It is easy to take for granted the vision most of us have. However, there is a significant chunk of the population that must navigate life without their sense of sight, and much more are visually impaired in some form or the other.
Blindness is a condition that comes in different forms. There is absolute blindness, where the eyes are completely non-functional. Similarly, but to a lesser extent, there is also legal blindness and other visual or neurological impairments that lead to vision loss in certain aspects, such as not being able to distinguish faces or certain colors. In a world where being able to see is the norm, it’s difficult for most to imagine how someone would live otherwise, but people like Lucy* challenge this norm every day, refusing to be restrained by her circumstances.
Seeing without sight
Born without the sense of sight—or absolute blindness—Lucy graduated from the Philippine National School for the Blind, where she also trained for her current job working at a massage parlor. To her, the differences between the norms that “normal” takes between sighted and non-sighted people are particularly salient. “Kasi nakasanayan ko na eh…Magagawa mo naman kung pag-aaralan,” Lucy indicates that her condition is irrelevant to her job performance.
(I’m already used to such work…Anyone would be able to do it if they were to study it.)
While being blind may seemingly imply excluding certain experiences that sighted people are privy to, it is the world beyond that of the sighted that has excited and continues to excite her. Lucy claims that the experiences of a blind person is just as varied—as wide and as deep—as those of a sighted person.
For example, the curriculum used in the Philippine National School for the Blind includes the standard subjects mandated by the Department of Education. Additionally, books, computers, and other resources are made available to them using the tactile system of braille, which is the standard method of reading and writing used mainly by the blind and visually impaired.
Similarly, screen readers that provide audio feedback facilitate Lucy’s social media experience as she scrolls through Facebook, getting updates from friends and accessing stories from around the globe. She further conveys the delight of attending parties where her friends prepare salads and desserts with the deftness of someone seemingly sighted.
In her daily life, Lucy explains that she faces hardships just like anybody else—sighted or not. “Hindi naman mawawala ‘yung struggle kahit saan eh. Siguro naman kahit [sino] mayroon din,” she says.
(Struggles would always be present. Everyone encounters them, regardless of who they are.)
Whatever difficulties she may encounter, however, Lucy never stops striving to do what she loves most: exploring new places. For her, traveling signifies an act that she hopes can inspire other persons with disabilities (PWD) to stand up for themselves.
Recently, she has taken trips with her friends on her days off, visiting nearby tourist spots like Tagaytay—their spirits of adventure undaunted. Between strolling the nearby beaches or climbing the chilly mountainside, she also reminisces their company over plenty of food.
“Pagkain at tawanan, doon nila ako kilala,” Lucy says, laughing. She particularly adores the tactile experience of handling finger food, stating, “Gusto ko [ng] mga pagkain na de-kamay—mga sinasawsaw sa suka, alimango na ako nagbabalat.”
(Food and laughter, that’s what they know me for. I like finger food—the ones that I can dip in vinegar, crabs that I can pick apart.)
However, the greatest joy came from the thrill of independence. Lucy recounts her trip to Iloilo, assigned as part of the opening team of the massage parlor’s branch in the area. For four months, she lived away from her family, traversing the province’s streets with the occasional sighted guide. “Memorable din kasi iba’t ibang tao nanaman, ibang culture,” she adds.
(The experience was memorable because I encountered different people, a different culture.)
Advocacies and realities
Even with the independence of Lucy and her peers, they still struggle to overturn the notion that the visually impaired must be sheltered. She shares an instance where, on her daily commute home with her guide, a bus passenger told her, “Dapat sa bahay na lang kayo eh.”
(You should just stay at home.)
Lucy reveals, however, that her aforementioned experiences only came to fruition because she and her family had been actively incorporating herself within such social norms. Because of this, she advocates a similar approach for other PWDs, as she discusses, “Kailangan [ang mga PWD] na i-expose, ‘di ‘yung nasa bahay lang…Turuan nila na how to move as a normal person.”
(PWDs should be exposed to these social contexts instead of staying at home…They can be taught how to act and live in society like non-PWDs do.)
Lucy further describes the challenges that the visually impaired face in terms of their education, often restricted to pursuing degrees in social services, music, and teaching. In several cases, they also get placed in regular college classes where they may be unable to keep up with their classmates. Given how De La Salle-College of St. Benilde has begun offering courses for the blind, Lucy recognizes that such initiatives are vital, allotting the visually impaired and other PWDs a space where they can learn free
With this, she also notes that both public and private spaces need to become more accessible for PWDs, such as through the installation of ramps in streets and buildings.
Indeed, Lucy’s own example and the achievements of her peers show the potential that PWDs have—from her schoolmate who works as a librarian at the National Library, to her fellow massage therapist who also qualified as part of the Philippine goalball team competing in the upcoming 2020 ASEAN Para Games.
“Ang PWD, hindi lang visually impaired, lahat ‘yan may silbi sa society. I-develop lang; i-diskubre ang mga talent,” Lucy puts forward. “Huwag ituring lagi na ang PWD laging nakakaawa, hindi nakakakilos nang dapat. So turuan ang mga PWD.” With but a few to voice the struggles—and even the triumphs—of the visually impaired, the responsibility falls upon us to create a more inclusive world.
(All PWDs, not just the visually impaired, can contribute to society. Just allow them to develop; discover their talents. Don’t keep portraying PWDs as pitiful people who can’t act according to society’s norms. Instead, teach them to stand on their own.)
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.