Long Canes / by santiago cal

So the old four O has come and gone. Fortunately I find myself deep in projects and new ideas.  Too much for one post so I will continue where I left off.

Today I eagerly showed up for a tour of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Fatos, a small Turkish woman, intelligent, elegant and friendly greeted me with blue cane in hand. She apologized for walking slow due to a recent accident. She started by explaining the paintings on the walls, which were all done by blind or visually impaired artists. What struck me was the realism (from generalized to detailed) and how was this possible. I stood looking at Esref Armagan’s landscape painting, wondering “how”, since he has been blind since birth. The colors were right and the perspective was there.  Then again, how does Fatos know  this? She only has 10% of her vision. 

Already I felt like I was in another world. Our first stop was the woodshop…yes, the wood shop. Power tools everywhere and furniture in progress, it was a mess. I felt at home but wondered how the blind could find anything. I know what it’s like trying to find my measuring tape in my own studio. A young African-american man was there building an entertainment center for his new 60” flat screen TV. I was so confused that I stumbled  to ask, “why do you need a TV if you are blind?” Pause, I must add that his craft was better than almost all my students. His response was “ I love movies, plus, I have a son and guests who like TV.” Immediately I felt super ignorant, like someone going to another culture and asking “why do you do that?”  Graciously, he showed me how he measures with clicks and touch of his ruler.

So the tour continues to the computer lab, the braille learning room and kitchen. It was someone’s birthday so they where baking cupcakes. The guy icing the cupcakes had icing all over his mouth. I thought about his comfort in knowing that others can’t see and just enjoying the job.  I asked Fatos about mentally visualizing space versus the invented terrain. She said everyone is different but elaborated that she is an extremely visual person. Even though she cannot see a thing, she pictures it all; then proceeded to describe the room. She said that sometimes people think that the blind are just wondering aimlessly. But what they are doing is “seeing” the room or place.  

I then meet Jeff who gave me a history of the cane with physical examples. He is an amazing individual (granted everyone there is an amazing individual.) He looked everyone in the face and said hello as they walked by. He knew where I was in the room without a peep from me. He then proceeded to show me how the cane is used, palm grip or pencil grip, slow pace or fast; up stairs and down, familiar and unfamiliar, inside and out. The latter was when I was floored. Jeff knew every sound around us. The couple talking in the parking lot (which I did not hear but only could see), when the cars passed the trees which direction they went, how close we were to the building (echo,) etc. I could not help but ask when he had lost his sight. He said that when he was 19 (he’s now older than I.) I then asked if other senses have been amplified, thinking of my own sensitivity to sound, and he answered “ you are a photographer (I’ve been taking photos along the way), has it made your sight better?” My answer was “no”. He said “but it has made you see things in a more informed way.