Perhaps because sight, I would argue, is the most precious sense, evolutionary pressures carefully selected for the most accurate and efficient visual system. The inconceivable amount of years that matured humans into what we are today have created a visual system that keeps your perception of color the same in sunlight, fluorescent light, and candle light. It lets you detect motion in your peripheral vision that even though you can form no concrete description, but you know something was/is there. Your eyes, which are an extension of the brain, let you perceive in three dimensions, giving you a sense of spatial arrangement and order in the objects around you so you can accurately grab your coffee. They let you perceive subtle emotions in the faces around you, not to mention help in navigating around your city. Perhaps because you so effortlessly enjoy this sense, it may be taken for granted far too often.
For those who are unlucky enough to inherit a genetic mutation that causes them to lose their vision, or those who suffer visual loss due to aging-related degenerations in the eye, there are resources and skills they will acquire to function independently. Orientation and mobility services, which I was fortunate enough to be exposed to on my clinical assignment at Perkins School for the Blind, can teach a patient who is blind to walk around independently in unfamiliar territory with only a white cane. They also teach patients how to cook, organize money so they know what amount each paper bill is worth, and how to use text-to-voice-capability devices, just to name a few. But unavoidably, people with visual impairment will need a sighted person’s help from time to time. For many, this may be a simple favor a family member can provide. But for those patients who live alone, have kids who have moved away, or have personal or financial matters to tend to that need to be kept confidential, they need someone like you to help.
The MABVI (Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired) is a nonprofit organization that links people in need to sighted volunteers, ready to spare a small amount of their time and lend their precious sight. Simple tasks like reading a piece of mail or perhaps tracking down an object misplaced in the living room can make a huge difference to the person you are helping. Can you imagine how organized you would have to be if you were blind? You would not have the luxury of doing the frantic eye-search to find a misplaced remote. Every item must be meticulously placed in order to locate it later.
The MABVI asks for you to commit a couple hours once a week or once every two weeks depending on your availability to help. The orientation training beforehand is very informal yet complete, as you will learn more about orientation and mobility, practice conversation with a stranger who may be in need, and practice guiding a person who is blind around any environment. I encourage everyone in Boston to look into becoming a MABVI volunteer, as the patients requesting help outnumber the amount of volunteers currently available. I foresee only benefits to both the patients and volunteers. I have just been matched as a new MABVI volunteer this week and really look forward to working with my match.
For more information, visit http://www.mabcommunity.org/mabvi/volunteer/our-volunteers.html.