“I lost most of my sight at birth when I was given harsh eye drops. During my teenage years, I became totally blind and sank into a deep depression.”—Paqui, a middle-aged woman whose husband is also blind.
BLINDNESS or serious visual impairment can have many causes, including injury and disease. These may affect the eyes, the optic nerves, or the brain. People who lose much or all of their sight often experience denial, grief, and fear. Many, though, learn to cope very well and go on to lead satisfying lives.
The eyes are normally our primary source of information about the world around us. So when someone loses his sight, he comes to rely more heavily on other senses—hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
According to the magazine Scientific American, research on neuroplasticity suggests that the brain has the ability “to change with experience.” The article adds: “A large body of evidence shows when the brain is deprived of input in one sensory modality, it is capable of reorganizing itself to support and augment other senses.” Consider the following.
Hearing: From voices to footsteps, sounds can paint a mental picture. “I have learned to remember and recognize people by their voices or even by how they walk,” says a blind man named Fernando. Juan, who is also blind, says: “For a blind person, another’s voice is his identity.” And like all of us, the blind take careful note of tone, which can convey a variety of emotions.
To the trained ear of a blind person, sound also says a lot about the environment—from the direction of traffic to the size of a room to the location of certain obstacles.
Smell: The sense of smell can also be a rich source of information, but not just about the source of an aroma. For example, when a blind person walks along a certain route, his sense of smell can help him to form a mental map that may include coffee shops, restaurants, markets, and so on. Of course, familiar sounds add to the map, as do details acquired through the sense of touch.
Touch: “My fingers are my eyes,” says Francisco. The range of those “eyes” can be extended by means of a cane. Manasés, who was born blind and learned to use a cane in childhood, said, “I know exactly where I am thanks to my other senses, my memory, and the patterns on the sidewalk that I detect with the aid of my cane.”
The sense of touch also enables many blind people to read by means of literature published in Braille. Nowadays, in fact, it is not unusual for a blind person to have access to a number of provisions to enrich his mental and spiritual life. Besides publications in Braille, these provisions include audio recordings and computer-based technology. With the help of these, the blind can read the Bible and a variety of Bible study aids.*
Those spiritual provisions have been a source of immeasurable comfort and hope to Paqui and her husband, mentioned at the outset. They have also gained the support of a large spiritual family, the local Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We are now able to live a full and reasonably independent life,” Paqui says.
Indeed, blindness presents special challenges. But what a testimony to human adaptability and resilience when people confront those challenges and carry on with the joys of life!
Jehovah’s Witnesses produce Bible study aids in Braille in more than 25 languages.