I don’t often get the chance to explore the world as my character, Douglas Abledan (in Blind Traveler Down a Dark River and Blind Traveler’s Blues), does. We live in a visual world and, like the rest of us, I relish my ability to see it. However, recently I’ve come to be able to experience a tiny bit of what Douglas might have to live with on a daily basis. You see (even our language is full of visual words), in the immediate vicinity of the house I live in there are several street lights that are not working. At least one of these has been out for nearly a year. The others fell victim to Sandy. Try as I might, and I have on several occasions, I have not been able to convince the town to do the needed repairs.
As a wheelchair user, being able to see my environment is very important. It allows me to navigate my chair to avoid pitfalls in the path before me, pitfalls that might otherwise throw me out of said chair. With the street lights out my ability to see at night is greatly diminished. Walking the dog, for example, now requires the use of a flashlight, which can be awkward to carry while at the same time dealing with an unruly dog and pushing the wheels of my chair. Even getting in and out of my car has become more difficult due to the darkness. Try this…close your eyes and walk to your car. Open the door and get in without opening your eyes. It isn’t easy is it? Now, imagine being a wheelchair user who has to judge the distance between his chair and the driver’s seat of a car without the ability to see it clearly. The endeavor has often become a matter of faith as I try to lunge from one seated position to another on a moonless, overcast night.
Yes, Douglas Abledan has experiences that I, fortunately, often do not. But, through my ordeal with the broken street lights I have been given the opportunity to, occassionally, live in his world. I can’t say I enjoy the experience but it has given me much to think about.