What would you do if you were blind or visually impaired?
My question to you is: What if, one day, you woke up and you were blind or visually impaired? What would you do? Where would you go for help?
My first week at Bosma Enterprises, I was assigned to shadow a rehabilitation client named Pam. She is not completely blind. Her vision in her right eye was completely gone, but her left eye still had a good amount of sight. She came to Bosma Enterprises, because she found out a year earlier she had a brain tumor that had grown to the size of a baseball. She was experiencing some vision loss, and so she sought a doctor. Her doctors recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor. After they removed the tumor, her sight was just not the same.
After listening to her story and how her family dealt with the news, it really touched me in a way that I didn’t know possible. Here was a vibrant, exuberant woman who had a husband, children and grandchildren. In my mind, all I could think about was how this woman would be able to interact with her family in the same way she did before her vision loss. Would she be able to cook and bake? Could she play with her grandchildren again? Could she go grocery shopping?
According to the American Foundation for the Blind in 2012, 20.6 million Americans over 18 reported that they are experiencing some type of vision loss. Of the 20.6 million, 12.4 million are women and 8.2 million are men.
When talking with Pam, she told me she wasn’t scared about her vision loss. She was more concerned about her family and how they were coping with her condition. Her sons didn’t think this was going to be a permanent condition. They thought that, after her surgery, she would come home and everything would go back to normal. Well, that was not the case.
Pam had to learn a new way of daily living in what Bosma Enteprisesa rehabilitation program calls ADL (Activities of Daily Living). I shadowed her throughout the day and got to see what Bosma Enterprises’ program offers to our clients. This class teaches each client the tactical touch skills needed for daily living. It is so important, because when someone loses their sight, they must rely on their hands to maneuver through daily tasks. You could say they use their hands as their eyes.
A huge part of the rehabilitation program is the adjustment period that each client goes through when they encounter vision loss. This is where an adjustment counselor like Michelle Shaffer comes in and helps each client through this difficult time. I was able to sit in on one of their group meetings that day. It was such an eye-opening experience listening to their stories and how their lives changed. One client named Dennis jokingly said to me, “Mariel, you get the best seat in the house.” He wanted to relay to me that although his vision loss has provided him with better service, it also has a down side.
Dennis was describing his experience with people he has encountered after becoming blind. He felt that people treated him differently and not in a way that he necessarily wanted to be treated. For many, it almost becomes a complete disregard for the person, and the focus becomes more on the disability. Dennis said that he has had restaurant servers ask his wife for his order instead of asking him directly.
Another client who lost his sight through a car accident has come across people who become too helpful. He said that sometimes people tend to talk louder thinking that just because they can’t see, all of a sudden they can’t hear either. He actually has said to people, “I’m blind, not deaf.”
So for us who are sighted, especially my first week here at Bosma Enterprises, it is a question of the best way to help a person who is blind or visually impaired. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing or hurt someone’s feelings. When you don’t know anyone who is blind or visually impaired, this can be a new and scary thing.
In that group meeting with the clients, I asked them how someone like me, and people in general, can be sensitive and helpful to people who are blind or visually impaired. Dennis said, it’s as simple as asking the person, “How can I help?” or “How can I be of assistance to you?”
This allows the person who is blind or visually impaired let you know exactly how they need help. It’s such a simple question but something not many of us would even think to do, let alone ask. Dennis added that even though his visual impairment has put a damper on some of the things he used to do, there is one perk and I quote, “you get the best seat in the house.”