Would you like me to describe it to you?
As a legally blind person I get this question quite often. Well-meaning friends, associates, family members and even strangers attempt to capture and convey the wonders of our vastly visual world. I frequently marvel at their creativity, clarity and commitment.
Their eclectic perspective of the visual scenery that encompasses our everyday existence has given me the chance to see life through someone else’s eyes. Let me just say, the view is breathtaking. There is so much to be gleaned about someone’s personality and perspective on life purely based on the way they choose to describe the activities, people and physical atmosphere of the world around them.
You quickly begin to learn what’s important to someone by what they choose to include or exclude from their descriptions. For instance, a parent will often acknowledge the presence of children when describing a place or space. Cultural connoisseurs tend to highlight the historical or traditional significance of a space/object. Fashionistas typically describe clothing, shoes and accessories in considerable detail. Peers at the International Student House frequently describe new destinations, daily adventures around DC and weekend excursions along the coast in colorful language linked to all corners of the globe.
My curiosity has served as a catalyst for creating new relationships with people who desire to illuminate aspects of life that have been dimmed but never completely darkened, by my blindness. Personally, I love to attend theater productions, concerts, poetry readings and dine at a plethora of ethnic eateries. To be clear, my experiences would be immensely pleasurable regardless of whether someone provides a visual interpretation given the sheer joy I receive by actively engaging in amazing activities.
So who are these visual interpreters and how do you become one? Well the answer is simple; anyone can be an interpreter of the visual world. Nonetheless, it is paramount that I emphasize a few differences and distinctions amongst visually impaired people. First, not everyone will be receptive to an unsolicited description. Most blind people have a very perfectly pleasing and uniquely personal sensory method of gathering information/details about their surroundings. A visual interpreter respects the abilities and autonomy of those in the blind community.
Throughout the years I’ve had the honor of meting many blind individuals who are managing to maneuver throughout this sighted world with a mind-blowingly high degree of efficiency and effectiveness. Which brings me to my second and perhaps most important point. A visual interpreter should strive to be cognizant of the inferences and interests of the person receiving the description. To accomplish these interpreters may pose a series of questions to gain a greater understanding of if, what and how the visually impaired person would like you to interpret. Again, everyone is different. Correspondingly, some people may appreciate an in depth description of everything from magnanimous to minute details. Others may prefer a more panoramic or ‘big picture’ portrait of non-auditory actions or activities.
Try asking the following questions before you begin your interpretation:
- Would you like me to describe what’s happening? Do you want a visual interpretation?
- Would you like me to interpret facial expressions and body language? Should I describe clothing, hair styles and accessories? Should I mention any culturally specific gestures or non-verbal behavior?
- Would you like me to describe objects, scenery and settings?
- Would you like me to use descriptions that include colors, textures and shapes?
- Are there any specific hobbies or interests that you would like me to use as a point of reference? Should I relate the description to any comparable experiences? For example, relating the description to tactical tasks such as cooking, fishing etc.
Keep in mind your interpretations should be tailored based to the preferences of the person receiving the description. Lastly, be creative and have fun. Visual interpretation is a budding art form that stems from a genuine willingness to heighten the aesthetic awareness of blind friends, colleagues and family members. Thus, these techniques and styles blossom anew with each intuitive, interpersonal and innovative description.