I must confess to being fairly ambivalent about the plight of blind folk till I joined their ranks. Sure, they were around, but - as for most people - not really part of my world. I was happy to give a few dollars of conscience money on appeal days just as I did with all the other causes that didn’t really affect me personally. My reaction to someone with a white cane was a sort of distant sympathy, along the lines of ‘poor sod, but he/she seems to be getting about OK’.
It wasn’t until I found my sight was deteriorating at a somewhat quicker rate that I came to realise sight loss is a lot more complicated than most people (including me), really comprehend. Though yet not qualified for full membership, I am finding it a dark world, full of frustrations and obstacles. Politicians would, I suppose, describe it as ‘challenging’, but the word carries as little meaning in my world as I suspect it does in theirs.
The main goal for ‘blindies’ is independence, in one form or another. Meeting individual aspirations must be pretty tortuous for those trying to help us through the coping stages. I have a sort of DIY approach to this whole independence thing based on the theory that the achievable level can be gained by repetitive trial and error. It works fine for the most part, but depends entirely on consistency and I usually end up back at square one if too many variables creep in.
Currently I live in the middle ground. I have low vision rather than none at all, which does allow some amount of freedom, but it also carries the risk of overconfidence, thus boundaries need to be set. I can potter around safely at home for instance, but negotiating a busy street alone isn’t a reality anymore. Others seem to manage quite well, but I, quite simply, just don’t have the confidence anymore.
Now for the good news!
Fortunately, I was never much of an outdoor person, so being a bit housebound isn’t too hard to endure. In fact, it has rekindled interests I’ve been too busy to fully enjoy for some years and given me the time to revisit them. Courtesy of ‘Spotify’, I no longer have to fiddle around with CD cases or choose discs, plus, I find I’m sufficiently free of distractions now to listen to and appreciate more serious music. The biggest bonus however by far has been reading, courtesy of the New Zealand Blind Foundation Library: thanks guys!
Like a lot of folk, I’ve fallen into lazy reading habits over the years, but audio books seem to be reversing that. I’ve gone back to re-reading books I read years ago that have stuck in my memory and found that I’m enjoying and understanding them better. Maybe its lack of distracting alternatives, or even age, but it’s working, and it’s fun!
I’ve just finished The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester, a seriously underrated book detailing the compilation of the first Oxford English Dictionary. It’s easily read and an absolute must for anyone who enjoys words. I’m also re-tackling A City Possessed by Lynley Hood, a meticulously researched and compelling account of one of New Zealand’s most bizarre miscarriages of justice. Hard going for me but worth it!
About the author
UK-born Trevor Plumbly, a retired arts and antiques dealer and former owner of Plumbly’s Auction House in Dunedin, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa 15 years ago. In 2008, when sight loss put a stop to the antiques dealing, Trevor and his wife Pam relocated to Auckland to be closer to family. This is his third column for NZ Optics.
The Blind Foundation Library
The Blind Foundation Library has more than 18,000 audio books available and produces audio magazines, braille, large print and electronic texts for adults and children. Our children's collection also includes specialised formats, like tactile picture books with collage illustrations.
Audio books and magazines can be read in different ways - from talking book machines reading books from CD to online services accessible through digital devices.
The library service is available to Blind Foundation clients and associate members with a print disability. To find out more, visit blindfoundation.org.nz/library or call 0800 24 33 33.