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Sensitivity to Blindness Training

By Branwyn Wilkinson, Summer Marketing Intern & Rochester Business Alliance 2015 Young Woman of Distinction

I didn’t know what to expect going into Sensitivity to Blindness Training. I could guess what we’d discuss. But I didn’t know who’d be instructing, how many people would be there, or what was expected of me.

There were a lot of unknowns. Sensitivity to Blindness Training is all about learning the unknowns.

Being blind is unimaginable to most people who are sighted. This can make them feel uncomfortable interacting with someone who is blind. But talking to someone who is blind helps the discomfort fade.

That’s why the best part about Sensitivity to Blindness Training for me was that it’s led by someone who is blind or visually impaired. Kirstyn Smith was my instructor. She’s a very cool person. It turns out we’d met each other before. Her son is on swim team with my brother. Small world, right!

Kirstyn has a great sense of humor. This allowed us to talk openly about blindness and visual impairment. We learned the definition of blindness, and how going blind affects someone. Kirstyn dispelled some myths about people who are blind. They do rely more on their hearing, but they don’t have super hearing (if you're wondering).

I learned that greeting people who are blind when you pass is important. It’s friendly, and it’s especially courteous to people who are blind. Hearing someone’s voice helps them orient themselves. They feel more comfortable knowing who’s around.

I also learned it’s OK to use visual language. Like many people who are sighted, I was unsure if this is offensive. It isn’t. It’s a part of everyday language, so you shouldn’t avoid it.

Another way Sensitivity to Blindness Training dispels the unknown is through hands-on activities. We looked through goggles that simulated varying kinds and degrees of visual impairment. We also practiced serving as a sighted guide. We took turns guiding and being guided with a partner. In both roles we negotiated doors, stairs, and ramps. Communication was key. As the guide, we were responsible for another’s safety.

The real "eye-opener" was being guided. It was a peek into what being blind is like. I experienced how people who are blind interact with the world, and the insecurity a lack of vision creates. It was hard to not open my eyes when I felt unsure of where I was. Putting myself in their shoes helped me appreciate the challenges people who are blind face.

Sensitivity to Blindness Training was a powerful and positive experience. It helped me move from being sympathetic to being empathetic.