Word Blindness

By A.J. Llewellyn

I’ve blogged before about my work as a volunteer at Braille Institute, work I am passionate about and committed to. Words and reading are my life. I can’t imagine a world without books but for millions of blind children this has been a sad state of affairs fast changing now that the small 5% who CAN read Braille is increasing every day.

Reading was my refuge as a child. It still is. Blindness is something I think about a lot. What if I couldn’t see? Could I still do the things I love? I’ve thought about this a lot since I started volunteering at Braille. I have watched newly blind people being taught how to walk with a cane, how to negotiate office floors where careless, sighted people leave chairs pushed away from desks…where their guide dogs eat things such as corn cobs that they can’t see…

And just when I was congratulating myself on being so good with the blind people around me I discovered I am not. Most of us aren’t. How many times do we use words that refer to vision in everyday conversation?

I’ll give you an example. At Braille last week, we celebrated our oldest volunteer’s birthday with an opera cake. “Look at that!” I said to the woman next to me who didn’t respond. What could she say? She couldn’t see it!

Duh! I apologized profusely but she wasn’t fazed. She is used to it. I became more and more aware of my word choices as the day went on. When the same woman told me about having to take her dog to the vet because she’d eaten a corn cob, she told me that the vet advised her to keep an eye on her!

Once again, she’s blind and lives alone with her dog. Which eye should she use, she joked.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since watching an old video of the Australian movie, Hoodwink. Shoulda, coulda been a great movie about a true story  — an Aussie conman who got a reduced sentence by pretending a police beating blinded him. He was eventually found out but still…I thought the whole notion of depriving oneself of a basic sense we all mostly take for granted took some skill and real cunning.

I am more aware now than ever of words and how they can hurt or heal. I worry about using words without thinking. I’ll call it word blindness. I think those around me know when I say something like “Isn’t the sky extra blue today?” to somebody who can’t see it that I’ll follow up with an apology…

And, I will keep an eye on that.

Aloha oe,


4 Responses to “Word Blindness”

  1. Food for thought… Thanks sweetie

  2. Thank you Silver! oxox

  3. Hey A.J. This article touched me. Not because I volunteer, but because my husband was going blind before he died. He had Optic Neuropathy, in other words, his optic nerves were dying. It’s a progressive and irreversible condition. He passed away before he lost all of his sight. Just before he was diagnosed with it, he’d made a comment, “I would rather lose an arm than lose my sight”. He never wanted to miss seeing our kids grow up. He missed it anyway eight years later.

    You are right though. Those of us who can see, take it for granted and I’ve tried really hard to always remember what it must be like to live in a dark, black world. It has to be one of the scariest things ever. I don’t think I would handle it well. My husband didn’t.

    It’s wonderful that you volunteer. I wish I had the time. I did volunteer years ago for the Foundation for the Hearing Impaired. That was a wonderful experience. To lose any of our five senses is a tragedy and the people who live with these conditions have my pride every single day. Thank you for this post!


  4. Thank you so much CR! I really appreciate your comment. We’ve just launched a new project, Cane Quest to teach blind people to walk with canes to encourage their independence. It’s been an amazing experience to be part of. I am so sorry you lost your husband. Love and hugs to you xo

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