How important are architecture and décor to the way we perceive the world around us? How do these things impact our comfort? These questions came into sharp focus in my mind when my mother decided to update the house I grew up in. Truth be told, she never liked the shingled décor of our house, a fact I only recently learned. Fortunately or not, the opportunity to correct what she saw as a flaw in the building’s original design came when the last coat of paint refused to adhere to the house’s fifty-year-old shingles. Each time the rain fell water seeped under the paint, first bubbling then peeling the thin coating. Neither sanding nor repainting alleviated the problem. Finally, mom decided to take bold action. The house is currently being resurfaced with stucco.
There is no doubt; we live in a visual world. For most of us our eyes are the first sensory organs to take in and interpret our environment. But, what is this world like for someone without sight? How are things sighted people take for granted perceived by those without sight? Are they?
In my Blind Traveler mystery series (Blind Traveler Down a Dark River and Blind Traveler’s Blues) the protagonist, Douglas Abledan, is a blind man who was born sighted. Before losing his vision, Douglas developed an appreciation for art and architecture. I wanted him to keep those interests in his newly darkened world, but I had to figure out how to do that.
I studied the other senses people make use of: touch, smell, taste, and hearing. I decided to show my readers that a widely held belief, that remaining senses become stronger when one sense is lost, is a myth. To do this, Douglas had to learn to pay closer attention to his remaining senses. So, in order to acquaint himself with his environment and learn about the architecture and décor around him, Douglas uses his hands. He pays attention to what his fingers tell him. He feels the textures of artworks and buildings. He reacts to the temperatures various materials relay to his fingertips. So, if Douglas were visiting my house he would pay close attention to the materials used to construct the building. He would feel the roughness of the stucco. His fingers would perceive every curve, nook and cranny of each architectural feature.