When I taught my ESL and Spanish classes, I’d always add components of culture into our lessons so that students could better understand situations in the target language and culture. When a sighted person is dealing with someone losing their vision, there’s also a “cultural” element one needs to be aware of. The following story illustrates it well.
I’ll title the little story “So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen Goodbye…” a line you will recognize from The Sound of Music. If you recall, the Von Trapp family cleverly sang this song as each family member popped out of view at a party and later to escape from the Third Reich and run for their lives.
The MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting was over. Waiting for my niece, Emily, to bag up her belongings, I leaned on empty table in the foyer of her church. A slender, quick-footed woman scuttled up to me. She leaned in and waved her hands back and forth to get my attention. “Amy, it’s me, *Cindy Chaffee’s mom.” (not her real name).
It helps when people wave at me to get my attention. Nicely, of course. I turned to the voice. “Oh, hello!”
She updated me on her daughter, who I used to teach in Spanish I and II. A moment of silence passed. I said, “I was wondering how everything is going with your adopted…”
I saw a fuzzy figure stoop over and kiss ten-month-old Brooke, who I’d been put in charge of. Brooke was a people-magnet with her infectious smile. Was it any wonder everyone she came into contact with wanted to kiss her?
Something didn’t seem quite right … the shape of my friend had changed.
She had morphed into my niece!
Emily and I looked at each other in confusion. Obviously, she didn’t have any adopted anything.
“Oh, she’s gone, right? Here I am talking to no one…”
Emily looked around. “Ah … yeah … she’s … gone.”
Boy do I get frustrated!
Do you get the “popping” out of view connection with the Von Trapp family members?
Except this is more like … um … magic.
behind me—I kind of imagine him like a mime—zapping people in and out of my sphere of vision.
Now you see ‘em, now you don’t.
For someone with variable vision like me, I need auditory or physical cues to know when the conversation is finished and a person leaves … since I can’t always SEE the person leave.
Because I’m not totally blind, people forget I don’t see them slip away.
They don’t think of themselves as “slipping away,” as if it were some kind of “sneaky exit,” but it feels like that to me.
Let me try to explain. Because of my Retinitis Pigmentosa, I have “islands” of vision, irregular shapes that help me detect movement. These islands overlap in both eyes sometimes giving me momentary better vision. But as I shift my focus to something else, even a slight change, and I lose that clarity. I might see air. I might see grainy blurs. My right eye sees much more than my left (which sees almost nothing), So my vision is in constant flux.
Cultural point: People with Retinitis Pigmentosa need auditory cues.
“I have to go now.”
“Nice to see you. I’m leaving now.”
“See you later.”
These statements help me. I usually pick up on one of them.
But here’s the exception. All rules, even those of culture, have exceptions.
I might not hear you.
A normal vision-impaired person would have heightened auditory cues to fall back on. But since I am also hearing-impaired, you might mumble a “bye-bye,” and I might never hear that.
Sometimes you have to stand right in front of me, wave good-bye and say, “I’m going now.”
I laugh remembering when my students in my classes disappeared, especially in my Spanish classes toward the end of my teaching career. Sometimes my students would return to their seats. Sometimes they wouldn’t. I never knew which case scenario to anticipate.
Here’s a typical scene.
“María, venga por aqui, por favor.” (I called my student by her Spanish name to my desk). I don’t have a grade for you on last week’s assignment…”
Lo and Behold one of the islands in my eyes would shift. Or perhaps Maria shifted. Or Ronaldo. Or Pedro.
“Um, excuse me, are you still there?”
[Confusion] “Uh, yea-ah. I mean, sí, profesora.”
“Oh. Okay. Where are you?”
“Aquí. Right here.”
My neck would make a 360–degree turn like those hilarious cartoon characters, maybe my favorite, Daffy Duck. I’m sure my eyes bugged out as I tried to narrow down the location of that voice.
Folks, cultural point: “here,” doesn’t help a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa. But “To your right/left/ directly in front of you” helps me locate you quickly.
Abra cadabra! Now I see you!
This is just a little bridge to help you understand what happens with me to save us both a little frustration.
Remember when you leave, say … goodbye, farewell…That way, I won’t be standing there having a conversation with the air and confusing any new speakers who wander into the area.
Best case scenario, you’ll understand when I say, “Oh, she’s gone, isn’t she?”
Better yet, if you’re the new person, just say “Hellooo!” and we’ll start a new conversation.