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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Something Strange

Here is something strange to ponder. I have been dealing
with eye fatigue this week. My eyes are tired and
straining. This causes a sort of burning pain in my eyes
and head. I get to the point where I just want to lay down
with my eyes closed and not move at all.
This kind of problem is common within the deaf-blind
community. Many people with low vision suffer from eye
fatigue and pain. It makes sense. They are straining to
use eyes that are already compromised by some type of visual
condition. Whether they are focusing on print, lip
reading, sign language, or a computer screen, their eyes can
only take so much. This creates real issues for people
who are deaf-blind. They can't just listen to music or a
talking book while resting their eyes. They can't turn
speech on their computer for a little while. Their vision,
as meager as it may be, is all they have. So they use it.
They abuse it. They push it to the limits and then some.
And those eyes scream back at them to "stop!... slow down!
Give us a break!"
What's so strange about my eye pain? Well, I'm totally
blind. I see nothing at all. Not even light perception.
So what could possibly be straining my eyes?
It's the irony of blindness. Even useless eyes can hurt. It
doesn't seem fair. Try telling that to my eyes. They don't
have ears so they never listen to reason.
I lost the last of my sight when I was 28. This means I
grew up visual. I learned to read print. I learned to see
and process the world with my vision. Becoming blind
doesn't change any of that. The brain still works the same.
A person who is born blind and grows up with no vision at
all, learns from touch to brain. They feel braille and it
goes right to their brain and becomes words. A person who
is sighted learns from eyes to brain. They see print and
it goes to the brain and becomes words.
What happens when a sighted person loses their vision later
in life? They learn braille and they learn to touch the
world, but they still use their visual processing system
to understand it all. What is felt is turned into a mental
image which is then processed by the brain. Make sense?
Probably not. I said it's weird.
When I am reading braille, for example, I feel a cell and
think about what letter it looks like. Three dots in a
vertical row. I feel the dots. Then I "see" the dots in my
head. My brain suddenly says, "Oh, that's an "l". It's
almost like I have to turn the dots to print before I can
understand it. After six years of reading braille, I do
this very fast. I can do a whole word at a time. But it's
still, in some way, going through my vision before it hits
my brain.
There's more. When I read braille, my eyes move back and
forth as if I'm reading print. I'm not trying to do this.
I didn't even know about it until my son asked, "Mommy, why
do you move your eyes when you read?" I have no idea. But
there they go... right, left, right."
When I was first learning braille, I used many visual
tactics to make it easier. If I got stuck on a word, I
would squint. If I still couldn't figure it out, I would
move my face closer and closer to the page as I strained to
make out the word. How was any of this supposed to help me
feel the word better? Again, I don't know. But I still
did it.
Totally blind or not, my eyes still get tired. If I read
too much in one day... Or if I write too much... I will pay
for it. Now it's ASL that is doing it. I don't know how or
why, but focusing on ASL during class is making my eyes very
tired. I'd like to ask the teacher for a break so I can
rest my eyes. He'd probably think I'm insane.
Welcome to the ironic world of deaf-blindness. We deal with
the weirdest issues. Our eyes hurt. Our ears ring. Our
balance makes us look drunk while we walk. But what can we
do? Strange or not, it's the reality of deaf-blind life.
We just have to keep living it.

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