Ask Dr. Snee: Blindness and impairment

Dear Dr. Snee,

Recently, I read about blind Iraq war veterans learning how to ski. How is this possible? Also what other activities do you recommend for blind people who still wish to stay active?

The article you’re referencing is about Ivan Castro, a former Army Ranger, who is part of a group of nine blinded soldiers participating in the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports program. In their case, they were included in this program for wounded vets because, as Tom Iselin, the program’s executive director, puts it:

“‘A lot of these guys come from Special Forces. They are used to being pushed. Because they are used to being pushed and they want to be pushed, they want to exceed the limitations that society has placed on them.'”

To boil it down to the physics of this feat, though, they follow the voice of their instructor. Not much to it really, so I hope you weren’t expecting some kind of answer about echo location or latent psychic ability. (Not that I’ve ruled out those possibilities–I’m just really hesitant to accuse GIs of witchcraft.)

As for other activities to keep blind people busy, there’s already a few established possibilities out there for them.

Playing the piano and singing the blues comes natural to blind people. The notes are laid out three-dimensionally in a chromatic scale, so they can quickly orient themselves to the keys.  As for the blues part, well, they’re blind.  They’re 50 percent of the way towards being Helen Keller, so they’re too impaired to spend their disability on strippers, but they’re not impaired enough to inspire made-for-TV movies.  The blues solves this in a two-fold way:

  1. They can express their sorrow for not being as unfortunate as Helen Keller.
  2. If they’re lucky enough, they can settle for a biopic starring former In Living Color cast members.

Other alternatives include: playing R&B on the piano, playing rock on the piano and, if they don’t blame God for their affliction, playing gospel on the piano or pipe organ.

According to my exhaustive research of sitcoms and movies, blind people can also make great non-musical employees.  The most popular blind non-musical career is running periodical stands.  Maybe they weren’t born with the ability to sing or play the piano, so their paperboys make up for that.

From firsthand experience … well, secondhand really since I’m not blind, blind people also make great college professors.  I recommend college because most of the classes are too large to give any one student actual attention.  As for recognizing when someone has a question, it’s no big deal: questions in any college class are raised by the same one or two students who just want to look like they read last night’s assignment.  Any other questions boil down to “Will this be on the test?” or “What if it snows on the day of the exam?”  Neither of these requires responding directly to any one student.  Finally, all grading can be dumped on a TA.

So the real question you should ask is not what can the blind do, but what can’t they do? (“Seeing” doesn’t count.)

Rick Snee is not, in any way, a licensed medical professional or an actor that plays one on television. He’s just really opinionated, which is good enough for blogging. To submit your own questions to Dr. Snee, Guynecologist, post comments below or email the good doctor.