If You Can’t See, Reach Low and Slow

Let me say up-front that I realize that you may not be able to see, but despite that, you never bump things, knock things over nor spill stuff. Well, good for you. Your skill set is definitely advanced relative to mine. I mentioned earlier that many people who can’t see have skills far better than mine and skills I just don’t have.

I sometimes bump things, knock things over and occasionally spill stuff. Here is the first and most important point. So does everyone else, whether they can see or not. And whether you can see or not, the reason is most always the same … carelessness.

That’s unfair? You can’t see, so everyone should cut you a little slack?

You’re right, and most people will cut you some slack, although it’s still annoying and inconvenient for them, especially if they have to clean up your mess. Better to ramp up your skill set some and get better at not bumping, knocking and spilling.

Here’s a technique that will help. It won’t prevent all of those little accidents, but will reduce their frequency. Before reaching for anything, even if you just put it there yourself, hesitate just a second to consider where you think it is. Now reach low and slow. Slide your hand on the table or along the path toward whatever you are reaching for. This serves two purposes. First, when you touch the glass or other object, you won’t be moving your hand fast enough to knock it over or to spill whatever is in the container. At least, let’s hope your hand was moving slow enough.

That’s the slow part. The low part is so, when you do touch the glass or other object, you touch it near its bottom. It’s that center of gravity thing. Things are just less likely to tumble over or spill from a little bump near their bottom.

There is an extra benefit to low and slow. If when you touch whatever you are looking for, it scoots or rolls away, it probably won’t go as far. That usually makes it easier to find, if you need to feel around for it. Even then, keep it low and slow while trying to find it.

But, if you can’t see, slow matters most, right after taking a second to think about what you are reaching for, where you are headed or what you want to do. If you can see, you just look and do. If you can’t see, you need to first make a calculation and then act on your calculation, thoughtfully and intentionally.

Three important elements in your calculation are distance, position and risk. There are other elements, but these are the three most used. How far away is it? Where is it in relation to things I already know about? What is the risk to me or to other things if I get the calculation wrong?

I could go into more detail, but I suspect that you get the point. Stop a second to calculate distance, position and risk, and then reach low and slow.

If it is to be, I’ll think first and then reach low and slow to get what I want for me.

Don’t Confuse Can’t See with Can’t Do

I was listening to a podcast yesterday when a listener’s email told a sad story. The listener identified himself as blind and was bemoaning his situation. Mostly, he was complaining about all the things he can’t do and how inconvenient it is to need someone around to care for him and his needs.

That got me to thinking about how easy it is for those of us who can’t see to confuse can’t with don’t know how. The specific issue in the listener’s email that caused me to ponder the confusion came when he said that he had to get someone who can see to hang a picture for him. His point was that his blindness prevents him from using a drill and makes it impossible for him to get the picture level and at the right height.

That’s just silly talk. I can’t see and know how to use a drill. I can’t see and know how to make sure a picture is level. I can’t see and know how to hang a picture at a good height for most people when they are looking at it. Being blind is not the reason why the listener can’t hang a picture on his wall. The reason is simple. He just doesn’t know how to hang the picture without being able to see.

Is the listener having his own pity party? Probably, but that is not my point. It’s true that he can’t do by looking. (We explored that notion in the last episode of Blind How.) But just because he can’t do by looking doesn’t mean he can’t do.

Let me suggest a strategy for doing if you can’t see. Think of something – anything – that you think you can’t do because you can’t see. Now, start with the outcome. As clearly as you can, define what you want to achieve. I want this picture hanging appropriately on that wall. I want to be wearing my red shirt with my black pants. I want to be eating lasagna for dinner. I want to be pleased with the selection of groceries in my pantry. I want to be sitting on my friend’s patio chatting and having a cold drink. I want to be at a bookstore, signing copies of my new book. I want to be relaxing in my newly finished basement or perhaps on my new deck. I want to be listening to the latest episode of my podcast. I want to be attending my graduation from college. I want to use all of the features on my cell phone. I want to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I know. It’s another one of those lists. But what goes on your list? What outcomes interest you?

Now that you have an outcome in mind, you’re ready for the second part of this strategy for doing without seeing. There are people who can’t see who know how to do all of the things on the list I have included here. Even better, there are people who can’t see who know how to do most everything on your list as well. But how do they do that?

They use the three strategies I mentioned in an earlier episode of Blind How. They get someone who can see to do it for them. They get someone who can see to help them do it. They learn to do it for themselves. Whichever strategy they choose, they don’t confuse can’t see with can’t do.

Here’s the secret sauce. The people who are most successful at doing without seeing intentionally use all three of these strategies, taking care not to confuse can’t see with can’t do. It works like this.

I’ll first be clear about what I want. Then I’ll identify someone to will do it for me, while I carefully observe. Then, I’ll get them to help me do it myself. Finally, I’ll use my new skills to do it by myself.

If it is to be, I’ll just learn how to do it for me.

If You Can’t See, How and Do Are a Tough Mix

When I 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?

I pop the last chip in the bag into my mouth and want more chips. How do I get more chips?

I want to call my friend but don’t remember his number. How can I find his number?

I want to wear my red shirt with my black pants. How do I know I selected the right ones?

I want to go for a walk in the park. How do I do that without getting hurt or lost?

I want to do some work on my computer. How is that possible?

I 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.

I just 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 number, 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.

If I could see, the “How?” for most everything on my list is simple. But I can’t and the “How?” is not simple.

If you 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.

That’s 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, thus I can’t do, is seldom true.

The 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

Let me close on this episode of Blind How by sharing 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:

If it is to be, it’s up to me, despite my not being able to see.

(Remember to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode of Blind How.)

A Closer Look At BATS and Can’t See

In the last episode of Blind How, I talked with you about BATS: “Best Alternative To Seeing.” I’m thinking that we should dig into that 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.

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 and foot.

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 “activities.”

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. Here’s 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 determination.

Try this, “If it is to be, it’s up to me, so BATS it shall be, for me.”

If You Can’t See, Think About the BATS

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 have options.

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. What do BATS have to do with it, you ask?

Thanks for asking. BATS stands for “Best Alternative To Seeing.”

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 counceler. 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, don’t you?

The Real Key to Effective Communication

If you’ve been listening to the earlier episodes of Blind How, you know to focus on the 3 ups: Stand or sit up straight, look up at others when you or they are talking and speak up so others can hear you without needing to make any special effort. This is useful advice for anyone, but it’s particularly important for those of us who can’t see. Why? Because some of us who can’t see, if not most of us, tend not to look at people with whom we are talking, are apt to not talk loudly enough and clearly enough to be heard easily and may get a little lazy and not sit or stand up straight.

Why does it matter? We want to be taken seriously and may not be if we neglect the 3 Ups. It’s no more complicated than that.

There is a fourth element for effective communication that I’d like to tuck in as the fourth up, but I can’t figure out any way to make it an up. Even so, it’s pretty important, important enough to label it as the key to effective communication. Without it, the 3 ups still matter, but even if you look up, sit up and speak up, it is still hard to be taken seriously or to let others know that you are taking them seriously.

It goes back to that blind thing. Certainly not everyone who can see, but many who can, make assumptions about blind people that are generally not true. Ask someone who can see to finish the sentence, “Blind people….” The likelihood is that they will finish the sentence with things that they assume blind people cannot do.

The additional issue is that they likely don’t personally know anyone who is blind. They probably know of a blind ccelebrity but still think of him or her in terms of what he or she can’t do, seeing the celebrity’s musical or other special talent as separate from his or her blindness. Blindness is typically not seen as a simple fact but rather as a complex handicap.

Of course the same types of assumptions are made about people with other physical limitations such as not being able to hear or not being able to walk. This is the issue. People who can see, can hear, can walk, reflexively think of what they would not be able to do if they suddenly couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t walk. They then project their perceived inabilities onto those of us who can’t see, can’t hear or can’t walk.

It’s worth noting that many people who see fine but then can’t see later in life for some reason are apt to do the same thing; but they project their false assumptions onto themselves. They think of themselves as blind and unable to do much of anything. Since they haven’t yet learned how to manage without being able to see, it feels like not being able to do much of anything may be permanent.

I’ll get back to that in future episodes of Blind How; but here I want to share the key to effective communication, when you can’t see.

Listen and learn.

The single best way to be taken seriously in any conversation is to make it clear that you are taking other people and what they say seriously. If you first attend to taking the other person seriously, he or she will be more apt to take you and what you say seriously. The more seriously they take you and what you say, the more your not seeing moves into the background. You know you are being taken seriously when someone tells you that they forget that you can’t see.

I know. You were expecting something a little more profound. Here’s the thing. Being seen as blind can lead to people projecting a lot of their own feelings about what they couldn’t do onto you. The result is that they may tend not to take you and what you say as seriously as you deserve. They don’t get past blind.

Listen and learn is not a magic solution to the blind prejudice of some people, nor is it a guaranteed path to always being taken seriously. It is rather the best way I know to improve your odds of being taken seriously, especially when you combine that with getting better and better at getting better and better at doing things in spite of not being able to see.

I will be focusing more on getting better and better at doing things in future episodes of Blind How. If you have tips you are willing to share or questions for me or our listeners, just include them in an e-mail to Tips@BlindHow.net.