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Things I Notice as a Visually Impaired Person - a Living List

Written Fri Oct 06 2023, Updated Fri Oct 06 2023
A list of striking things I've noticed about myself as a visually impaired person.

My whole worldview has been shaped by my visual impairment, and as I've become more self-aware and analytical over the years, I've noticed unique things about myself in relation to my visual impairment. I've compiled a list of many of the striking things I've noticed as part of the visually impaired experience. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I'll be adding to it as I come up with more interesting things. Of course, every visually impaired person's experience is different, so not everything I've said here is true for all VI folks. If you're VI, feel free to contact me with some interesting things you've noticed, about yourself and maybe I"ll put them here. I will also be reaching out to fellow members of the VI community and seeing if they have any unique personal experiences they'd like to share.

Totaly Ignoring my site for kinesthetic tasks

Tasks that require the use of fine motor skills are essential in the daily life of most people. Things like plugging in a cable, pouring a drink, or sifting through a pile of papers in a desk drawer to find a business card. Most people default to hand-eye coordination to get the task done. They look closely at both their hands and the task as they work. On the other hand, me and many other visually impaired people work with our hands only. As an example, if I want to insert an HDMI cable into a TV, I will instinctually start feeling around the back and sides of the TV for the port. Once my fingers have found it, I'll use them to determine the orientation of the socket, then orient the plug appropriately, and slide it in. Often times, I'm just looking straight ahead while my fingers fiddle. Often I consider my head to be in the way especially when I'm working in a tight space. I also do this sort of thing while building PCs when plugging in things like front panel connectors into a motherboard. Many people have pointed this out as odd. Another example, instead of watching the water level of a glass climb as I pour, I'll place my finger at the edge of the glass, and pour until I feel the liquid creep up. I'll also do this with measuring cups while cooking.

Seeing text as just... Text

Text is often a big part of visual media, be it a joke seen on a road sign as the characters drive by, graffiti on a wall, or an important world-building headline on a newspaper. However, when these sorts of things come up in media, oftentimes I'll miss them. I'm not usually able to read the text without making it larger, but I can indeed still identify it as text and even get the general shape of it (as in, how many lines in a paragraph or how many words in a line). However, mentally I register it as just "text" in the moment. It's merely another object. Maybe I'll see "tree, rock, sign, block of text". A few seconds later, I'll usually realize and have to go back and check what it said. I've nearly missed many a funny joke when they come up as purely text. Seeing text not for the language it represents, but just another visual object is an interesting part of the VI experience in my opinion.

Terrible Posture

By far the most important thing in elementary school was developing strong literacy skills. However for me, this came at the cost of my spine. I started out with large print textbooks with hardcovers and thick pages. A few of these made for quite a heavy load to carry for a nine-year-old's back every day. To read them, I had to get my eyes very close. I normally sat at something close to a ninety-degree angle, my head down on the pages. I did this every day from kindergarten to ninth grade. A reading stand might've been a good idea, but I never used one. I feel this has taken quite the toll on my posture, and nowadays, I sit with a bad slouch by default. I have to constantly remind myself to sit up straight. This "natural" slouching position has also probably affected my confidence in some way. When you sit up straight at your full stature, you appear more confident and approachable. My hunching was something I'd never even noticed until someone pointed it out making fun of me. This was a genuine revelation, and I'd never even thought to sit up straight. Today I'm making efforts to combat this nasty, lifelong habit, but I would say this is something unique to the visually impaired experience.

I tend to stick my nose in everything

Aside from being a deeply curious and nosey person, I've been told that VI folks tend to literally go nose-first into everything. In the post about the NFB STEM EQ program, I mentioned learning to work with saws and other tools of moderate risk. The instructors spoke to the partially sighted people in particular and warned us that we might have the instinct to get real close to the woodworking tools to get a good view. Many of the lessons emphasized working by feel instead of visually. This is because we would be at greater risk for facial injury. I've been getting very close looking into tight spaces for a long time, possibly to my detriment.

A formless world of figures

There are many times when I see something far away and can't quite make it out, I'll think I'm seeing something different. A coat hanging on a chair 20 feet away, maybe it's my brother. Once I was sitting in a meeting and a woman had a monochrome cotton tote depicting a nature scene. I thought the jagged cutoff between the edges of the trees contrasting the white sky looked more like anime hair from a distance, and I told her I liked her Goku bag to much confusion. A great example of this can be found in this painting, "Windy Day" by Claude Monet:

This image depicts an optical illusion of two women walking up a hill. From a distance, the women's figures form an image of a stern old man

The painting depicts two women with parasols walking up a hill. But their figures also form the illusion of a stren old man facing to the left. Contrary to what Tiktok and Buzzfeed would have you believe, which one you see first probably doesn't have to say about your personality, but this image is a great example of how I see. Everything for me is the old man. Connecting dots and making inferences from what may or may not be there. This is why I also really love cubist art because it often depicts the texture and shape accurately, but forgoes details and instead relies on the implications.

Tessa Painter - 2022

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