A World that Presupposes Sight

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This article is part of our Spring 2020 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses on people living with visual impairments. This article was written by Bert Neutel who attends Hope Fellowship CRC in Courtice, ON. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers.

Blindness, in my case, is not absolute. And it is not so obvious to me since I do not know what I do not see. 

I have retinopathy, and the 18 laser surgeries I’ve undergone to salvage my sight have left me with tunnel vision, poor light differentiation, and night blindness. To see what I see, look at the world through a paper towel tube. I see one person at a time, but usually only their face. In church I sit in the back so that my tunnel includes a wider portion of the front of the church. I see much of the world through my white cane.

The world around me presupposes sight, and that is the greatest frustration. If you cannot see, the world does not see you. Transit—a requirement for people with disabilities—is designed for people without disabilities. Sidewalks and walkways, low-hanging signs and short road signs are obvious to everyone, so they should not be a problem! Any questions or concerns, just read the instructions!

People in general may be “blind” to how others experience the world, but they are usually gracious and helpful when I run into these issues. Still it frustrates me at times to admit I need help.

I am blessed that I have a loving family, a supportive community, a rewarding career, and a loving and enabling God. I have learned to overcome blindness, sickness, tiredness, and my own stupidity. It is not through my own strength that I have done so, but by God’s strength and the support he has placed in my life.

Disability has hidden blessings as well. I must walk everywhere using my white cane—to the bus, train, stores, even church at times. Walking every day keeps me fit. I also have more empathy for people than I did when I was young and able-bodied. It has made me look at what is normal and what we are “owed” as people. Health, access to healthcare, food, equipment, cars, homes, not to mention any of our toys—all these are blessings that much of the world lacks. I praise God that he has blessed me so, and I try to assist others to recognize their blessings too.

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Bert, you express yourself well, and are well understood by our having gone through similar situations. My husband Ed had retinopathy of prematurity from pure oxygen in incubator. With only one good eye that was legally blind, he was a dairy farmer until a major retinal detachment in 1985 when our kids were little, followed by several surgeries (not as many as you), including laser like you've had. With hemorrhaging, he was left with further sight limitations and only some light and color perception, but has been totally blind since 1998. With his trusty white cane and God's guiding hand he's done well, but now struggles to get around... still wanting to do whatever he can without my assistance, a common frustration with admitting a need for help.

You share such a wonderful positive attitude like Ed, also seeing the blessings God has provided in so many ways! It sounds like you two have a lot in common! Even to Ed saying the same as you that it's only by God's strength from prayer that he can get through his day. God bless you as you show us all what He helps you accomplish!

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Thanks for sharing your insights (I mean that sincerely) on what it's like to experience blindness.