Elsa S. Henry: So, You Wanna Write A Blind Character?

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Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a bonafide bad-ass, and she doesn’t need Daredevil’s skills to do it. Elsa writes a lot on the subject of disability and diversity, and here, she’s going to teach us sighted oundaolks a thing or two about what blindness is and how you might tackle the subject in your stories. Note, you can ask her followup questions in the comments, but please don’t ask her to critique your manuscript or characters. (Unless you’re willing to pay her for the job, in which case: ask away.)

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So you want to write a blind character? But you’re not blind? You’re wondering how on earth you’re going to do that?

Maybe you went and researched things at the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), or you called up your local lighthouse chapter, or you stopped a random blind person in the street, or you found me on Twitter.

Anyway, you tried to do your research but it’s not quite clicking. Well, I get a lot of questions on Twitter.

I don’t have time to answer Every Single Question that comes along my Twitter timeline, so instead of doing that, I’ve polled some of my writer buddies (and ganked some of my favorite questions from Twitter) to give you an overview! Because I’m nice or something. Who knows.

Hey, if you’re blind, how are you using twitter? Or this blog?

Okay let’s talk about me as a small case study. I’m blind in one eye, I can see out of my left eye…. Ehhhh, okay. Not great, but it’s good enough for government work fiction-writing work. I wear reading glasses and use the internet like everybody else.

Some of my blinder friends use screen readers or text to speech software to post their Tweets and blogposts. Because the world has adapted to us in a really neat way.

I do have a dragon though. Well, I have Dragon anyway, it’s a text-to-speech software program that is trainable!

So blind people just see darkness right?

NOPE. Here’s a fun factoid for you! Two percent (2%) of the TOTAL blind population is completely blind. The rest of us see on a scale of blindness. For example, you’ve got people like me who are legally blind because of one eye being blind and the other is low vision. I’ve met people who are blind in one eye who lead their lives like fully sighted people. They sometimes have things like Coloboma. (They can drive cars, y’all, I can’t do that. It’s not fair. More on that later.) ANYWAY, it’s possible to be blind and still SEE STUFF. Sometimes it’s blurry, sometimes blind people can’t see color, sometimes it’s all dialed down to seeing things within the radius of a toilet paper tube.

You get the idea. Being blind or visually impaired is on a spectrum of not seeing, rather than being a static condition.

So you were blinded by a tragic accident involving either fireworks or spilled chemicals?

For the last damn time, I am not Daredevil, okay. I’m blind because rubella in utero sucks and that caused me to end up blind (congenital cataracts), deaf and with a congenital heart defect. I’m not sure what the exact statistics are, but I know a lot more people who were born blind or went blind in childhood than who went through a tragic accident involving, I don’t know, 0464.

Okay, I don’t know anyone who was blinded because of 0464. I’m not even sure that’s a real chemical compound.

Point is, diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, or rubella, conditions such as albinism, or cataracts are likely responsible for the majority of blind folks out there.

I have met a couple people who were blinded by a tragic accident, but it’s not really heroic or anything, frankly it’s just horrifying. I mean YOU imagine having a piece of a coke bottle driven into your eyeball on impact with the ground.

Yes, that last sentence was to see if you can stomach reading about eyeball trauma. If you can’t maybe stick to nontragic narratives around disability. Frankly, more blindness narratives that aren’t about how HORRIBLE being blind is would be super awesome.

So you wear sunglasses right?

Me personally? Oh god no. My ability to see in the dark is so terrible that wearing sunglasses impairs my ability to use nifty tricks I have like looking for shadows to see stairs (because I don’t have depth perception.)

But some people do! Mostly if they have severe light sensitivity as a result of their condition which causes blindness! Some folks are also embarrassed by the way their eyes look – not because they should be, but because society tends to tell people that cataracts or other “different” eyes are scary. More on that in a minute. Sunglasses definitely aren’t an indicator that someone is absolutely 100% blind.

So do you have a guide dog?

Adaptive devices are really personal, and I think when you’re writing a blind character, it’s important to consider how they would want to engage with the world.

I don’t have a guide dog because I don’t qualify for one. I’m too sighted. Instead, I carry a white cane which gives me all kinds of feedback on the world at my feet. I’ve also taken Orientation and Mobility classes to learn how to navigate with my limited sight. Most blind people have taken Orientation and Mobility not matter what adaptive device they use. A guide dog is a highly specialized dog whose only job is to keep you safe, it’s a big responsibility for both the handler, and the dog. Not everyone wants that.

So you don’t have a guide dog, you’re not REALLY blind, do you use braille at least?

Well, I am really blind. Like I said earlier, blindness is on a spectrum. But no, I don’t use braille either. I mean, I guess I use it a little because I learned the numbers so I can tell what floor I’m going to in elevators (most elevators are really dark!) and that’s it. Braille is very expensive to print as it requires heavy paper, and I don’t know many people who use it these days for much more than navigating public signage. This is part of why I didn’t like the most recent Daredevil series – Matt Murdoch doesn’t have that kind of money for either the number of canes he needs, or for the amount of braille he’s printing.

Is that thing real? That “let me see you” and then the touching someone’s face thing??

In a romantic context, sure! But I don’t know of any blind folks who do that on a regular basis, and we certainly don’t go around pawing people’s faces for context. In a corollary to this, yes. Blind people date, have sex, get married, all that kind of stuff. Assuming that your blind protag isn’t a sexual creature is a HUGE mistake. Also, insinuating that a blind character can’t get married or have a partner because they’re blind reinforces that stereotype, which is super frustrating for those of us who are blind, and happily married. Our partners aren’t saints for being with us.

What are some social cues blind people might struggle with? Like looking someone in the eye?

Okay here’s another socialized thing. I have a hard time looking people straight in the eye because as a kid my peers had a hard time doing so. My eye creeped people out. Some people. Enough of them that it started to matter. Also, when you turn your head to not look someone in the eye, I can hear that and the sound is different.

Be polite and treat blind folks the way you would anyone else. That goes for in your writing too.

So you can’t echolocate?

Well, I personally can’t because I’m deaf-blind. But there are people who can! Like Daniel Kish. If you want to write about blind people who can echolocate, I suggest listening to this Invisibilia (Link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/batman) podcast, though I’d say remember that while Kish might think all blind folks can echolocate, I totally disagree with that assessment from where I sit.

Man, sighted people come off sounding like dicks when you talk about this.

Here’s some stuff you can NOT do in your stories in order to make blind people look less like helpless creatures in the eyes (sorry) of your readers. Try not to have blind people getting help all the time, it makes us look like we can’t take care of ourselves. You know what would be really great? In your futuristic settings, give blind characters’ self-driving cars! (DO THIS FOR REAL, PLEASE. I WANT ONE.) Give your blind characters (and really any disabled characters you write) personal autonomy. Not all of us have it, even I have to ask for help frequently, but let your characters ask, not be given it without request.

So what are some tropes I shouldn’t write about blind people?

I’m so glad you asked this! For selfish purposes, I suggest you read my piece in the upcoming anthology Upside Down from Apex Publishing. My story is about the Blind People Are Magic trope! But really. Blind psychics, blind people who “aren’t really blind” (see Daredevil) or blind people who see ghosts are all pretty played out at this point. Also, blindness, especially the way that blind eyes like mine look, are used as a shorthand for evil or untrustworthy characters. Cataracts don’t need to be shorthand for creepy!

Really, what I want you to know is that blind people are people. Blindness isn’t a shortcut for personality. A blind person won’t be any nicer or meaner than a sighted people, they won’t be more or less likely to join up with the Dark Side of the Force.

Write blind people who are frustrated fourteen-year-old girls who want to fight the system, write blind people who are high ranking CEO’s ready to take down the world for their own profit, write blind people who are smart or who aren’t. Write blind folks who can ride wyverns, or who can ascend mountains with their trusty guide direwolves.

Write blind people who are whole and real and, well…..

People.

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Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a half-blind, half-deaf, half-Scandinavian writer who haunts New Jersey. She’s worked on tabetop RPG books, been in fiction anthologies (check out Ghost in the Cogs from Broken Eye Books), and has written a number of nonfiction articles about disability. You can find those floating around on the internet. She can be found on twitter @snarkbat and at feministsonar.com. When she’s not frantically scribbling, she can be found singing Hamilton lyrics to her hound dog.

Elsa Henry: Website | Article: Disability In Kid Lit

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59 comments

  • At the risk of self-promotion, The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue’s protagonist Scott is legally blind, but he can see shadows, shapes and forms against the light, etc. When writing the book I did things like shave and shower in the dark. It is terrifyingly easy to lose one’s balance in the shower. The thoughts of my mother and sister having to show up on a daily basis to help me with the most mundane chores was not exactly pleasant either as no one likes dependency.

  • Is it weird if I say your eyes are really cool-looking? It probably is. I’m sorry. But I think both of your eyes are very pretty. Also, this is a great post and your writing style is snarky and fantastic.

  • I’ve worked with people who are sight impaired; and they were an engaged couple. One – a chick – hated being told where everything was, how the day looked or exactly what was going on around her and depended completely on her guide dog. But her fiance loved being around me as he said that being with me was like reading somebody’s inner dialogue all day… he had gradually gone blind over his life; and so he knew what i was talking about when I said the sky was blue with fluffy clouds, or the gutter was really high and to take a big step up… and he’d ask me what that smell was (were we near a pizza place and when was lunch?). We went to the movies once – to watch ‘Hannibal’ of all movies! – and from beginning to end, I described everything going on in his ear… he loved it! He said he actually watched the movie as it unfolded instead of being given the highlights later on; he was watching it at the same time everyone else was.
    At the time, I was dating an awful man and these two people could feel the tension between us. They tried to let him know that he should be treating me better. But he told them that they didn’t have to look at me every day… that was when they wanted to know what I looked like and felt my face… that was most amazing thing – to have somebody see what you look like through touch.

    Being friends with these people has changed the way I see and treat people with disabilities. And being a person with a disability of my own (Epilepsy) I know what it’s like to have people treat you different when they find out you’re not like everyone else. But then, you gotta live with what you’ve got; which makes you special in so many ways. I never look at the surface of people when I meet them, it’s what deep down inside that really matters.

  • April 20, 2016 at 9:40 AM // Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this information with us! At one point in my childhood, I was convinced I was going blind and no one was telling me. I spent weeks walking around blindfolded and teaching myself Braille so I could shrug it off when my parents finally broke the news to me. I racked my clothing based on color and identified them with a pattern of safety pins so I could tell blue from green by touch alone. No matter what, I was determined to remain independent (and was kind of looking forward to the notion of having a guide dog). What you’ve shown me is that most of my knowledge, while accurate at the time, is completely outdated now should I wish to portray a blind character in a story. I especially appreciate your thoughts on the tropes–it wasn’t something I’d really been aware of until you mentioned it, but now that you have, I recognize how often I’ve seen it. Much food for thought here. An excellent post.

  • This is a great post. The only other comparable resource I’ve seen so far has been Tommy Edison on Youtube ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCld5SlwHrXgAYRE83WJOPCw ). Thank you for offering to answer questions!

    You mentioned the ridiculous cost of using Braille in Daredevil. How would a person too far on the spectrum to read deal with a job like Matt’s, where he is constantly needing to take and refer to notes as well as read legal briefs? I’m guessing text-to-voice is the easy solution for records accessible online, but what about things not already online or notes he’d have to consult or take on the fly?

    • So, I can only speak to my own experience – and that’s as an academic. In a previous life I spent a lot of time doing just that – notes, and so on.

      I’d say that’s where you tend to run into needing help. I’ll also say that the smartphone has made it a lot easier for people with blindness to manage notetaking and information gathering in a whole new way. You can talk to your phone and it takes notes for you.

      I’ll see what I can do about getting one of the blind lawyers I know to jump in on this thread too.

      But clearly, there’s a lot of them, because there’s a whole association dedicated to blind members of the justice career path: http://www.blindlawyer.org/

      • Additional perspectives would be amazing, thank you! And thank you, too, for the link. I have a congenitally blind character with no extraordinary abilities (aside from being well-adjusted) in law school. I consider his visual impairment incidental to his role in the story, but I would like to be able to show more of his daily life.

        • I’d actually wanted to go to law school, but the LSAT people wouldn’t give me testing accommodations. Instead I became a fiction writer. One of the things that you should definitely include is how the school provides him access (or if they don’t – what that looks like for him.)

          • I know about certain types of access for other needs in college (quiet rooms for ADHD students during testing, for example). Are there any specific ones I should look into for visual impairment?

  • I misread the part about echolocating and saw that you couldn’t “e-chocolate.” I reread a few more times and was relieved to finally understand although you may not be Daredevil, your chocolate consuming abilities are presumably just fine. Phew!

  • Super awesome post!!

    I’ve trained a few guide dogs for a school in CA. Every year they have an open house for the puppy raisers and they do a simulated blindness exercise. They’ve jimmy rigged these goggles to be like different types of blindness and as they’re putting them on there is someone explaining the medical info on it and then you walk through an obstacle course. For a writer it sort of super amazing.

  • Thank you for this interesting post. It made me wonder if writers in the past had given blind characters special abilities to make them feel strong. I feel that sometimes about female characters. While the kick ass characters are fun, I don’t know many in real life. (At least physically kickass. Mentally, all my girls kick ass!) But I stare at them and wonder why I am so weak. So hard to get characters right. So many different perspectives!

    • Strength is certainly a possibility. I also think that people without disabilities, or, as someone noted in the comments, friends or family members with disabilities, struggle to connect with it comfortably. Socially, folks aren’t very comfortable around people with disabilities and I think that shows in our media.

      • Ha! You nailed it. I was actually enjoying the opportunity to get a good look at your eye without “staring” at you, if you know what I mean, and it is quite beautiful, but probably disconcerting at first glance which is probably all a casual onlooker sees. I thought, wow, it looks like clouds in a sky, or a moonstone or something. So thanks for letting me be rude and stare. Maybe if we all weren’t so quick to look away, because we feel uncomfortable looking, because it feels like staring, we might become more comfortable socially. Would it bother you if someone looked more carefully in person?

        • When kids stare I’ll usually say something like “Hi, did you want to ask me a question?”

          Basically, if someone wants to look I’d really rather they say something, otherwise I feel like an object and not a person.

  • Couple of things…

    Firstly, making a character blind is usually a narrative device, there would be no point in making a character blind and then not mentioning the effects of that for the rest of the book. Characters need conflict and, no matter what some might say, being blind sucks… But so do many things, hard childhoods, social anxiety, poor dress sense… Everyone suffers from something so, when creating a character, make them real by making them different and, to bastardise Hemingway, you have to make your darlings suffer… Then kill them. My point is, don’t make them blind for the sake of it, it and then not have it have an impact on the tale you’re telling. Writing needs to be tight and everything should be there for a reason.

    Secondly, Re Daredevil… I think it’s fine to include a conservationists nightmare of broiled out documents, it’s hardly the most plausible universe in the world and it works well to both show what brail is and how it is used, but also is better than a talking computer which would utterly mash up any dialogue between the characters.

    • No, no, that’s the point. There are blind people who are just people – it’s not the defining aspect of their lives (important, yes, but not all they are), and it’s not the point of their stories. They’re the vast majority. So not every blind character should have their blindness as a narrative device. Sometimes there is (or at least, should be) a character who’s the hero and oh yeah, blind, or one who’s the protagonist’s best friend and oh yeah, blind – they’re not there _because_ they’re blind, any more than someone else is there because they’re blond, or freckled, or tall, or male, or whatever. Fact about this person, not the only reason they’re being written about. Because that reflects reality better than “if the character is not male, white, straight, and fully able, there must be a reason for such an oddity to be in the story” (or in short form, “the way they differ is a narrative device”).

  • I thought they established pretty well that Matt’s dad left him quite a bit of money from his gambling victory, and they show Matt was frugal in his life but that he has enough left to have some privacy and luxury in his life. He is prideful enough from teaching himself Braille and I am certainly sure that he finds it useful to maintain the fiction that he can’t feel the imprints of letters on the page. They also show him using a tactile device, and perhaps his heightened senses mean he might be able to get on at times with lighter and less expensive paper. We don’t know that he isn’t stashing his cane to go back for it, either. In the comics it is singular and custom and he definitely does… In any case, they do a pretty good job of remembering the things that Matt can’t actually do – like read a computer screen or his cell phone when adaptive devices aren’t set up.

    I have another level of visual impairment to toss out there. A friend of mine has vision problems from Turners. She can’t drive because she can’t focus on text, it takes her a long time to read and she has to have it really close to her face, and her husband has to read subtitles to her. With very very thick glasses (and a husband who has better 20/400 vision without his glasses) she doesn’t really have any issues other than what I mentioned.

    The “can’t drive” is probably the worst, as Scranton’s public transit sucks rocks, and public transit outside of the valley is pretty much non-existent. There is a small area downtown with appropriate signal devices and Braille building signage, but really the whole area is just a lot more friendly for the deaf (as the state school for the deaf used to be located here).

    So, I guess what I’m getting into is that some places certainly seem to be a lot better for independent people with this particular disability. NYC seems to be one – and it just from the tv show. What are some others?

    • NYC is a pretty great place to be when you’re blind, not just because of the public transit, but also because of the numerous resources for blind folks. We’ve got the Helen Keller Center, Lighthouse for the Blind, and many other organizations.

      London’s another great one, as is Paris. I did well in Seattle, and now that there’s more public transit there, it’s even better. I hear that San Fransisco’s BART is also great.

      Morristown, NJ is another one because of the fact that the Seeing Eye for the Blind school is there. Basically, if you’ve got a school for the blind or a guide dog school, there’ll be at least a culture of knowledge around blindness. But being out in the suburbs is still a challenge because of public transit being less necessary.

      You know where isn’t?

      LA. I hate LA. No public transit and no one walks ANYWHERE. Kind of a nightmare scenario for me.

  • Thank you for this piece!

    Related to some of the comment conversation- a friend of mine works at Perkins and just told me about their new grant project. I wish I was in Boston so I could volunteer, it looks pretty neat!

  • April 20, 2016 at 12:50 PM // Reply

    Just so you know:

    “chemical 0464” was an Easter egg referencing the fact that the first issue of Daredevil was published in April 1964.

  • I’m in a fresh round of edits for a book featuring a blind protagonist from the first person perspective. I read this post very nervously, wondering if I’d find pitfalls I fell into. Still a very informative read, and a lot of it matches up with other stuff I’d found.

    Not sure where my own story (I play with the blind swordswoman trope in an East Asian setting) falls on the “not really blind” part, but they’re not daredevil, they are blind, and lack of sight features as part of the story without necessarily being a nigh impossible obstacle.

    I guess time will tell.

    Thanks for the post, it was very informative!

  • April 20, 2016 at 1:46 PM // Reply

    Great post. My Day Job is Image Consultant and two of my favourite clients are a blind couple. Yeah – you know what: blind people like to look great too! I love taking them shopping as the shop assistants can’t do enough for us. When we take the lady’s guide dog Henry we get even more fuss. Everything in their house (and wardrobe) is super-organised (yes – safety pins in clothes to identify them) and they’re just great people to be around (not because of the blindness – just because they’re just lovely people. And their business is creating technology to make web pages accessible to the blind. I don’t (at the moment) have a character who is blind. But I do have a couple with bi-polar disorder. Absolutely the same goes there: ordinary people living with something (a disability) that most ordinary people don’t have.

  • The protagonist in my series is blind, but since it’s paranormal romance, she has a little help seeing through her German shepherd. Readers tell me they enjoy the fact my heroine doesn’t act handicapped, as she has an active dating/sex life, and a career with her dog (who can mentally communicate with her), as forensic detectives. It was a fun series to write as everything was hearing and scent, which made me reconsider how I see the world around me. Of course, there’s a huge fantasy aspect in the story line, but I got some good advice from a reader who trains guide dogs.

    I loved the article and I’ll keep some of your advice in mind in case I continue the series. I constructed my character without any blind acquaintances to draw from, so I know she could probably stand a few improvements. Best wishes to you! — T

  • This was wonderfully helpful as my next book has a character who goes day-blind. (he’s cursed to be able to see in the dark but unable to open his eyes in much daylight at all). 🙂 Thanks!

  • Hopefully there’s still a chance to have this answered–can you suggest any places to find out more about the Mobility classes? I have a character who has only recently gone blind and is learning how to do everything again.

  • Thank you for this wonderful piece. My mother and my father were legally blind late in life and I’m well on my way in one eye. It was always extraordinarily frustrating when people, especially medical professionals, would speak REALLY LOUDLY and really slowly to them … because they were blind. I mean, honestly people, it’s not all connected!

    Great piece and much appreciated.

  • Thank you for this post. My hero in my romance novel is blind and meets a woman who works at a talking book and braille library. I work at on of these libraries myself. My hero is very independent and does occasionally ask for help. I believe i followed all but one of your guidelines. I am still in the editing process of this novel but feel i am on the right track with this character. Your post just made me feel even better about him. Thank you for writing this. Those of us w/o disabilities can be ignorant sometimes, even with the best intentions.

  • What a timely post. I’m in the very early stages of a story where the protagonist is half-blinded in an accident that also burned half his body. While he’s upset by the accident and it’s part of the reason why he seeks revenge, I’m hoping it doesn’t become his only defining feature as he was a pirate before it and will continue to be. His main reason for revenge has to do with the relationship he discovers while he’s recuperating that bothers him more.

    Long story short, my question is, since my character is half-blind, how much would his depth perception be off? I’ve considered trying to go around with my left eye closed, the eye my character can’t see out of, to maybe get some idea of how much of the world he can or cannot see. Anything I should keep in mind, as well?

    Thanks again for a wonderful post. And I’m sure with ninja training and a leather outfit, you could be Daredevil!

    • if you mean half-blind as in blind in one eye then your character would have no 3d vision. but people with this sort of problem learn other ways of judging distance, like shadows, perspective, angles etc. i imagine it would be difficult for someone with recent vision loss to adapt, but for me, having had no 3d vision all my life it is simply normal.

  • Wow, this article is amazing. Thank you so much for the details and the reminder that blind people are, first and foremost, people.

    I have been writing an urban fantasy with someone who is visually impaired, where he sees very little and in shades of gray except someone’s True Self, which is in technicolor. And now, based on what you said, I might want to rethink it because TROPE. 😛 🙂

    Again, thank you!

  • As someone who is
    1: Blind due to RP
    B: a fiction writer, and
    Third: A walking PSA for blindness,
    I love this article so hard and so much I kind of want hug it.
    Or something like that.

  • April 20, 2016 at 11:48 PM // Reply

    As a blind person I would disagree that there aren’t too many people who practically read Braille. There are also many programs to get Braille books for free as well as a slate and stylus (the cheapest way to write Braille).

    • I think it’s fair to say that Braille is definitely useful, though it’s come under “attack,” lately by people who claim it isn’t as practical in today’s ultra digital age. It’s a big tangent to go into here, but suffice to say I use it every day and am grateful to be able to do so. 🙂

      On topic: this article is awesome sauce and I’m so glad to follow Elsa on Twitter. Highly recommended. 🙂

  • I think the only book I’ve read with a blind character who’s not 100% sightless (and not a magical blind person) is probably The Privilege of the Sword (chronologically, the 2nd Riverside book — er, okay, now the third, since we have Tremontaine). I’d met someone a little like him when I was taking fencing lessons, and he explained to us about the concept of legally blind. If I recall correctly, he said his field of vision was something like 10-15 degrees.

  • Elsa, thank you for your perspective on this! I really appreciate your willingness to share.

    I’m blind in one eye too (optic nerve hypoplasia, which is fancy speak for my optic nerve isn’t fully developed), but I am living like a fully sighted person since I have near perfect vision in my other eye. You said some thing things I do to compensate though that I’ve never really thought about before. I had very crossed eyes as a kid (since been surgically corrected) and it definitely built a habit of not looking people in the eye. I also have lots of depth perception issues that seem like they get more hindering as I age. I can drive, but sometimes I wonder at the sanity of letting me on the road. There is so much I don’t see with such limited peripheral vision. Merging into traffic feels like an act of faith sometimes.

  • vision problems run in my family. my father, my cousin, and my 7 year old son are all blind, or nearly blind, in one eye. fortunately they all have good vision in the other eye. my son wears a patch on his good eye all day every day in order to strengthen his blind eye, which makes him effectively legally blind. i have a great deal of difficulty making his school teacher understand how little he can see while patched, and even i have to remind myself frequently to realign my expectations. it really is quite difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a visually impaired person, even when you have been around them all your life.
    fortunately my son’s vision is slowly improving.
    i have a different visual quirk. both of my eyes see just fine individually, but they don’t work together. this means i have little or no 3d vision and i occasionally see double. i have been this way all my life so i generally don’t notice, but sometimes parking my truck is a bit challenging and sometimes i have to poke things to know their position or whether they are flat or curved, or whether the curve is toward me or away. i can’t visually estimate distance, but give me a couple practice shots and i have a strangely accurate throw with a ball, dart, or knife.

  • Hi there. A friend pointed this post out to me via e-mail, thinking I’d like to take a look at it. I’m glad she did, because it’s a fantastic post; not just for helping those planning to write blind characters, but also for helping sighted people to understand.

    I have Congenital Glaucoma. I’ve been legally blind since childhood, but lost my sight completely in my early 20s. I don’t have a guide dog, because I don’t want one. I could have one… Both my eyes are artificial, and seeing nothing means there’s no doubt I qualify for one. But I don’t want one. I do like dogs, but I don’t feel my lifestyle is suitable for a dog.

    I can read braille, but – like you – don’t tend to use it much these days. Most things are done via my computer, my iPhone, or my Kindle. Plus, there are audiobooks (I tend to get more eBooks though… I read a lot, and it’s easier to fund my reading habit with eBooks than with books in braille or audio)

    I’m also a published author. I’ve published more than 40 books, including a five book series about a little boy adjusting to life after losing his sight. The series is designed to educate those who aren’t blind to some of the challenges faced by visually impaired people, and show them how they can be overcome, as well as show those going through sight loss that they aren’t alone. It’s officially aimed at children, but I think many adults can learn a thing or two from it too.

  • I’m intrigued to hear you use Dragon! I use it because of wrist problems related to hypermobility (I have good periods where I don’t use it at all, but sometimes things flare up and it’s the only way I can write without ice and codeine on tap), but I find that I actually have to look at the screen MORE to dictate than to type. Typing I’m pretty confident I’m typing things mostly right, and can find errors later, but with Dragon sometimes it gets things completely wrong and unless I fix it right then, I’ll never manage it. So I have to stare way more intently, and it gives me a headache. I would have thought that made it more difficult to use if you have limited sight — but perhaps you just have better diction than me. I think my weird variable British accent confuses it, since nobody can ever figure out where I’m from and I have an aversion to pronouncing the letter ‘t’.

  • Hi – just got linked to this from a friend elsewhere on the net (I’m actually also the friend Juni mentions in the comments above.)

    I’m the Research Librarian at Perkins School for the Blind and part of my job actually includes helping people in the larger community who have questions about blindness or blindness education. If anyone reading this has questions – especially about the kinds of things someone might learn in Orientation and Mobility classes, or working with a teacher of the visually impaired – I’d be delighted to help.

    (The website I’ve listed is for the Research Library, and has our email address and more about the kinds of questions we can help with.)

    Perkins has also just launched a new project, called Blind New World (http://blindnewworld.org/) that’s focused on inclusion and education. There are some great short videos (with captions and audio descriptions), and a lot of tips and information for different settings (work, social settings, school) and stories that may be really helpful to writers.

  • I know this is old, but I had to say THANK YOU so much for this perspective. I’m disabled, but not B/blind, and have been agonizing over how to write my blind character without causing offense or generally being an ableist douchelord. This provides great insight and has made me feel a bit better, especially since I’ve been doing my best to use my “stuff I hate able people doing to me” sense to not do any of that crap to my character. Thank you SO much!

  • Awesome article! Found it trying to find good resources for a friend who wants to write blind characters.

    Also, I too am blind in my right eye because of congenital cataracts! My left one is kind of poor as well, but still good enough to drive if I have glasses (and I had a surgery to help with that also). I hardly ever meet anyone with similar vision to mine, so it’s just funny to me.

    I had my right eye ‘fixed’ (cosmetically) a couple years ago because I had a hard time with the way people looked at me. No prosthetic, they just replaced the lens and tightened the muscles to get rid of the lazy eye…I wanted to keep my real eye because I like the way it looks. I definitely agree that it would be nice for people to stop making cataracts out to be some scary/witchy/evil thing. I love my eye, but I hate that people think I’m creepy for it.

    Also, in regards to people assuming that blindness = trauma, my friend gave me the idea a few years ago to start answering the “was there an accident?” question with “yes, my conception.” Way more fun than explaining congenital cataracts.

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