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December 10, 2012 / Michael E Picray

How Do Blind People (who have never been sighted) “See”?

This is a serious question.

I understand that blind people do not “see” as a sighted person would use the term. For example, someone who has never been sighted would not know what a “color” is – or at least would not perceive a color as a sighted person would. Although the concept of “color” can be described, can the essence of color be understood? So if I say “light green”, how would they translate that to a concept in their mind? What is a blind person’s understanding of “red” or “blue” as “colors”?

If I say, “there are three steps in front of you, they are about 8 inches high and eleven inches deep, and there is a handrail on your right side about waist high,” then since “steps” and “inches” are physical constructs that can be experienced without seeing them, they could probably confidently reach out, grasp the handrail, and go up the steps without a problem. But how would they “see” those steps?

How do blind people perceive a TV show? They certainly understand the dialog, and so I presume they would be able to follow a story line, but since TV is a visual media, I’m assuming that they’d miss the visual cues that the sighted people would pick up. Things like facial expressions would get lost – but do they infer moods and intent from the tone of voice the actors use? ie do they “get” the facial expressions without having to visually “see” them? Would they be aware somehow of the bad guy peeking around the corner of a building, spying on them>? (Do TV shows provide unconscious clues that they can access – like the background music?)

As a sighted person who doesn’t know anyone who is blind, I would be most interested in answers to this question. ie I seek understanding. Please forgive my terminology.

Thank you.

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5 Comments

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  1. Anonymous / Feb 25 2014 16:05

    my son is totally blind and can spin for hours without getting dizzy…….

  2. Harry Quinn / Dec 11 2012 11:23

    I have great vision and do not know anyone personally who is blind, however, I do remember this from a college class I took back in the 70’s. Visual perception is huge, what we hear from someone speaking is only 38% of what we need to fully understand what they mean. Visual clues are critical to fully understand the exact meaning of verbal communication.
    As for “Spatial awareness” from Steve above, I must agree with what he said, however try spinning in a circle with closed eyes, but make sure nothing is around that will hurt you when you fall.

    • Steve Picray / Dec 11 2012 16:42

      The spinning interferes with your proprioception because of the action on your semicircular canals in your inner ear. These canals are a big part of your “spatial awareness” mechanism. Blind people can stand still without falling over very well, but if they spun around in a circle, they too would fall. So as long as you don’t spin, you can get around just fine.

  3. Steve Picray / Dec 10 2012 19:33

    I don’t know about the color thing. I would assume they just don’t understand it at all.

  4. Steve Picray / Dec 10 2012 19:29

    Proprioception.

    Spatial awareness does not require physical vision. The average person can stand up and not fall over when their eyes are shut. They can close their eyes and reliably touch their nose, or touch their fingers together. Proprioception.

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