overhead lampshade with shadow

What it is to be blind.

What is the perfect environment when you are blind?

I have central vision through my right eye but that only allows me to see things  I’m directly looking at. 

At birth I experienced  retinal detachment in both eyes. I was under-developed and had to born early. The laser treatment that was supposed to save my eyes nearly  burned my eyes out altogether. 

 Luckily, they managed to save my right eye. But my left eye was damaged way too severely. 

I’m never going to be able to see anything with that eye. There’s nothing that can be done about it now. 

As a seeing person for you to look at something  up/down/left/right  you can turn your eyes to look.

For me, because  I don’t have any peripheral vision,  my  visual field is very small, so  I would have to turn my whole head instead.

stuffed toys including pink unicorn and monkey on top shelf
Photo from WhatsApp video

Altogether there are four of us living here.  We have lived in this home for eight and a half years.

I need a lot of space to get around so  in my terms this house is not very big.

My old bedroom was ridiculously small.

I called it a ‘cage’ rather than a room –  that’s literally how small it is. You could just about fit a double bed in there.   

I don’t understand what was in the builder’s head when they made that room so small. What were they thinking? 

 Luckily my parents and I swapped rooms so I now have a bigger room.

Bible in braille and  folders on shelving unit
Photo from Whatsapp video

As a blind person I have a lot of  written information.. stuff in braille.

Braille takes up a lot of space. It’s very bulky.

For me to fit in all these massive folders and all my other equipment – like my musical keyboard- it was all very, very clumped together. And don’t forget  my bed and a writing table as well. 

With so little walking space at every step I could crash into something.

I really  struggled in that room.

It was tough when I was doing GCSE’s. 

 I needed to use every single space on every shelf  just to fit in all the paper work.  My room was literally  one big lot of shelves, and lots of folders. It was pretty covered.  

People asked: Was I living in a room or an office?  That’s how it felt.  

I do everything in my room: I stay  here 24 hours a day. It’s my main place: it’s where I  always am… I live here.

My parents  only used their room to sleep so they said: ‘let’s swap rooms’.  And so that way I am able to organise myself and organise my stuff a little bit more.

All my  folders are in place and everything is tidy. It’s definitely an improvement to my life.

bible in braille and flowers on shelf
Photo from Whatsapp video

Whether  I know the space well  – or not – I am going to  struggle in a cramped space. 

 I need a bigger area to walk, to know I’m not going to crash into anything. If I don’t know a place I will be afraid I am not going to find my way around, and  so I will expect someone to guide me.

If I am familiar with the place it’s not going to be so much of a problem – but even then I can get lost.  

For example, if you said you are taking me to the hall… but instead you brought me  to the loo I’m not going to figure out you brought me to a different place. It might feel like I am in a different place, but I won’t know where I am. 

I might think: wait a minute this is not a hall…. 

I might pick up on the fact that  the sound isolation is a lot better than in a hall. Or, the fact the lighting may be different .. the flooring and stuff  like that. But I am not going to know exactly where you have taken me.    

My family really  didn’t know how it was going to be for me as a blind person.

They didn’t have any VI training so as a little girl I was crashing into everything. And to be fair I still do.

They didn’t know how I would find my way around – or not – and  where I am going to struggle, or  not struggle. It was trial and error. 

With every injury and crash it was like aha! We need to fix that. 

They had  the common sense not to leave stuff on the floor and not to leave any sharp stuff lying around – because I am physically not going to be able to see it. But they are not going to have a detailed idea of my needs until they see it  for themselves. And  they have seen it for themselves. Quite a bit.

transparent make-up bag on keyboard
Photo from Whatsapp video

I used to walk with a ‘star’ on my head – that’s what we  say when you have a visible bump on your head. I used to get loads of ‘stars’  like that because I could crash into everything and anything. 

Can you see… this table has corner protectors. 

Obviously where there are sharp edges and corners they get rid of them straight away with protective covers. Sometimes  they will say A. be careful of that table…. or  that cupboard. Don’t walk into it.   Open cupboards and open doors can  be a problem. 

Actually, I don’t rely  on my vision as much as I rely on being reassured by other people’s eyes. Being told that  it is all right – and that isn’t.

handle on bedroom door
Photo from WhatsApp video

If somebody  doesn’t tell me I won’t know there is an open door.

So, if  nobody says anything obviously I  will think everything is all right and there is nothing to fear. But, if for any reason there is an open door, and I have not being  made aware of it,  I am going to walk into it.  

It’s been twenty years now for my family so they’ve had to learn.

Hearing – if I can even say that – is pretty much a replacement for my vision.

When I have an ear infection it makes it very difficult for me to know what is going on around me.  

For instance, if I had a poorly ear and I could only hear out of one ear, I wouldn’t hear what is going on in the room: who is going where….who  is doing what. I wouldn’t hear you coming. I wouldn’t even know you were in the room because I didn’t hear you walk in. 

If you say ‘hi’, it will seem to me like you have come out of the blue, out of nowhere –   because I hadn’t heard you coming. 

It’s essential  for me to have full hearing so I can  hear every detail of  what is going on around me… where there are people.. where there are not. And outside if there are vehicles.

The easiest way for me to tell  if a window is open in a room is if  I can hear the traffic outside.

  I may not have seen it.. I may not have felt any draught..  but I can hear the traffic or the noise outside.

net curtain on window -looking out
Photo from WhatsApp video

The better  sound isolation  the clearer  I can hear what is going on around me.

Carpeted  areas are brilliant for me.  

I love areas like studios .. production rooms etc. because they have very good sound isolation.   There is no echo. When there is perfect sound isolation you can’t  hear what is going on  elsewhere.  

red patterned rug under keyboard
Photo from WhatsApp video

For a blind person it’s the perfect  environment. 

Last year I was doing a work placement  at the school and I was amazed because the sound isolation was perfect.  

People told me that  was an inclusive area for people with special needs  and was designed/built  with the help of a blind person. 

 Because  the sound isolation  was so perfect I was aware of that before they even said anything. Sitting in that room I could hear  everything so well.  

There were no distracting sounds  and I couldn’t  hear what’s going on outside of the room. I was amazed! 

In sound production settings they use panels  for sound isolation  on the walls and ceiling  to block out the echo and noise. Thick walls help –  always. Sound proof doors help… and carpets. That is what I would look for in a VI accessible venue.

In a home setting, obviously the sound isolation… that’s essential. Also, you want to be sure there is contrasting colours.

textured wallpaper
Photo from WhatsApp video

I don’t have any contrasting colours here.

My room has light colours wall and a light coloured floor-  which is not very VI friendly.

I need to see clearly where there is a wall and where there is a floor.  If I had light coloured walls then the floor should be a darker colour so when I am walking  I could see there is a wall ahead of me.  

Something I see in public places where there are  people with  special needs is that every step has a yellow line. The step itself is a normal floor colour  but there is a light colour edge to highlight every step. It means you can see exactly where you are. 

In a normal (domestic) environment  I am not going to see steps.

I have my long cane, but when I walk I look directly under my feet  and so I am not going to see it if it is not highlighted. 

In most houses these days it really doesn’t help the way stairs are being built. 

Spiral staircases! 

I have to have two people – one at the front and one behind me – holding me and  directing my feet,  telling me  which way to turn my feet to walk. I’m like an old lady!

If you have a door it should be visible open or closed. Not everyone  can easily determine that. It should be more straightforward so everyone can see it.

In buildings – mostly in public places –  where you have double doors all in glass it means I can’t tell if that door  is  open or closed. If I am not aware it is full-height glass   I’m going to crash straight into it.   

Which is why I don’t appreciate double doors. 

Lighting is very important to me.

In my room I have a daylight bulb overhead.  I need that so I can see what is going on and  see around me. Otherwise I’m going to struggle if my vision is not clear.  

spherical overhead lamp with shadows on ceiling
Photo from WhatsApp video

There is a strong desklight here to light up my table. I need  direct light when I am doing something such as eating or …writing or doing anything on the table just to see what is on it.  

I am very OCD about keeping things tidy. 

 It seems a  lot of people who are visually impaired are like that.  We like to have things in  the exact same place,  that way we don’t have to go around looking for it. 

For example: my mobile always goes on the seat here beside me so that I always know where it is and so whenever I need it I can just pick it up. I just feel for it on the seat and grab it.

Same goes for my glasses… folders… that big shelf is where  all my folders go  and  nobody would dare to put them elsewhere. 

ornaments on shelving display
Photo from WhatsApp video

I am very organised. You have to be. If you cannot see very well  you have to be able to locate your stuff easily. 

Cleaning isn’t something I am able to do because I am very weak.   But… if  something is not clean I can tell straight away.  Be it the table – or me. If there is something on me I can feel it.

What I hate – especially in public places – when you go  somewhere to eat, is when you sit  down at the table and the table hasn’t been cleaned from the last person who sat at it.

When it’s literally  got all the spillage and bits of pieces on it…  ooh.

It’s bad enough  for people who can see it but for me to feel that sticky stuff on the table it’s going to make me feel sick. 

My mother and I are both obsessive when it  comes to cleaning and keeping things where they are.  Even though she can see, she is exactly the same as me.  She  doesn’t like things all over the place or not clean.

I have that, I think, from her – but she is nowhere near as bad as me.  

There is no way I would pick up anything that I know isn’t clean.   I even eat pizza with my gloves on! 

curtain and nets on window
Photo from WhatsApp video

During lockdown life wasn’t easy at all. 

Due to the pandemic all physical  interaction was prohibited – which was a massive  communication barrier for me.  

For you, when you talk to someone, you look at them. You exchange looks. You smile at them.. they smile back at you … and use facial expressions and things like that. 

 I can’t do that. I can’t even  tell half the time when I am smiling.  So for me, that visual communication is missing.  

Instead, I rely quite heavily on things like hugs and  tactile physical communication.. a hug.. a kiss..  even  to blow a kiss.

Obviously, not being able to have that physical interaction with other people has made communication very difficult. 

Because I barely go anywere  anyway not going out didn’t make too much difference to  me. Most of the time I  am doing my own thing at home.. studying or taking care of the family, or sleeping. 

 I don’t really go out to places a lot.  

printer on black table
Photo from WhatsApp video

We have a garden but again, there is an accessibility problem.

Because outdoor areas are not paved they tend to be bumpy and lumpy with little drops and holes and hills… whatever. It makes it very difficult to me to walk.

In the summer I went back to Latvia for a family gathering. In the village I  literally had to have  two people either side of me guiding me to walk outdoors.  I can’t  see where I am supposed  to put my feet, and how I am supposed to put my feet.  I was ready  to fall  at every step.  

You can’t design nature.

I don’t particularly feel at home in the 21st century. 

I don’t feel I am living in the time I belong.

Village life is what I really miss – not that I have every lived that way.

For example, if one villager was sick the whole village would take care of them.  If one villager died the whole village is going to cry.  If one villager is happy the entire village  is going to hug, kiss and bury them with flowers…  that is the life. That is the value that has disappeared. 

However  comfortable, or accessible or loving the lifestyle that we have these days in the past there was a better up-bringing in the family.  There were always high levels of respect for the leader of the family who rules the house. 

People say to me: which era have you come from?  It’s 2023! That is the way I see things and the way I want life to be. 

purple  and orange artwork with buttons on wall
Photo from WhatsApp video

Home for me: is where there is love … where there is peace… where there is… freedom of speech and feeling  and thought.

Where there is unconditional help and support in whatever  situation. And, where there is  safety  – physical, and spiritual and emotional  – and every other aspect. That is a home. 

And of course… where there is family.

All photos were taken via WhatsApp video

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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1 Comment

  1. May this allow the public to learn to understand and look after people with sight loss, though not every blind person is the same. 😘

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