Review of For the Benefit of Those Who See

For the Benefit of Those Who See Book Cover

In a few days the month of October will end and so will Blind Awareness Month. I read this book where the author deals with her fears and curiosities about the blind and embarks on her own journey of blind awareness. The book is titled For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind by Rosemary Mahoney. According to Barnes & Noble  here is a quick overview of the book:  In the tradition of Oliver Sacks’s The Island of the Colorblind, Rosemary Mahoney tells the story of Braille Without Borders, the first school for the blind in Tibet, and of Sabriye Tenberken, the remarkable blind woman who founded the school. Fascinated and impressed by what she learned from the blind children of Tibet; Mahoney was moved to investigate further the cultural history of blindness. As part of her research, she spent three months teaching at Tenberken’s international training center for blind adults in Kerala, India, an experience that reveals both the shocking oppression endured by the world’s blind, as well as their great resilience, integrity, ingenuity, and strength.

I appreciated her boldness and honesty when talking about a topic that people can be uncomfortable discussing. People really do fear the blind which has been on-going for a long time. Initially she was afraid and unsure about teaching at the school. This was partly due to her own fears about blindness in her own life. She indicates that she was already not a well-adjusted sighted person and was born inpatient and annoyed. But over time she adjusts and learns a lot from the blind students she teaches.

While teaching in the program, she talks about the isolation, fear, ignorance and hostility toward her students. She gives vivid details about how the surrounding community reacts to the school as well as the stories the students share about their experiences back home. But what is interesting is that these same things happen right here in the United States today. The United States has some of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, yet bblindness is still among the most feared physical disabilities.

I enjoyed reading some of the historical misconceptions about the blind she researched for the book. The blind has been thought of as idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics with supernatural powers. One of the most persistent misconceptions about the blind is that it is a curse from God for transgressions making them not just dangerous but evil. I could totally relate because I have experienced all of this and much more. There have been times when my intelligence was challenged or where I was perceived as either being very close to God having more spirituality or totally removed from God and cursed.

As humans we fear what we don’t understand or cannot relate to. Blindness can be something that is unconceivable and hard to imagine. Out of our five senses, vision is premium providing endless amounts of information. Facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a huge part of how we interact with each other. So, if a person is blind how do you interact? How do you have a conversation? How do you share common experiences? How do you connect?

Because we depend so heavily on our vision, we can’t even phantom how to live without it. People sometimes overload me with questions about my life as a blind person. How do you get dress? How do you put on your makeup? How do you cook? Do you work anywhere? If so, what kind of work do you do? How do you travel? Do you live alone? Do you have children? And the list goes on and on. People are naturally curious and fascinated at how we live our lives. They just can’t imagine that we are able to function and live a happy, normal and prosperous life. 

With that being said the perception of the blind can be that we are amazing, inspirational and super heroes. This is a form of ablism. I am just a regular everyday person like most people. I get stressed out at times. I laugh at a funny joke. I worry about the environment. I cry watching a sad movie. I have good and bad hair days. I live my life much like everyone else. We have to be careful that in our desire to esteem the blind we don’t go overboard that it becomes insulting. She says, “I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring.” I personally appreciate this comment and think it can apply to all people; sighted or blind.

This was an interesting read. What are your thoughts on this topic?Why do you think people fear the blind? Can anything be done about it? If so, what? Let’s discuss and help change the negative thoughts and attitudes about blindness. Share your ideas in the comment section below.

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