Is The Key
There is a critical difference between can’t and haven’t
yet figured out how. This is true for most everyone, but especially true if we
can’t see. Sure, there are some things that depend on seeing, with no way of
getting around that. Picking a few of the obvious: driving, playing
professional baseball, visually appreciating a spectacular sunset and looking
around the room to see who came to the party are currently not in the cards for
us if we can’t see. Even so, the list of things that require seeing is a lot
shorter than most people think. And even for those things we can’t do, we still
Driving is out for me, but I still can get to wherever I
need to go. Playing baseball is out for me, but I still can be a baseball fan
and enjoy the games. Watching a spectacular sunset is out for me, but I still
can appreciate the joy others have when they describe what they are seeing.
Visually scanning the room is out for me, but I still can listen and have
conversations, gradually figuring out who all is there.
Let me suggest that you think about BATS whenever you are
frustrated or annoyed by not being able to see, when you want to do something
and think you can’t because you can’t see. "But what do BATS have to do
with it," you ask?
Thanks for asking. BATS stands for "Best Alternative
When we put BATS first, "I can’t see" is never
the end of it. Any time there is something we need to do or just want to do,
the challenge is to figure out what our best alternative to seeing is, while
still being able to do whatever it is we need or want.
Step one is to remind ourselves that we are only blind in
so far as we can’t see. Others may at times relate to us as if our limitations
are more extensive, but we know that is not the case. Can’t see is where it
starts and ends.
I do understand that any of us might have more than one
limitation, but even so, each limitation is what it is, no more, no less. Our
challenge is to figure out how to do what we need or want to do, in spite of
our specific limitation.
Of course, the alternatives to seeing depend on exactly
what we want to do. The available alternatives when we want to go to school are
not the same as when we want to go shopping, not the same when we want to go
for a walk in the park as when we want to see what’s happening on Facebook. Our
needs and wants range from little things to really big things, from the fairly
easy to the complex and difficult.
Sure, we need to know what those alternatives are and how
to access them. That’s the easier part of the success equation. The harder part
is deciding just how much we really want whatever we have identified for
ourselves. The issue is that it is always easier and simpler to just stay at
home and do nothing. Let me share a very brief story from my past. I think you
will get the point.
I was a Freshman at Ohio University and sitting in the
office of my academic counsellor. I was frustrated and generally feeling sorry
for myself. He said, "Here’s what you need to know. No one, with the
possible exception of your mother, cares much one way or the other about
whether you graduate or not. All the caring is up to you. This time next year,
only you will really understand how much you did or did not care."
The point indeed relates to big wants, but it applies to
those little wants that come up every day; but I’ll bet you get the point,
I’m thinking that we should dig into BATS a little more
before just moving on to how to do this or that without seeing. There is a
major issue that we need to think through very carefully.
There Are Alternatives
With few exceptions, one alternative to seeing is to get
someone who can see to do whatever we want done. If inclination and resources
permit, we could simply have someone drive us wherever we want to go, read
whatever needs read, cook whatever needs cooked, clean whatever needs cleaned
and on and on. As the saying goes, we could just have someone wait on us hand
You think this sounds silly? On the one hand, good for you.
But on the other hand, many people who can’t see, quite easily and without much
thought, get into the habit of being waited on. To a significant extent, much
of the time and in most situations, having others do things for them becomes
their preferred alternative to not being able to see.
Should we always do things for ourselves, without any help
from someone who can see? Of course not, especially if there is someone nearby
who can and wants to help. Note that I said, "wants to help," and not
simply "willing to help." To always refuse help would be as silly as
always expecting help.
This is quite a bit more complicated than it may seem at
first. I’m not sure I fully understand its complexity, since I struggle some
with the issue myself. Even so, there are a few points that pop out for me.
Perhaps mentioning those here will help you think about the issues from your
perspective. I suspect that the help versus do-it-yourself question is personal
and doesn’t have the same answer or set of answers for all of us who can’t see.
Let’s start with something that I think is important or at
least of interest to me. That could include a hot cup of coffee or clean
clothes, reading my mail or a movie on TV, dinner or using my cell phone, a
walk around the block or a visit to my doctor, brushing my guide dog or
visiting with friends, doing my banking or ordering a pizza, going out for
lunch or making a podcast. I could easily put a hundred items on my list
without much thought. I’m sure you could put at least as many on your list,
although they wouldn’t all be the same as those on my list. We all have things
to do, places to go and people to see. Let’s call the things on our lists
Here’s the thing. It’s far too easy for many of us to play
our blind card. We either wait for someone who can see to help us with the
activity or do the task for us, or we simply avoid the activity. Can’t or at
least won’t wins. The outcome is cumulative: we gradually do less and less,
avoiding more and more.
Please note that I’m not talking about situations where
people live or work together, situations where work and other activities are divided
up – I’ll do this and you do that. Rather, I’m focusing on situations where a
person who can’t see comes to be dependent on others doing most things for him
or her, or perhaps he or she just avoids whatever the activity is.
I am simply struggling to describe what can happen to many,
if not most of us who can’t see, if we don’t actively resist. Sure, I’m talking
about me, but may also be talking about you. Fortunately, knowing the best, and
likely only way to prevent drifting down the slippery slope to dependence and
non-participation turns out to be simple. But knowing and doing can be far
apart at times.
Here it is in the proverbial nutshell. The best alternative
to not seeing is to figure out how to do whatever you want done, by yourself,
without depending on sighted assistance, unless necessary.
This is the good news. Most everything you want to do is
being done somewhere and being done independently, by a person who can’t see.
For those times when sighted assistance is necessary, anonymous help is usually
there, on your phone. The bad news is that developing the needed skills and
accessing the available resources takes time, effort and a big measure of
• Since I can’t see, it’s up to me, so BATS it shall be.
Consider The Options
those of us who can’t see, getting what we need and most of what we want is at
times quite challenging. Sure, it’s challenging for people who see fine too.
But for us, there are a couple of additional factors requiring extra attention.
Let’s give them some thought here.
I’m only talking about those things we need or want that we would simply do or
get for ourselves, if we could see. As it turns out, this can be a long list.
Suffice it to say that we each have a lot of items on our "would be easy
if I could see" list.
any of the items on our list, we have options. The easiest option is to skip
the particular item, just get along without doing it or getting it. For me and
most likely for you, the do-nothing option is sometimes tempting and
occasionally the choice we make. What we need or want is just not worth the
bother right now. And that’s okay occasionally. People who can see do the same
thing now and then. Whatever they want or need is just not worth the time and
energy it would take right now. Their motivation is not strong enough, although
they could do whatever without much extra effort.
for most of us who can’t see and most of the time, doing nothing is not an
acceptable option. Even if we can’t see, we are determined to do what needs
done, determined to get what we want.
how do we do that, how do we do what we want to do, get what we want? There may
be more than three options, but I know of three general approaches that usually
cover the challenge for me. First, I can get someone who can see to do it for
me or get it for me. Second, I can enlist the help of someone who can see to
assist me with doing it myself or getting it myself. Third, I can develop the
skills and strategies I need to do it myself or to get it by myself.
important to emphasize that each of these three options is perfectly legitimate
at times and in some situations or circumstances. At other times, insisting on
one option over another may be inappropriate or counterproductive. Those of us
who can’t see need all three options and the ability and determination to use
them as needed and as appropriate.
of these three options requires good communication skills and especially good
conversational skills. Why? For the first option, having someone who can see
act on our behalf includes our being able to help them understand what we need
or want and what we think would be the best way for them to proceed doing for
the second option, having someone who can see assist us with whatever we need
or want involves even more and continuing communication. As for the third
option, think of observing someone who can see while he or she does what you
want to do, actively participating while you work together to do what you want
done and then working increasingly independently over days, months or years to
perfect your ability to do it by yourself.
something to consider. Each of us, whether we can see or not, have needs,
problems and vulnerabilities beyond our individual ability to cope. We all need
other people with skills, talents and resources who are available and willing
to help us compensate for our limitations. Our challenge is to learn about
those people and resources and then access them for our benefit. Meeting this
challenge for those of us who can’t see, among other things, rests firmly on
our ability, and on the ability of those who advocate on our behalf, to
effectively communicate our special and general needs and wants, and the best
ways to satisfy those needs and wants. Parents do this for their children who
can’t see, teachers do this for their students, and you and I will either do it
for ourselves or it likely will just not happen.
Since I can’t see, it’s up to me,
getting people who can see, to:
it for me,
it done by working with me, or
know, don’t you? Sure, I’ll just have to figure out how to do it for me.
Getting Stuck at "How?"
think of things I want to do, it’s easy to get stuck at "how." For
example, the mail comes, and I want to read the mail. How do I do that?
the last chip in the bag into my mouth and want more chips. How do I get more
to call my friend but don’t remember his number. How can I find his number?
to wear my red shirt with my black pants. How do I know I selected the right
to go for a walk in the park. How do I do that without getting hurt or lost?
to do some work on my computer. How is that possible?
could keep adding to my list as you could to yours. But here’s the point. If I
could see, the "How?" questions have easy answers.
open the mail and read it, run over to the corner store and pick up some more
chips, scroll through my contacts on my phone and tap on my friend’s name, look
in my closet and grab my black pants and red shirt, slip on my walking shoes
and head out to the park, pick up my mouse and I’m good to go.
could see, the "How?" for most everything on my list is simple. But I
can’t and the "How?" is not simple.
used to be able to see, the first step to get past the "How?" issue
will likely be the hardest for you to take. Look and do is not an option
anymore. You can’t look and read, look and shop, look and tap, look and choose,
look and walk, look and click. You can’t look and do anything anymore.
the bad news. The good news is that you can still do most things you want to
do, just not by looking and doing. The challenge is to get unstuck, to get on
past the notion that looking is the only way to facilitate doing. I can’t see;
therefore, I can’t do, is seldom true.
problem is getting stuck on "How?" But that’s not quite it. Close,
but not quite. The problem is getting stuck on looking being the only how. It’s
not. That’s some more good news.
there is also some more bad news. Alternatives for doing, when looking isn’t an
option, are usually neither obvious nor intuitive. I have had most of a
lifetime to learn how to do without seeing, but there are still skills I
haven’t mastered, strategies I still haven’t learned.
share a simple fact. Not seeing is a nuisance, inconvenient, frustrating, but
is what it is. Doing without looking requires a skill set and resources that
are neither easy to acquire nor simple to maintain. If you want a quick and
easy solution, sit back, relax and hope that someone takes pity and waits on
you. Otherwise, here’s the deal:
it is to be, it’s up to me, despite my not being able to see.