Ask me anything about blindness.

I had this fleeting but reoccurring thought for quite some time already, to make a post where I’d give people an opportunity to ask questions about all sorts of things to do with what it’s like to be blind. My Mum and some of my penfriends also strongly encouraged me to do this, but I’ve always felt like I’m not really the best person to do such a thing. I felt that if I was to answer such questions, then I would be kind of representing the whole big community of blind people, and I am not really a very typical representative of it, or at least not in all aspects, so I was afraid that it could be potentially harmful to the community at large if people were to consider my answers something of a general standard for blind people, or that in order not to be harmful, I’d have to constantly explain in which ways am I different and try to answer the questions from as broad a perspective as possible, rather than just my own, which I feared I wouldn’t always be able to do in a competent way. For example, I don’t live on my own, but there are a lot of blind people who do, and I was afraid that by hearing that I do not, people are going to assume that no blind people do and that they cannot.

But I guess that over these almost four years that I’ve had this blog, I’ve finally realised that I have no obligation to represent the blind community if I don’t feel like it, just because I am part of it. I can just represent myself as an individual. If I don’t believe that all sighted folks like K-pop just because Sofi does, why should sighted people believe that all blind people read Braille based solely on the fact that I do? I think I must have gotten the idea from school, where one of our staff told us that we need to be able to eat with knife and fork so that sighted people won’t think that all blind people are not able to eat this way. 😀

In general, I see that people tend to be either very in-your-face or very fearful of asking disabled people and their families any questions pertaining to the disability. As much as the in-your-face attitude is bad, because I don’t live to answer people’s questions and I may choose not to (not because they hurt my feelings or anything but just because I don’t have to, and even if disability isn’t a sensitive topic for me, it’s still generally quite personal), the fearful attitude, though very often coming from good intentions of not wanting to offend someone, is just as bad because the brain doesn’t like emptiness, so in place of the unanswered questions you create your own conclusions, which might be incorrect, or even quite harmful.

So that is why, in the end, I decided to do this. Perhaps you’re a regular reader and you’ve always wanted to know something but were afraid to ask or simply had no opportunity to do so. Or you’re a total newbie here and just want to know what it’s like being blind. That’s what this post is for. Ask me your questions in the comments and I’ll reply there, or if any questions will require some particularly detailed answer or I decide it could be interesting to expand on I might do a separate post on it.

As I said, I’m not going to be answering collectively as a blind people’s spokesperson or anything, but rather from my own perspective, so what you’ll be getting here is simply one Bibiel’s personal experience. Some bits of my blindness experience may be the same for the majority of blind people, others not necessarily. Still, I know a fair bit about blindness and a lot of blind or visually impaired people, so if you have a more general question I’ll also try to answer it as best I can, even if it may not always be exhaustive. As I’m blind since birth, I’m really not easily offended or hurt when it comes to blindness questions, as I have no idea what it’s like to see, haven’t lost my sight in any traumatic circumstances, and therefore I have a distance to it.

Oh, and I’m going for a summer trip on Friday/Saturday for at least a week, so if you ask me anything during that time you might need to wait some time for a reply, as I’ve no idea if I’ll be able to reply on the go and how regularly.

Question of the day.

Today, my question for you guys is:

How often do you read? Where do you get your books? How do you decide what to read, next?

My answer:

I read ALL THE TIME. Well whenever it’s physically possible while doing other things. As I’m blind, I read (or some of you would probably prefer to say listen to) books usually on a specialised device called Plextalk Linio Pocket (I may post a picture of it just for fun sometime later as although it’s nothing very unusual, I’m sure not many of you could ever see it before 😀 ). It’s small and portable and I can either have audiobooks or talking books in a special format called Daisy on it or I can read ebooks or any other text files with speech synthesis and that’s how I do it most often. I also can read on another device called Braille-Sense which is basically a Braille notetaker with a Braille display, you can read and write in it and it has some APPS and if you write in it you can save it to a text file so it’s not like you have it only written in Braille. I like to read on my own, I don’t do it as often as I listen to books, but I like it even more ’cause I just simply prefer to read than listen usualy, especially if I read in another language, other than Polish I mean.

So when I have time, I read in bed in the morning before I get up, then I read from time to time throughout the day, I read when I’m waiting for something or someone or am bored and have PlexTalk with me and can do it. I always read before falling asleep in bed, very often in the car, and almost always when I can’t sleep at night. So there are lots of opportunities to read, I think.

As for where I get books, it can be problematic at times. Usually, the first place where I go to if I want to read a speciffic book is the website of the library for the blind that we have here, the main library, they have an option that you can simply download any book that is in their collection if you have sent them the proof of disability, speciffically blindness, and if you live in Poland. These are accessible books, but of course not all books are there, and books in other languages aren’t there, well only a few, and certainly not in Swedish or Welsh. 😀 So if something isn’t there and it is in Polish, I usually will need to either just buy it as an ebook if it is available in such form and if it’s in an accessible format, or would have to get a physical book and then scan it, which I just genuinely hate as it’s a bit of a sisyphean task, especially if you’re totally blind like I am, ’cause apparently people with some sight have it a bit easier. So I only scan books that I really really want to read. With English books, I use Audible and Bookshare and have just started with both this year. With Swedish books, an immense help was my Swedish teacher, who borrowed me a lot of books when he was teaching me and I have scanned them, but as I don’t know any blind Swedish people I don’t know how they really get books, well I know they have some organisation like NFB is in US or RNIB in the UK or PZN in Poland and they can have books from their library, but not people from outside the country, so, it sucks a bit. With Welsh books it’s just a pure luck if I get one and I always appreciate it even if it’s not my level yet. There’s so few Welsh books overall so I’m always extremely happy if I succeed to get something or if someone is so nice to help me. I recently got Mabinogion in Welsh, but I’m far behind with the vocabulary yet, so it’s waiting for me.

The way I decide what to read next, is very simple. I have quite a lot of books on SD cards, which I use with my devices, and usually I just read them in alphabetical order, unless I need or really want to read something speciffic at a certain time. And as I still get new books, I never run out of them. As for how I choose books I want to read, I use either our Polish site called BiblioNetka, which is basically like your GoodReads, or I use GoodReads and then check the original title in BiblioNetka whether it’s translated into Polish and if the book is available anywhere for me, then I get it. Also I regularly check new books in our library and get what sounds like I might like it or what I’ve been waiting for, and sometimes I’ll read what my friends or other people I know read if we have similar tastes.

How about you? 🙂