Legally Blind – Part 1: How It Affects Me

English: Reading glasses. ‪中文(繁體)‬: 老花眼鏡

English: Reading glasses. ‪中文(繁體)‬: 老花眼鏡 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Legally, I am classified as being blind, though I really am not. I can see everything around me clearly, but when it comes to small print or details, I use a heavy magnifying pair of reading glasses. However, there are times when I attempt to read without using my glasses, because I’m too lazy to put them on. Still, I don’t use a cane, read Braille and I sure don’t need a seeing-eye dog.

Because this story is so long, I broke it up into two posts.

My Visual Condition

Yes, I’ve been born with my visual condition and it has adversely affected me throughout my life. Not only was I born with astigmatism, but nystagmus (constant, involuntary back and forth movement of the eyeballs) too.

Contact lenses are totally out of the question. After several eye exams, they are unable to provide me with regular glasses to correct my vision. Therefore, I have reading glasses only and should not wear them unless I’m reading. For regular site, they make everything look blurry.

My legal blindness prohibits me from getting a driver’s license. You need to be able to read any sign going at 55 miles per hours, which I could never do.
Over the last three decades I considered laser eye surgery. The thought of having the cornea reshaped in my eyes so my vision can be corrected has sounded really good to me. I was excited about the possibility to drive and land a better job. About 3 or 4 times I’ve seen different specialists, each about 5 years apart, but they all told me the same thing: Your eyes cannot be corrected due to nystagmus. If we did, you would have tunnel vision, that’s if we can get your eyes to stay still.

How It Affects My Life

Most every type of task is tougher for me than for the average person. Operating electronics or machinery (until I’m familiar with them) is difficult and takes me a long time to master. Quite often, I would need to put household or office items together that came in kits (for example, chairs, desks, and shelves). Not only was it hard to read the directions, but to sort out all of the parts in different categories so I would know which parts connected with what pieces. Hence, assembling things took me longer than it might take others.

Sometimes reading is difficult. Reading the classified ads in the newspaper is hard, especially deciphering addresses or phone numbers. The Yellow Pages were just as bad. Thanks to the internet, I rarely have to read these things anymore, and if I do, I use heavy magnifying glasses.

Counting money can be difficult for me. I always had difficulties trying to tell nickels and quarters apart. Later I found out that other people had that problem too. Now I can do that without any problem. Sometimes, I have to hold ten, twenty, fifty, or one-hundred dollar bills up close to make sure I’m giving cashiers the correct amount of money.

I grew up in a foster family who liked to fish. Every weekend we would go up to the cabin and spend time out on the lake or down at the canal fishing off shore. I used to hate fishing with a passion. Not only did I rarely catch anything, but I would have a difficult time putting the bait on the hook. Putting on sinkers and bobbers was very hard for me. Stringing a leader onto the end of the line was almost impossible. Often, my fishing line would become tangled and straightening out the mess was extremely impossible. I would get so frustrated that I would scream and curse to the top of my lungs.

To this day, I still hate fishing, unless there are others along willing to help me and we are at a lake that actually has fish in it.

Indeed, I did look quite awkward when handling my fishing pole. I would hold the objects an inch away from my eyes and squint as I tried to put them together. Usually, I would succeed, but only after several minutes or struggling. No doubt, I must have looked pretty foolish.

While in senior high, I received materials from the State Services for the Disabled and Blind and Visually Impaired (SSDBVI) in Minnesota. I didn’t have to apply for them, I just received them automatically. This included a cassette player with audio books, called talking books. They would send me a large print catalog and I would check some of them out. It was just like a standard library including books containing adult language. They also tried to push Braille materials my way, but I didn’t need Braille, nor had sensitive fingers to read it anyway.

All of my adult life I have been unable to drive. I’ve had to depend on others to drive me places, unless there was public transportation handy. Still, I can ride a bike without any problem, especially when I know the area well. Thus, I aim to be as independent as possible and hate having to bother people for rides.

Riding in a car with someone can be extremely difficult. This is true when we both are going somewhere we never been before. For me, seeing most street signs is impossible. Even though I bring a pair of binoculars along, they’re not powerful enough for me to see the street signs. As we approach them, I would struggle to focus in on them and by the time I was close enough, we had already whipped past them.

I would feel so helpless when trying to help the driver find his/her way to our destination. Fortunately, those I ride with are understanding. Still, I can read road maps with the aid of a heavy magnifying glass plus the help of my reading glasses. It just takes me half a minute to put on my glasses, grab the map, and fetch the magnifying glass.

For more, see next post.

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