Recently while I was trying out my white cane for the first time, I was wondering how people would react if they saw me move my head around or step over an obstacle. They might think I was faking my vision issues. They might not understand that using the white cane does not necessarily mean that you are 100% blind. Before Usher Syndrome, I would not have understood either. I didn’t know that there was such a wide range of vision loss that people could experience and still use a white cane.
This issue came up with the amazing Christine Ha, Season 3 winner of the tv show Masterchef. Christine won the whole show (her cookbook is out now) and she’s blind. She was hailed as an inspiration and definitely deserved it. She was a class act! Her being on the show put her in the public eye and people seemed to have a lot of questions about her condition. A good article came out in EW explaining that she’s not totally blind. It was extremely informative and basically explained her vision loss without undermining the incredible nature of her accomplishment.
In Christine’s own words:
“It’s a very common misconception that people think blindness is all or nothing, it’s not true at all,” says Christine, who gradually lost her sight between 1999 and 2007 due to an autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis optica.’ From a medical standpoint, doctors call my vision ‘counting fingers.’ If you hold your hand 10 to 12 inches from my face, I could count your fingers as long as the lighting isn’t too dark or glaring. The way I often describe it is that it’s like if you take a really hot shower and then you look into the foggy bathroom mirror, where you only see vague shapes and shadows.”
This is a cogent and understandable explanation. She is classified as blind but that doesn’t mean her world looks like a pitch black night. She can use some of her vision in a very limited and specific way. She did not try to hide this truth and provided Fox with the medical explanation. Even so, some people made some ignorant and negative comments on the article. Other people in the thread addressed what they said, so that was good. Here’s an example:
“She was introduced as BLIND. It’s only in the last episode they’ve started referring to her a ‘Visually Impaired’. I say she’s a big fat fraud. A good pair of glasses would probably fix her right up. But being “blind” she gets her own sous chef and a bunch of sympathy votes.”
I’m not showing this comment to be negative- I’m showing it to emphasize that more awareness is needed about vision loss and blindness. Everyone needs to understand that blindness is not black and white and that you can be classified as blind while retaining some limited aspect of vision. Christina Ha is a talented individual who entered a competition and won. I think most people were amazed at her ability to cook at a superb level and actually compete with everyone else. She helped to raise the profile of blindness and I think the conversation she generated is very positive and helpful. And I hope to also raise awareness through this blog!