The Foundation Fighting Blindness has launched acontroversial campaign encouraging sighted people to blindfold themselves for a short time to see what it’s like to be blind. Most blind people I know are vehemently opposed to this idea. I am no exception. It’s however not because simulation is wrong by definition.
First, simulating disability is often seen as fundamentally wrong by the disabled. The reason is that you don’t know what it’s like to live your entire life or the rest of your life with a disability by putting on a blindfold, sitting in a wheelchair or trying out other disability simulations. You will be able to take off your simulated disability when you’re done with it, after all.
Though I mostly agree with this, I can see how simulation can be useful for relatives of someone with a disability to learn to understand the alternative ways in which the disabled accomplish everyday tasks. They will also experience, though to a lesser degree, the obstacles people with disabilities encounter as they use these alternative techniques. For example, when I was at my country’s blindness rehabilitation center in 2005, my parents tried to put jelly on a slice of bread while blindfolded. My mother and I made a mess, while my father didn’t. Then again, he noticed as he took off his blindfold that he’d placed the can of jelly, the butter, the bread etc. all around his own plate. In a similar way, sitting in a wheelchair can help able-bodied people understand the need for ramps.
However, by experiencing “disability” for a short while, you will not experience the systemic societal oppression that comes with being in the minority position of being disabled. You will not experience the psychological and social impacts of disability. You will not have time to adjust, but then again, you won’t need to have time to adjust.
Another problem specifically with blindfolding to see what it’s like to be blind, is that blindness comes in many forms. (I’m sure there are analogous explanations of this for other disabilities. For example, most wheelchair users can walk a short distance. However, since blindness is what I know best, I’ll go with that.) Blindness, in other words, isn’t black-or-white. Only a small percentage of people who are blind have always been totally blind (with no light perception) or went totally blind (with no light perception) in an instant at one point in their lives.
Most people have at least some viison, whether that be useful or not. Many people who say they are totally blind, in fact have light perception only. Light perception is the ability to tell whether it’s dark or light. In its most limited form, it is the ability to tell the difference between daylight and nighttime. Light projection is the ability to tell where the light comes from, such as where there are windows in a room. Since both light perception and light projection are measured with the eye doctor’s flashlight, not large sources of light like windows, it is possible to test as having light perception only when you really have some light projection. I am an example of this. When I went to the blindness rehabilitation center, they were initially informed by my doctor that I am totally blind, since in the doctor’s opinion I had no functional vision. I have heard from many people who have experienced true light perception only that indeed this would be the point at which they’d consider themselves completely funcitonally blind. However, this is the reason there’s a difference between functional vision and vision as measured by an ophthalmologist.
However, I always say that I am “blind.” This led to a particularly frustrating experience one time in 2010 or 2011, when I had to undergo oral surgery. One of the doctors or assistants said that I didn’t need a sheet over my eyes because I’m blind anyway. Guess what? Even those with the most limited forms of light perception can be bothered by a bright dentist’s light shining right into their eyes.
Then I didn’t even mention people who are judged to be functionally blind but who do have some very limited but useable vision. I was in this group from age eight till age eighteen. I had very limited color, form and object perception, but my parents and even psychologists working with the blind said I needed to accept the fact that I am blind. Maybe I wouldn’t have had that much trouble with it had they not constantly suggested that blind meant no useable vision. Visual techniques may not be the most efficient in many situations, but that doesn’t mean the vision isn’t there.