Tag Archives: blindness

Do blind people have super senses – or just exceptional skills? A point of view!

Do Blind people actually have super senses?

A glance at one point of view

It is a very common and persistent idea; that blind people have super hearing and other enhanced senses. For example; a blind person will somehow, almost supernaturally, know you were talking about them. A blind person can, with a freaky uncanny precision, tell when you are about to touch him or her, or when you simply move around. They know. A blind person can sometimes turn to you and make eye-contact when talking to you.

Is that disturbing or what? They just know!

Do blind people acquire some kind of extra sense to make up for having no vision? Do they actually have, for example, super hearing? Let me give you my view on this myth.

The answer is: No.

And yes.

Human beings who were born blind, or somehow lost their vision later in life do not have senses that sighted human beings do not. That is pretty much a given. Anyone with any common sense can tell you that. As defined on Wikipedia’s page about “sense”, this is what the majority of humans are born with:

Humans have a multitude of senses. Sight (ophthalmoception), hearing (audioception), taste (gustaoception), smell (olfacoception or olfacception), and touch (tactioception) are the five traditionally recognized. While the ability to detect other stimuli beyond those governed by the traditional senses exists, including temperature (thermoception), kinesthetic sense (proprioception), pain (nociception), balance (equilibrioception), acceleration (kinesthesioception)[

This does not mean that these senses can’t change to a certain degree over time or that some have senses that seem stronger than others, someone’s ability to sense movement and space can vary widely. Some can taste that pinch of nutmeg in the moussaka while others don’t. It is the way of things that humans are a varied bunch, with varied abilities, and what would the world be without that beautiful variety? But basically we are all the same type of creature with the same set up of genes.

So why do I say the answer is yes? That the blind do have enhanced senses?

It is simple. We train for it. Consider this: Any audio engineer with half a skill will tell you that the most important part of working with sound is to listen. Any decent author will tell you that the best way to learn to write is to write. A marathon runner will tell you that the best way to practice for a marathon is, you guessed it, to run. Training, practice, persistence, and ten thousand hours of it will take you to the top.

When a person is robbed of the visual world, the surroundings turn into a relentless, merciless and constantly nagging personal trainer that hands out no periods of rest and no days off. Life is a training ground and when training is constant it doesn’t take long to get those ten thousand hours as prescribed by Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliars (2010) under the belt. It’s just, kind of inevitable. It’s practice 24/7.

So, with those ten thousand hours in mind, let’s quickly look at the numbers.

Assuming that the average person sleeps, or is otherwise indisposed, on an average nine hours per day. Fifteen hours of that day are then spent in training to make up for the senses not available. To end up with ten thousand hours and be very very good at something one needs to be training for 666 days. So according to this absolutely non scientific hypothesis, a person born blind is an expert blind person at the age of two. Isn’t that something? Hahaha. Joking aside and on a personal note; I’ve been visually impaired and then completely blind for just over ten years, meaning I have 5,475 hours per year over a period of ten years. That gives me 54,750 hours of training for this non-visual existence. I aught to be better at listening than most people. I should be better at sensing movements, feeling textures, smelling hints of spice in something I eat. I should be able to sense temperature changes, airflows, and hear what people are talking about across the room.

And I do. That is the point. I do sense people move around me, I hear the slightest murmur, I can feel the imperfections in a piece of furniture, I smell that slight evidence in milk on the verge of going bad. I train for it, every day, thus I’m good at it. Does that give me an advantage? At times it absolutely does. Is it supernatural? Nah, I’m not that lucky. It would be cool if it was. Fact is that I pay attention to sounds in a way sighted people rarely do, that’s why I hear things sighted people rarely hear. Makes sense?

So it’s all good then? No cons to this forced skill>?

The drawbacks of having arguably more acute senses are exactly the same as the advantages. I can hear people murmur about me from across the room, I can smell that awful stink from the milk about to go bad, I’m never happy with the finish of some wood furniture I’m polishing, and sudden movements and temperature changes make me a bit nervous. So no, it’s not all good. And it’s not all bad either. But truth is it’s really hard to unlearn over fifty thousand hours of daily practice.

But does that mean sighted people are at a disadvantage?

In a way, yes. Having sight means that training needs to be intentional. Visual stimuli must be in some way ignored and attention must focus on the other senses. That’s not an easy thing to do. In meditation there is often an aspect of growing one’s awareness of the surroundings. With eyes closed, the body calm, attention bypasses anything visual and a different world opens up in place of all the distractions. And distraction is exactly what it is. Joe and Graham makes the point very well in the The dangers of mixing with your eyes – episode of the Simply recording podcast.
Meditation is just an example of methods to make way for sensory training, and there are certainly many ways to do it if the will is there. For example ear training will make you hear better. Even if meditation is not the thing and even if it is in general harder for sighted people to focus on the auditory world doesn’t mean that sighted people can’t be just as supernaturally good at other senses like hearing. A musician or an audio engineer for example gets this training in by way of passion for sound. They can’t help living that training ground any more than a blind person can. They live it. Most people don’t.

One point of view concluded

. . A wholly non-visual world is a difficult concept for someone with sight, and that is understandable. It’s scary to consider and impossible to understand. Thus the stubborn myths of blind having super senses. We, as humans, fear what we don’t understand and will always try to place the unknown into a category that can be understood and explained. The myth is in this case not that far separated from the actual facts as far as the end result goes. It’s just not all that magical.

Blind people hear better because they are better at hearing

And perhaps it’s as simple as trying to understand how a concert pianist can play like that. It’s amazing. How can he possibly be that good? It’s almost supernatural what he does with his hands. Does that mean he is a super-human being?

Nah, chances are that he has at least ten thousand hours of practice and that is what makes him good at playing the piano. I have fifty thousand hours of practice in being blind. And that, dear reader, is what makes me good at being blind.

There’s a wall between us — is it yours or mine?

There is a wall between us. But are we really that different? The blind and sighted disconnect

Can you see this?

Good. I want you to read this.

You can’t?

Good. Because I want you to talk to the person above.

Now, what is this? What would be the problem, you might ask yourself.
Or maybe you are like me and you feel that there is a problem with communication between the sighted world and the visually challenged one. In either case, I’m glad you are reading and I would ask you to read until the end and then decide if I have managed to make my case or not. Let me keep on keeping on then.

Ok, so what am i actually talking about here?

I am, generally speaking, talking about the invisible yet ever present glass wall that exists between those who can see to read this post and those who can’t. The sighted and the blind. It is there. Us blind people can see it, and so can the sighted. The question is why it’s so hard to talk through. Notice how i said “us”? “Us” and “them”. It is sad that even i make that distinction of us and them. I apologize to you up there, you who can see to read this post, as I’ve already excluded you in some vague and unsettling way. I feel the glass wall and I find it so very hard to ignore. But if you can forgive me for that and if you are still reading, I will try harder to not do it again. That is after all why I write this, to knock on that wall, pound on it until it cracks and shatters. Whether that is even possible or not, I fail to see the harm in trying.

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Itsa…

Itsa who?

It’s a bloody glass wall, are you blind or something?

Um, yeah. I am.

It wasn’t always there, that wall.

I’ve been nearly totally blind for less than ten years now and I’ve felt the shift in attitudes from sighted people, and from me. The point is that I’m just as responsible for this barrier. As far as old friends go, I am absolutely, totally responsible for raising it. I can’t shy away from that. Those friends can’t see that wall, and they never will. To them, I am the same and it sure as hell isn’t any of their doing that things have changed. That does not change the fact that we can’t talk about it. Nor do I think I want to. The attitude is something like “I won’t bring it up if you don’t.”. And besides that, talking old memories is so much more fun.

My sins.

I rant sometimes about sighted people not getting it. Sighted people being ignorant, making idiotic comments, asking the absolutely wrong thing… I feel hurt and distanced when I sense their discomfort. I back off for fear of the look of pity and misguided compassion I hear in their voices, and I fail to ask for assistance I may actually need. I have on a few occasions really asked and I’ve been ignored and avoided as a result. That hurts and obliterates my confidence, making me bitter and resentful. I want to blame someone, lash out, pay back some of that pain. I get mad and have noone to blame.

Those are my sins and they turn into a vicious circle almost as difficult to break as that imagined glass wall. To break free of anger and resentment I’m the one who needs to get my shit together, grow some confidence, find my own identity beyond what i once was. Beyond and above what i still sometimes wish for.

Am i the only one that finds it hard?

But what i most of all want is understanding and communication. I want the ability to talk openly about being blind and what it means in a practical and emotional way. I honestly don’t know how so many blind people do it. I am so impressed by their confidence, their attitude, their strength. I want to be like them.

I have gotten so far off the topic I originally wanted to talk about that I will continue this particular rant and write a new blog with my original thoughts. I’ll be talking about the more practical issues I, and I’m sure many other blind people face on a visual internet. How to deal with websites, images, layout reviews, and the need for sighted observers.

But i digress.

My wishlist

I wish sighted people who are curious, would just ask.

I wish sighted, and blind people, would stop being so politically correct it becomes absolutely anal to discuss anything.

I wish we could all tell blind jokes and everybody laughing our asses off instead of going mute in shock.

I wish sighted people would ask me to join in instead of assuming I can’t.

I wish for a place, online or elsewhere, where blind and sighted people get together and just talk about things, lay our canes and car-keys down for a moment and have fun.

I’m getting tired of being directed to tech specific, work specific, mobility specific, health specific, and any other specific thing or other lists and forums. Sometimes it feels like the only reason blind people are online is to change things, make things better, learn skills, get opportunities and fair treatment. I want that too, don’t get me wrong, But mostly I just want a place to talk about things. I want to be off topic once in a while. A friendly place where emotions are allowed, where rude and bad jokes are allowed, where I can be myself. I can always rant about website accessibility issues on any of hundreds of websites and lists. I can always be an activist anytime, anywhere, online or at the coffee table at home griping about things to a barely listening husband.

What I have yet to find online is actual human emotional support. A place where I don’t have to pretend to be clever or strong or confident. A place where I don’t feel the need to prove myself, push a product, offer some creation for review, prove I am of use to the world. Because in all honesty, there are times where I’m really of no use whatsoever to anyone and that’s actually ok. I just want to be me among other people who also just need a moment. Blind, sighted, deaf, messed up, broken in any way, perfectly confident, uncertain, just human.

Is there such a place I’d want to know.

I never did come to any great conclusion to end this blog with, no profound insight, no deep insight to share with people. But I think that in the very least, if that glass wall will ever fade away, we need to start talking. I hear, you see, let’s talk.

I suppose I could finisht this by stating the obvious: Blind people are not contageous, they don’t bite, and sighted people are not any different from us when it all comes down to it. None of us are mindreaders, and not knowing is not the same thing as evil. So why is it so hard for us to communicate, I wonder. I want to be able to learn to ignore that wall and just be myself whether that wall is still there or not, but I’m going to need other people to want it too. Maybe that wall could instead be just a fence, and we can reach over it, shake hands, and chat for a while.

Please leave a comment.

Jen