I was born with sight in only my left eye--enough sight to read large print if I held the book so near my face that fully sighted children teased me for smelling it, to watch TV or movies if I sat close to the screen, and to enjoy drawing. When I was ten, my retina detached due to a genetic syndrome my family didn’t know we had. Within three months, I went from large print and magnifiers to Braille and recorded books, as well as from writing and illustrating picture books to simply writing.
Over the following decades, people have asked some questions repeatedly.
Do I talk to my computer?
I type, and thanks to text-to-speech software called JAWS, my computer speaks what I’ve written, as well as the text I move the cursor over. Sometimes I scold the computer for not following commands promptly.
How do I crochet and knit without seeing the work?
By touch. I remember a small thrill, at sixteen, when I realized I could feel the difference between a row of knit stitches and a row of purls based on which side of the work the bumps were on.
How long did I take to learn Braille?
About six months. First, I learned letters and punctuation. Then I learned “contractions,” characters that stand for letter combinations or whole words. Fortunately, I began learning weeks before my retina started detaching, to have an extra reading option.
A question only one person has asked me took me aback. Three years ago, a waiter asked how I could find my mouth when eating. Nineteenth-century, blind hymn writer FannyCrosby so tired of this question on school choral tours that she finally answered that she and her classmates tied strings between their mouths and the table. I can be snide, too, but that night, I laughed a flustered laugh and said, “I don’t know. I just do.”
I’ve never had trouble finding my mouth. Finding the silverware or my drink or a pill or that last bite of food, yes, but never my mouth. It’s right under my nose, where it was when I could see. Presumably, my hand remembered the path from long habit.
In Stephen White’s gripping mystery, Privileged Information, the hero’s girlfriend suffers temporary blindness, and he feeds her soup. I like that he cooks for her; food cans often feel alike. However, this scene grows from her fear of losing control of her normally controlled life, rather than directly from her blindness.
I can recommend two books which get details about blindness right. When the Snow Flies, a historical romance by Laurie Alice Eakes, portrays a doctor still adjusting to blindness caused by a shooting. In another historical romance, Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster’s Lady, Annique’s pov in early chapters contained details that I so took for granted that I didn’t immediately register that she couldn’t see.
Writing blind characters requires research, like writing characters who are artists or math teachers. Blindness is one facet of multi-faceted human beings, who vary as widely as sighted people do. I may laugh my flustered laugh, if questions deal with things I do automatically, but don’t be afraid to ask. ~Varina Marindale
You can reach Varina at firstname.lastname@example.org