There was a Braille convention of some description in the nearby shopping mall the other day.
This in itself was not a particularly odd thing. It was a local event as part of “Braille 200” – the worldwide celebration of the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth. However, I must admit to being completely bewildered by the large sign that was strung up overhead. “Braille 200”, it said. And underneath, presumably the same thing was carefully printed in Braille.
Is this or is this not a little bizarre, given that the sign was about 20 feet in the air? How, exactly, would a blind person be expected to know it was even there, let alone read it? No one else seems to be as agitated by this kind of thing as I am on a regular basis. It’s like having a tannoy announcement for deaf people.
I watched, intrigued, hanging over the railing on the second floor as events unfolded downstairs. There was a full brass band playing cheerful tunes, and a strange assortment of activities. As well as the usual desks with leaflets and information, there were fun things going on. A young blind girl was playing a game of draughts with a friend, while a group of teenagers were engrossed in chess. Professional-looking individuals were giving massages to weary shoppers. Someone else was demonstrating computer software. A guide dog lay quietly at his owner’s feet. Just another day in the Viru Centre!
I think that this sort of thing is great, and I’ve been thinking, ever since I saw it, about what it must be like to be blind. I cross the road (I’m getting a lot braver about that these days) and wonder how scary it would be to do so with my eyes closed. I get lost and disoriented as usual in a perfectly familiar area, and imagine how I’d cope if I couldn’t even see which direction I was facing. I remember seeing a blind man trying to find his way into a restaurant when I was in Lyon – I was at the other side of the road, waiting to cross, and I watched as his cane failed to alert him of a few small tables on the street as he rounded the corner. The people at the tables made no move to help him. They just looked at him in annoyance as he bumped into them and stopped, confused, trying to figure out what had happened. It then took him a while to find the entrance to the restaurant, and still longer to navigate the steps. At that point a member of staff rushed out, took his arm, and guided him in, to his obvious relief.
I don’t know how I’d ever cope in such a situation. He must have felt confused and maybe frightened or embarrassed. I think about how lost and confused and slightly scared I’ve been at times in the big cities I’ve visited, and it’s impossible to imagine myself finding my way around without my eyesight! And yet here at this convention were blind people proving that a great life can be had with a bit of adjustment. I wouldn’t have dreamt that a sightless person could play board games, for example. I didn’t realise how straightforward it is for them to use computers. There are lots of practical, everyday things that I would have said were impossible for the blind – and yet here was a crowd of people proving me wrong, and smiling and dancing as they did so!
Like I said, I just like stumbling across things like that. It’s a glimpse into a different kind of life, and that’s always going to be a good thing!