The Twain Shall Meet by author and public speaker Tony Candela

The Twain Shall Meet by author and public speaker Tony Candela

The Twain Shall Meet

By Tony Candela

What do you get when a partially sighted woman and a totally blind man become a couple? In my case, you get a lot of love and affection. You also get a study in how people with different ways of perceiving the world work and occasionally struggle to accomplish the tasks of life.

When one’s way of perceiving the world is literally different from another’s, you can expect there will be some interpersonal head-bumping. There is also acceptance and comfort in the hopes that neither member will devalue the other because of their disability, but even this is a dynamic that cannot be ignored.

It takes a concerted effort to figure out how to function without stress. Things don’t work all the time; given normal human psychology, relationships are not always free of injury. But if you can (1) minimize the after-effects; (2) try to be more planful; (3) find safety and shelter within the relationship; and (4) learn to relax and laugh a lot, you will be all right.

To my reckoning, there are six visual-relationship configurations among couples. The most prevalent is when both members are normally sighted. Numbers two and three in decreasing order of difficulty are when one member is either blind or partially sighted and the other is normally sighted. The fourth in difficulty-level is when both members are blind; followed by the fifth, one member being blind and the other partially sighted. The sixth and most difficult combination in my view is when both members are partially sighted.

The least amount of ambiguity should occur when both members are sighted or when both members are blind. Ways of doing things will more often than not be similar for both members. For the blind couple, auditory and tactile devices and implements will be in the living space and their information-gathering approaches will be similar. Outdoor activity like route-planning and way-finding will also match up, even if dog or cane use might not. One would expect them to be similar in the ways they seek information; relate to direction, distance, and time; and how they enjoy events, for example. They will also be willing to obtain assistance when needed and without a lot of argument. Neither member automatically dominates the other on the basis of information-access. If possible, they actively develop networks of help-givers including friends and family with the knowledge that help will be needed sooner or later for something or other.

When one member is blind and the other partially sighted, there can easily develop an information dominance hierarchy as in the unhealthy saying, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.” To their credit modern blind people often seek ways to be potent information-holders. However, in spontaneous situations or in those that are specifically visual like “what you are looking for is over there”, the partially sighted may have an advantage. This can backfire when the partially sighted member is assumed by the public to be normally sighted. That person becomes the go-to person and is now under a lot of pressure. The blind person virtually “disappears” (along with his skills and choice-making input). It often precludes getting real help such as an escort to the place being pointed to and often still-needed sighted assistance. A dual-blind couple usually does not encounter this.

Perhaps the most complex situation occurs when both members are partially sighted. If they manage this poorly, there will be lots of couple-stress. The phenomenon of partial vision is inherently ambiguous. No two people see the same way. One might see some things while the other might not and vice versa. If misjudgments are multiplied by two, the results may be occasionally humorous, but more often fraught with consternation and annoyance. The solution is a lot of honest communication, meaning that each member must be self-aware. This is not easy. The individual must fully understand the nature of their vision. Second, having partial vision seems to place immense pressure on the individual to use it. Sometimes they use it effectively and sometimes not.

I am part of a blind/partially sighted couple. My better half puts a lot of time and effort into perceiving the world visually. When we go grocery shopping, for example, not only does she seek out items on the shelves, she must make sure not to lose me. I take on as much burden as I can, pulling the cart while holding her elbow, freeing her to move more easily and wield her hand-held magnifier. I bug her to ask for help when she struggles too much and I carry the bulk of the groceries home in a big shoulder bag. When we watch TV, I have learned not to ask too many visual questions. We don’t use audio description.

Sometimes if she gets close to the TV or monitor, she sees accurately. However, and especially if the image is dark, she misses things. Fortunately, this is where years of making mental deductions comes in and I can fill in more of the blanks than she can. Then we research the plot summary on the web.

On the flip side, she has to put up with me trying to figure things out in the abstract as I cannot spontaneously enjoy the visual. I fear she may unconsciously wish I could see, but she never says it aloud.

What drives my lady crazy is my insistence on tactile and auditory input. She hates the sound of screen reading software, especially at high speed. She does read audible books, replete with their human voices and played at normal speed. She uses screen magnification on her computer. SIRI drives her out of the room. Since using her eyesight is as natural for her as breathing, getting her to use her sense of touch instead of putting her eyes close to things is a difficult prospect.

Forty years ago, when I first mastered contracted Braille, my teacher gave me a volume from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 “Tales of the Jazz Age,” a collection of short stories including “O Russet Witch,” not one of his best, but the one I resonated to because I have always been vexed by unpredictability such as when something quirky occurs due to someone’s partial vision. This is said with a loving attitude, but there are enough examples of near-unexplainable events connected to the actions of people with partial vision for me to have made a connection.

In the story, Merlin Granger, an average and ordinary young man, works in a nice bookstore in mid-town Manhattan. All is good until a pretty young lady, someone Merlin has seen through her apartment window, enters the store. He never learns her name but calls her Caroline. By time she leaves the store, many books have been damaged, strewn everywhere by joyous and heedless fun. The owner ends up converting his establishment into a used-book store. Merlin encounters the red-headed vixen a few more times over the years. Each time she appears, there is major disruption. Although the russet witch is normally sighted, she somehow became my model for the unpredictable actions of others. She is good, not bad, definitely endearing, and always full of surprises.

The key to success for mixed-visual couples is lots of communication, even if dwelling on functional aspects connected to visual status may feel unnatural. In my relationship, for example, such conversation has led to me being the principal navigator when we travel. My sense of direction and compulsive route-planning has proven better than trying to wing it as some people with sight like to do. On the other hand, my partner is master of the kitchen and other food management. In the end, she is the creative one in our relationship and always provides me with good information if I give her a chance. To that end, I am learning to slow down and calm my blind person’s compulsion to instantaneously know about everything I don’t see.

It is my sincere hope the reader will feel assured that success and happiness among mixed-visual couples is possible, so long as people work at it and don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Objective awareness goes a long way. Communications, honesty , and perseverance are key. If you try it, I’m sure you’ll like it.

Anthony R. Candela, Author

Saying aloud what should not remain silent.

Books by Tony…

Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy

A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports

Vision Dreams: A Parable

A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.

buy his books here.

More About Tony…

Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.

Follow him on Facebook for more here.

Tony also loves conversations with readers. You may also email him at: anthonycandela66@gmail.com as Tony is not always available for comments on the blog.

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