Me Versus the Cinema

The movie theater. An ideal place to experience the latest big-budget action spectacular with eardrum-shattering sound and visuals to make you gasp. An ideal place unless you are visually impaired that is. For people like me, a movie theater is a study in frustration. They are dimly lit, densely packed rooms with unevenly spaced stairs that seem perfectly designed to cause me to stumble into an unsuspecting stranger’s lap, spilling popcorn and nacho cheese everywhere. Not an ideal situation for me or that poor stranger. So let’s talk about it.

Let me begin by saying that I love movies. From my first movie theater memory watching Star Wars: A New Hope, with my parents in 1977 to now, I adore them. Unfortunately, I can no longer go to the theater and enjoy them like I used to. The actual experience of watching the movie is still wonderful as I can still see well enough to enjoy them and the popcorn, well, you can’t get that perfect popcorn at home. But, because of all the issues that I have with the theater itself, I find that I would much rather just catch the movie once it hits the Redbox or a streaming service. 

Starting at the top from the moment I walk in the door. The first thing I notice is the lighting, oh man, that terrible lighting. The lights are intentionally dim, turned down to give that “ambiance” that people associate with a theater. Even the carpets, walls and decor are darker in color which absorb light. Walking down the halls to get to the actual theater is more dimly lit, dark walls and carpets. In order to navigate them safely, I literally trail my hand along the wall or hold the elbow of my movie date. This is not ideal nor particularly dignified but it is what it is. 

Upon entering the theater itself, I am presented with the aforementioned challenges of dim lighting and dark carpets and walls and then add in the stairs. Oh boy. I never know what to expect with the stairs. I imagine that I am not the only person that counts stairs in order to navigate them more safely. For example, I might count four regular size stairs before getting to a wide stair which would mark the entrance to a row. But, most theaters don’t seem to follow a pattern. Maybe you start by climbing ten normal stairs before coming to the wide stair and then, out of nowhere, two or six or whatever random number of stairs come before the next wide one. I find myself desperately clutching the railing and/or the waistband of my wife’s pants to avoid faceplanting on the way to my seat. Once we reach our row, then we have to make our way to our assigned seat which if I’m being honest, I have never seen the actual numbers that mark the seats. Not a single time. I’m just trusting that my rear end lands in the right seat once I’m told to turn around and sit. 

Now, let’s order some food since we might be at one of those awesome theaters that has a full menu of food options. Yeah right, as if I can see the order card to fill out without turning on the flashlight on my phone. And since I don’t want to be escorted out of the theater by an angry manager, I just whisper what I want to whomever I am with and have them do it for me. Just another way that I have to be dependent on someone else which is lame but hey, it is what it is, right?

Finally, we get to the movie and the whole reason why I came in for first place. Oh no, nature calls and now I have to figure out how to handle that with all the above challenges. Navigate the row, find my way safely and slowly down the stairs, find the exit, navigate the hallway and find the restroom only to encounter, you guessed it, a dimly lit room. Can we just turn on some lights already? Inevitably, the worst lit bathroom I have ever found is at movie theaters. Why? Why do we need ambiance in the restroom? I have, quite often, walked into one and just stood there, trying to let my eyes adjust, in order to find my way to stall or urinal. So very not ideal. Then it’s time wash my hands, feel the walls to find the soap dispenser because heaven forbid it be easy to spot in semi-darkness and then to find the hand dryers or towels. Ugh. 

Now, I make my way back to the hallway and do it all over again to get back to my seat. Only, I can’t find my seat because I did not remember to count the exact number of stairs on my way down so I just stand there, hoping my wife will come to get me and help me back to my seat. Again, not ideal and now my dignity is completely disintegrated.

Next time, I think I will just stay home and watch that Avengers movie on my big screen TV and eat popcorn in my recliner. 

Me vs. The Restaurant

Eating out is almost always a great time… unless you are blind like me. Okay, so that might have been a bit of a “shock” opening line but, unfortunately, it is true for me. Like most people, I love eating good food with family and friends. I especially love it if I don’t have to help clean up the dishes afterward. This is where the restaurant comes in, those nearly ubiquitous dining establishments that can be spotted on just about any street corner in our town. However, I have begun to notice that I don’t enjoy eating out as often as I used to as my sight deteriorates. There are a number of reasons why and none of them have anything to do with the quality of the buffalo wings.

The first thing is the seating, especially when we are talking about a non-fast food, sit down and order joint. Navigating the maze of tables and chairs, that to me seem like they are scattered haphazardly, is nearly impossible without help from my wife and kids. I get it. These places need to maximize their seating to get in as many customers as possible to maximize food sales and I don’t begrudge them that. But, you combine the table and chair arrangement with the dim, mood lighting that most places seem to love and I’m definitely running into a chair or three.

Secondly, is the process of selecting and ordering food. In a fast-food spot, reading the menu boards hanging behind the counter is nearly always a no go for me. The font is entirely too small and I often wonder why considering how much white space I can clearly see. Isn’t the point of these things is to help you choose what to eat? Then I have to either rely on my memory of what I enjoyed the last time we came here or I have to lean over to my lady and ask for help. Not ideal and it definitely does not inspire a feeling of independence. There have been a few places that have self-ordering kiosks, that I’ve been able to use for checking out what they offer, and that has been nice and somewhat liberating. More of those types of screens please, where I can actually walk right up to them and see what’s what.

In a sit-down restaurant, ordering from a laminated menu offers its own challenges. As mentioned earlier, the lighting is usually dim which by its very nature, makes reading difficult. And similar to the menu boards, the fonts are usually small and there is clearly a real emphasis on making it look cool rather than making it easy to read. In these cases, I can pull out my pocket magnifier, if the lighting is decent, and make my selections. But in poor light, I once again have to ask for help. (Are you picking up on a pattern here?)

My final reason for falling out of love with eating out so often has been touched on already. It is that I simply don’t feel like I could eat out on my own, independently, without assistance, and that is not great. I don’t feel safe navigating the dining areas and often even need help to find the restrooms unless I have been there a few times. Certainly not the most dignified thing for a man in his mid-forties.

So, I add all those reasons together and I just don’t have the level of enjoyment eating out as I did when I had more sight. However, I do still enjoy the wings.

Me Versus Braille

What a fascinating thing the tactile language of braille is. It utilizes a set of raised dots in a grid to represent each letter of the alphabet, plus numbers and punctuation. There is even a more advanced version called contracted braille that combines common letter groupings to make reading more efficient. It is hard to imagine that dots could convey all of that information through the touch of a finger, but it does.

What is almost as fascinating as the language itself is the history behind it. The story of how the written word has been translated into a language for the blind is a long and wandering one. One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, recently had an episode entitled The Universal Page. This episode provided a great overview of this history, along with looking at current trends and needs in this space. I highly recommend giving it a listen and reading the post that accompanies it. Notable to me was the emphasis placed on the need for involving individuals with visual disabilities in the development of new tools and methods. Who better to involve in the process than those who need it most?

I myself have always been hesitant to learn braille. I have even had some opportunities to take classes several years ago but I declined. At the time it just didn’t seem necessary considering all the digital tools and audio options that were out there. However, if I am being completely honest, it was more a matter of pride that was really motivating my hesitation. Deep down, by learning braille I felt like it would be an admission of need and I was not yet ready to do that.

Lately I have begun to feel my perspective shifting. My recent blog posts are evidence of that shift along with a realization that my blindness is an integral part of what makes me unique. It does not define me but it is a massive factor in how I live life. To fight this is to fight myself and that really makes no sense. I began to look into options for learning braille and came across Hadley via the American Foundation for the Blind website. Hadley offers braille training through correspondence courses, free of charge, along with a variety of other resources. After doing some reading on the site, I registered and received confirmation that I will begin in a few weeks.

I am excited to take this step. The time just feels right.

Me Versus Carlsbad Caverns National Park

rock formations in the Caverns

A blind man walks into a cave.

Sounds like the opening line of a joke doesn’t it? I have always been fascinated with the array of National and State Parks that dot our country. Of course, most of this fascination has been more intellectual in nature, as I am not an “outdoorsy” guy. I know that I am not the only computer nerd that prefers the indoors, stereotypes do exist for a reason. Recently however, I have been making noises about trying to do more travelling around our area. To try and make some memories by visiting some of the Parks and Monuments that are within a day-trip distance of our home in Lubbock, Texas.

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Me Versus the World

Sometimes I feel like the world is out to get me.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I feel like the world that I live in is not particularly well suited for me. You see, I cannot see, at least not very well. I am legally blind. What “legally blind” means, in my case, is that I am completely blind in one eye and I have considerable loss of vision in my other eye. I have had nearly thirty eye surgeries throughout my life. Most of which came before the age of eighteen, dealing with issues like retinal detachments, glaucoma and cataracts.

Throughout my childhood and early adult years, I was able to live a relatively normal life. I played sports in high school, was a voracious reader of books of all sorts, built my own computers, played video games and drove myself where I needed to go. As my vision worsened as I entered my thirties. Many of those things that I used to be able to do easily had to go away or change drastically. Now, in my mid-forties, I am having to continue to adjust and learn how to live in a world that is designed for the fully sighted. It has not been easy and I want to talk about it.

This will be the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles about living in this world as a blind person. This initial post introduces you to me and will serve as a starting point. At the very least, I hope to put into words what my experiences are on a day to day basis. I will strive to address what I have done using technology and other methods to continue to enjoy those things I love. Additionally, I hope to shed a light on how much more needs to be done in our world for those with visual disabilities and advocate for change.

Is the world out to get me? No. But I’d love to go out and get the world.