdensome, many people wonder how we manage to laugh and smile everyday despite being robbed of the most important sense organ, the eyesight. A man from my village had even equated me with God when he saw me reading a braille note because what I was reading with my fingers did not make any sense to him. It was a real wonder for him. Likewise, many people seem to wonder a lot about how we make sense of the universe and universal phenomena. Many a time, we have been asked some of the strangest questions by our curious sighted friends and personally, I never mind answering them. Some of the questions are funny but they make some sense especially when we look from their perspectives. Following are some of the questions sighted people have asked us so far:
1. Do you see dreams?
This is one of the most common questions we have been asked. My friend Leki Chedup, who is currently a teacher at Khaling Lower Secondary School in Trashigang had the best response to his sighted friend who asked him this question. His response to this question was “Do you open your eyes when you sleep to see dreams?” Well, Leki’s answer is right. We don’t see dreams with our naked eyes but it’s just the mental replay of what we do in our real life. Many friends had asked me the same question and I have tried to explain it through my own personal experience. We don’t regain sight in our dreams because our brain has adjusted perfectly well with the physical environment we have been living in for years and our dreams just replay our actual real-life experiences. So, although we can’t see with our eyes, we can see dreams. For a few months after losing sight, I could see with my eyes in my dreams although I was physically blind, but this did not last long. However, I have experienced that being blind for a long period of time does not suffocate you and the world does not appear dark as it is generally believed to be. Everything appears normal to me: no darkness, no brightness. It’s utterly normal, and this is exactly what I experience even in my dreams.
2. How do you eat?
Well, this is a weird question. But my friend Leki Chedup once again had an interesting response when he was asked this question during our high school days. He just asked his friend back “Do you look at the mirror while eating your food?” He was a very jolly person and his friend was jolly too. So, we all laughed at the answer and we added our own arguments. To me, we all are born with the instinct to find our way, even in the dark, up to our mouth while eating because although we can’t physically see our mouth, we never put our food into the nose or somewhere else as perceived by some people. Of course, we can’t see what is there on our plate with our eyes but once we lift our hand, it will never miss its target. I am sure even sighted people won’t put their food into their nose if light suddenly goes off while eating. Despite all those practical experiences, this curiosity still hangs on the mind of some sighted people.
3. How do you dress up?
This is an understandable question. It’s true that wearing our national dress is not easy even for those who have sight. There are so many adjustments to be made to ensure that the dress fits you well at all corners and it’s often tedious to wear it especially when it does not fit well. But during our school days, we have been thoroughly trained by teachers to properly wear our national dresses and also to fold them after using them. So, we have been wearing our dresses since our early school days and even to this day, I can wear my Gho easily without anybody’s help. The independent living skills we have been taught in school including cooking, washing cloths, folding national dresses, polishing shoes, making beds, basket-making, gardening and music lessons have all made a huge difference in our lives today.
4. How do you walk? Do you count footsteps?
This is another commonly asked question but I have already answered it in my earlier post How does a blind walk?. We never count our footsteps when we walk as generally believed by sighted people. There are certain identified clues and landmarks on the way which we follow with our white cane. When we were in Khaling, the environment was so familiar to us that none of us even used a cane to navigate around. We were all thoroughly familiar with the surroundings and we were able to walk between Muenselling Institute and Khaling high school without the help of a white cane. So, basically we develop a cognitive map of the surroundings after being there for sometime and this guides us when we walk.
There could be many other questions which the sighted people might want to ask us and I feel it’s always good to seek clarifications rather than making assumptions. So, I don’t mind being asked any kind of question. Some people have even asked me not to mind for the question they were curious to ask me. I am always happy to answer any question relating to my disability. I don’t hesitate to discuss anything about my personal life. I feel my life is like an open book: anybody can read it. So, if you are still curious to know anything, please do not hesitate to let me know.