Blindness—the word, the concept—can mean different things to different people, especially to those who have had no experience with it.
To people who have been blind or visually impaired since birth, it is simply something that contributes to their ongoing development. The same can be said for children with gradual vision loss. Adults who experience vision loss after having seen well, however, can see blindness as incapacitating and futile, at least according to people with whom I've spoken. They often feel this way even if they have been left with some residual vision.
Blindness, as more specifically defined, is broken down into categories: totally blind, legally blind and visually impaired. People who are totally blind see absolutely nothing—no images, shapes, colors. Some may perceive a bit of light, but that light often is more detrimental than helpful.
A legally blind person has enough useful vision to allow them to visually identify objects and colors with no detail. They can usually only do so at close range. How much a legally blind person sees varies with how well they know how to use their vision. People who can see at greater distances or can see more detail but typically do not qualify for a driver's license fit into the "visually impaired" category.
During my many years here in Chatham, I have spoken with residents—mostly seniors—whose encounters with vision loss have presented them with challenges they found to be unnerving and sometimes insurmountable. Many are reluctant to admit that they have a loss, while others will admit to having vision loss but will resist getting help. "My friends will help me," they might say.
Of course, there are those who seek help, and will adjust to their loss at their own pace. Crossing familiar Chatham streets—especially busy ones like Main Street or Watchung Avenue—becomes scary. That's when audible pedestrian crossing signals, such as the one at Main Street and Hillside Avenue in the Borough, prove extremely beneficial. A narrow, rectangular button bearing a raised arrow, when pressed, will trigger the spoken signal, which will say something like "crossing sign is on" or "walk sign is on." The words are generally clear and are definitely a good safe crossing indicator for people who cannot see the traffic lights changing.
I have been told that even children are benefiting and are enjoying the protection of this most recent traffic safety addition.
Blind people can fend for themselves in a variety of other ways. With the many available services and adaptive products in this state and elsewhere, independent living is possible. Fight the inclination to become discouraged. Remember that change can be hard, and adjustment to change usually takes time.
We may not all approach life in the same way, nor do we all function at the same pace, either physically or mentally. We may not all have the same opportunities to access the specialized services for the blind or the adaptive equipment available in this state and elsewhere, but what we do have is the ability to ask about resources either on our own or through someone else. When your achievements successfully show that you can do what you initially thought you couldn't, you learn that all you went through to get the results was worth it.
That's my view ... strictly as I see it.