Saturday, May 20, 2006

What does legally blind mean?

Friday 19 May 2006

What does legally blind mean? Today's question.

A reader sent an angry letter to a New Zealand newspaper denouncing a customer who had been seen in a supermarket with a dog. The dog was a guide dog, but the woman was plainly not blind, since she was peering at groceries on the shelves.

Someone wrote in to explain that people who are visually disabled may fit into a "legally blind" category which does not necessarily mean being stone blind. The woman seen in the supermarket might quite possibly have been able to see the groceries at close range, yet need the guide dog for survival on the busy streets.

The situation is, I believe, similar in America, New Zealand and Japan. People who are visually disabled may fit into a "legally blind" category if they satisfy one of two requirements:

(a) They can only read very large print; or

(b) Their visual field has failed to a stated extent.

I do not know whether I, personally, fit into the Japanese category of "legally blind", as the eye specialist who will interpret the result of my recent visual field test has not yet delivered his analysis.

But, regardless of the technicalities, it is possible that my eyesight will deteriorate, in the left eye, to a state of near-total blindness, just as it has in the right eye.

This uncertainty is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.

I was grateful to receive an encouraging comment from a reader, Melvin, who wrote, in part:

"I hope that life still has more than enough things to enjoy and experience, and unfinished business to pursue, that it never becomes tiresome."

In that spirit, my intention is to push ahead with further projects, to the extent to which that is practical, the latest being a new edition of my science fiction book THE SHIFT, out of print since 1986.

For practical purposes, I have two problems:

1. Things I see which do not really exist, and

2. Things which do exist but which I fail to see.

The latest sumo tournament is in full swing and, while watching TV, I saw a very formal ceremony in which, to my eyes, one of the sumo wrestlers appeared to be wearing a black bra. I knew that this was impossible so dismissed the vision.

On the other hand, there was the incident of the draining board.

It is made of two pieces of plastic, and water drains through into the lower compartment, so it is my habit to pick it up and empty out the water.

Recently I did this and a drinking glass, which was invisible to me, went crashing into the sink and smashed.

The next day, I looked very carefully and, before reaching for the draining board, checked to make sure it was empty. There was nothing there.

Then I swept my hand through the "empty" space and found, perched on the edge of the draining board, a while plastic bread board sitting (invisibly, as far as I was concerned) against the white paint of the kitchen wall.

In the brightness of the day, I need sunglasses. That's no problem. In a dimly-lit room, however, I am blind.

The day I recently went to a noodle restaurant with my wife, I opted to sit outside rather than inside because I could not see in the murky gloom of the interior.

Even outside in the bright sunshine I could not see properly, and confidently poured soy sauce onto the surface of the table when I thought I was adding it to a small dish of condiments.

Still, at this stage I can still work reasonably effectively using my computer, as the easiest thing for me to see is black print on an illuminated screen.

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