Out of sight but masterfully in mind

Today we launch a slideshow gallery from the charity PhotoVoice, who use the medium of photography to work with disadvantaged and marginalised communities. We are delighted to welcome one of their participants, Tanvir Bush as a contributor to the Care Images blog. Tanvir, who has a degenerative eye disease, has written movingly of her experiences of visual impairment. Her first posting for our blog below, is a superb piece. We hope you enjoy it.

How do I feel to be visually impaired? Like most things it depends on the day, the situation and whether a decent glass of wine is involved. I have photosensitive tunnel vision with complications. Sexy eh? An RP mutant, for the opthalmologically astute out there.

distorted view
Distorted image: seeing the world differently
Nowadays I have strategies and self awareness, much less rage and self pity. It was very different when, at 21, I was told I had five to fifteen years of sight left. Then I was beside myself with fear. Blindness is one of the great taboos of disability; ‘eyes are the windows of the soul’ after all. We are suspicious of people who hide their eyes, shade them in sunglasses or won’t look us in the face. In some cultures eye contact is so powerful it is deemed dangerous and rude to stare at one’s elders or ‘betters’. Most of us feel, understandably, that eye contact is an essential part of communication. And let’s admit it; blindness is associated with vulnerability, and of course, absolute dependency. We ‘weaken the pack’, become a burden and still in many cultures are relegated to the bench of life, no longer expected to play an active part.

Think of all the connotations of blindness in terms of language, mostly negative; blind rage, blind fear, blind ignorance, blind faith. Media reduces us to pathetic innocents, mythical Tireseas-style soothsayers; we are the first to be killed in the movie, and we never get to have sex. When given a diagnosis of a degenerative eye disease, it is not just the fear of losing one’s vision that cripples. It is the fear of losing one’s identity.

It is only now after years of punching walls and writing dreadful poetry, years of coping with the public ignorance of visual impairment, and my own fear of failure and dependence, that I have gradually become aware of the other side of my situation. The challenges it presents me, though often exhausting, are gradually building a more resilient, smarter and compassionate person. And Holy Smoke Batman! Some of this stuff is exceedingly funny.

I’m not saying I’m not frightened. There are times when my encroaching sight loss becomes hard to bear. But I keep breathing and I bloody well adapt. My senses quicken as my appreciation for the beauty around me grows. I am no less able. Just differently abled. And that, feels just fine to me.

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