Courtesy of 123RF Stock Photo/Surachai Kunprayot
Gliding the fingertips of my left hand over a large volume with complicated raised dots, I faced the shattering reality of blindness. I lived in a completely black world. Learning to read braille paralleled the difficulty I had acquiring facility with a new language. Even if I could speed up my snail’s pace reading with hours of practice, where would I find such books in Africa? For me, the question of how can totally blind people read? wouldn’t be answered by braille.
Before darkness enveloped my life twenty-four/seven, I had books open all over the house and office. Typically, I read several chapters in four or five books each day.
Canoeing on the Bull River
When total blindness entered my life, fear engulfed me. Even if the school rightly boasted the friendliest faculty in the world, the idea of living in an entirely unfamiliar environment–without sight, friends, or family–petrified me. How can I adapt without spending months in a blind school?
My brain and other senses functioned normally, so with the sighted assistance of competent colleagues, the jungle medical clinic hours remained the same. I navigated the darkness by using a scrolling mental diagram
Lilacs (courtesy of 123RF Stock Photo/Marjorie Bull)
At the age of forty-five, darkness suddenly enveloped my every waking moment. Since I lived and worked in a West African jungle village, assistance in independent living skills couldn’t begin until my return to the States. Had I known to find blind help under L in the phone book, I’d have received assistance nine years earlier.
For the first three years of blindness, I utilized improvised aids with the help of my mission colleagues. I unscrewed a short-handle from our mop to serve as my cane. Mostly, the tapping of the thick, round stick provided the noise I needed to ward off reptilian ground-slitherers.
Soon, a Sacramento friend sent the real-McCoy, which sprung to life at the opening of the padded envelope. Of course, I had no idea at all how to use the white cane properly. As it turned out, my ignorance of local nomenclature interfered with my search. I looked under B, not realizing I’d find blind help under L in the white pages.
I asked God for a secretary; He sent me a shark. Is that really a “good gift?”
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9-11 NIV)
Did I really need a secretary? My mission colleague convinced me I did.
In the twenty years I’ve lived in total darkness, I’ve experienced life in the cities and villages of three West African countries (Mali, Ivory Coast and my mission home—Guinea), several European countries (Primarily Switzerland, but also Germany, France and Holland), spent time on a moshave in Israel near Jerusalem, and even co-led a commando-style mission to help Christians in a fishing village in India right after the tsunami of 2004. I noticed in each spot on the globe people rushed to assist me, but seldom knew what to do.
I am truly touched by the compassion of these helping hands, but sometimes their assistance can produce more stress than help. I believe that if folks know what it is that a blind person may need, everyone will be blessed by their assistance. Naturally, there are as many tips as there are visually challenged people, but I’m going to share three that top my list.