Close your eyes for a second and focus only on the sounds around you. Can you tell how old is the guy who talks near you or how many buses had passed? Of course not, because you don’t see anything. What if you were told to close your eyes and make it through the whole day without breaking a single bone? Sound impossible, right? For some people, this is the reality they have to live day after day.
People with visual impairment or, with other words, blind people. Those people who cannot see when the sun rises or sets, those who have to live their lives in a dark night.
In order to find more answers to how people with visual impairment manage tosurvive in this wild world without seeing anything, I contacted an old friend – Diana Ada.
Diana is a 20 years old student from Vaslui, who is currently studying at the faculty of Sociology and Social Assistance in Cluj-Napoca. She lives her life in dark, but she manages to get it right.
Life in the city
Thanks to technologies and different tools, people with visual impairment have the possibility to move across the city much easier than they would have to without any help.
You might have seen on the streets that people with visual impairment usually have a walking stick, but in Diana’s case it is all about a guide dog. Here is what she says about her friend: “A guide dog for me represents my eyes. It helps me avoid any types of obstacles. It tells me when I should pay attention to stairs or when I should stop for cars. When I don’t know a place, I might also use the GPS, but it is not that precise, so I have to rely on people as well. But it is still easier to go with Zafira [the dog], because most of the time she knows the way. Usually, I go to same places, so I can tell her the destination and that’s it. She knows where she has to go without any further indications. If we go to a new place, then it takes her two or three times to remember the way.”
Even with a help of a guide dog or a walking stick, people with visual impairment are exposed to danger much more than the others. When asked what the biggest obstacle out there is, Diana said, without any hesitation: “I would say cars, but then I think about the traffic itself. During rush hour there are lots of cars and people on the street in which you might bump. So yes, people and cars.”
Despite the fact Cluj-Napoca is a quite small city, more than 2.000 people with visual impairment live here. But is it prepared to easier these people’s life? Diana has been living in Cluj for the past three years and she says that “Even though I didn’t go to many places, I can say that it [the city] is well prepared. Of course there are some places which might be dangerous for us, but usually, I feel safe. When there is across walk you feel some dots when you walk on them which make you aware that there’s a crosswalk in front. Also, there are traffic lights with sounds, which are useful when crossing the street.”
There are different kinds of tools which help people with visual impairment to walk outside. Most of the people go for a walking stick as they manage to use it properly, but for Diana, things are a little bit different. Ever since she got a guide dog, she states that it got much easier to move across the city, because she feels safer. But, just like every other thing, having a guide dog also has its minuses. As Diana says, she feels a little bit annoyed and disturbed by people who always try to pet her dog. She says that it is not only disturbing that different people touch her dog, but also it might be dangerous for herself. Diana explains that when guide dogs are doing their so called job of leading a person, they should not be petted, because they become too agitated and forget about their primary activity of keeping their owner safe.
Just like any other person, Diana owns a cell phone, but how does she manage to use it? “iPhones have this accessibility feature called Voice Over, which reads everything on the screen. It helps me read any type of documents, my Facebook feed and so on. The worst part, of course, is that it cannot read the pictures”, – she explains.
Cooking and buying food
Going out with your friends for a coffee or dinner is a good thing to do, but what if even this activity turns into a challenge? How do people with visual impairment know what to order if they don’t see the menu?
“Sometimes it is a little bit uncomfortable, because I have to ask the waiter to read the menu. But, as technologies have evolved, now it is much easier to make an order. There are special glasses for blind people, which allow us to see the world around us. These glasses take pictures of the environment and then speak to us. For example you might look at the menu and it takes some photos. After the photos are done, it starts reading you what was on the page,so it works as your own eyes”, – says Diana.
Sadly, not everyone has a chance to buy these specializes glasses, so people still might experience some trouble. If you can ask the server to read the menu, then when it comes to counting money, you should trust nobody. Diana says that it is easy to be fooled when you don’t see the values of the notes, but luckily it didn’t happen to her.
People with visual impairment experience difficulties not only when they want to order food, but when preparing it themselves as well. Do people who cannot see anything manage to cook for themselves?
“Oh my God, – laughs Diana, – I never cook. I only know how to make sandwiches.But of course it is a big disadvantage, because you have to spend a lot of money on eating food outside or ordering it. But it is a must for me to learn how to cook, because in the future I would like to be a wife and a mother who spoils her beloved ones with tasty food.”
When it comes to buying food, Diana says she doesn’t like how the products are displayed in supermarkets: “At least in Auchan, Iulius Mall, products are always changed on the shelves and if I go there alone I cannot manage to buy what I need. Of course many supermarkets provide assistance, but it is still not as structured as I would like it to be.”
Moreover, many food selling places forbid the access of dogs. In 2016, Diana became a victim of the aggressive behavior of Panemar’s workers, who kicked her out of the shop because of her guide dog. You can find an article about this conflict on stiridecluj.ro . It is important to understand that guide dogs are a must for people like Diana, because otherwise it would be impossible for them to move.
Thanks to different organizations, people with visual impairment have the possibility to be part of a community – where they can interact and make friends with people facing the same problems. Each county in Romania provides its own organizations so people in need all over Romania have a chance to join it depending on where they are. Diana says that for now she is only part of an online group in Vaslui, so she stays updated with different kinds of information, but she would definitely like to join the association in Cluj-Napoca as an active member.
“I have a lot of ideas of different projects in my head for people with visual impairments. I would like to consult specialist and put them into application as soon as possible”, – she says.
Future plans and dreams
What if people would choose others people based on their inside beauty over external qualities?The world seems different to those who have never seen anyone’s face and don’t have an image of a perfect human being in their head. What does a perfect person looks like in the eyes of a person with visual impairment?
“Well… – Diana takes a break, – I would like a man who is first of all honest near me. I would like us to always discuss things and if he has something to tell me, I don’t want him to lie. So yes, honesty comes first. Secondly I would like us to be compatible so that we feel good with each other. I am not looking for a hero, I just want a good person for myself.”
When it comes to her biggest dream, Diana says that she would like to build her own future. “After graduation I am not planning to return to Vaslui, instead I would like to live in Cluj, because I feel that here I have more possibilities. I would like to find a job related to my profession and find someone to have a family with.”
It is important to understand that not all people dream about money, travels and other material things. For some of us,happiness is just having a job we like and having a beautiful family to return to in the evening.
Despite the fact people with visual impairment can’t see this world; they feel it much more than anyone who has ever seen it.