Sunshine for the Blind

by Emma McCready

“If you can’t see it, does it exist?”

Let me tell you right now that the answer to this age-old philosophical question is, of course. One of the first questions the majority of blind people are asked is how much they can see. There are many followup questions which branch from that, such as, “Does the world look black?” “How do you live in the dark like that?” “How much color can you see?” These are all valid questions.

As a blind person who is asked questions of this nature rather often, I am luckier than many. I get to illustrate to people that I am comfortable with my lack of vision. I have the privilege to respond positively and educate, however, countless people I have spoken to are not as comfortable with their particular visual differences.

While I was a fully blind child, one of my favorite things to do in the world was to be outside. I would run wild as a toddler, dragging my cane behind me rather than using it properly. I was one of the most active and imaginative kids on the playground, running from place to place, fighting over slide spots, and spending hours going as high as I could on the swings. I would spend every evening out in the grass during sunset, racing from one end of the backyard to the other, singing and yelling out random dialogue between characters or imagined playmates. The sunshine was my spotlight, the sky my backdrop.

A common assumption is that being blind means that one can see nothing at all, but that’s not true. Depending on the cause of blindness and its progression, levels of usable vision can range from far or near sight to light and shadow to nothing at all, with everything in between. While I was on the path to blindness from my premature birth, I had the ability to identify solid backlit color as a very young child. I have always been able to see the sun and the light of the sky, even on cloudy days. I have often wondered whether people who can’t see the sun, as I can, know the difference between day and night.

I had tastes of blindness without light perception during a few months of training at the Colorado Center for the Blind, whose programs require that all students take classes and participate in activities with sleep shades over their eyes to obscure any usable vision. It was nerve-racking at first, even to someone like me who has accomplished things non-visually since birth. Traveling outside in the sunshine was strange when I couldn’t see it, but I discovered that it still soaked through my skin, giving me that sense of comfort it always does. Outdoor activities under sleep shades was a thrill, and while I missed seeing the way the trees would filter the light, I was still sharing the air with them, and could hear and feel my surroundings.

The diversity of life on Earth is dependent upon the sun’s warmth and light. Sunshine doesn’t discriminate between the tiniest microorganism and the tallest tree. Why, then, should we assume there would be any reason for humans with unique attributes not to enjoy it? It’s not like sunlight can only be absorbed through one’s eyes, or that only people with certain genetic variables reap its benefits. It gives to every living thing without fail. All it asks in return is for us to come out and receive it. So why not take a minute each day to warm your hands before the fire of life? I’m sure humanity’s greatest benefactor would love to see you.