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13 Things You May Not Know About Blind People

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13 Things You May Not Know About Blind People

On a stormy evening when the lights went out and my eyes could not adjust to the darkness for a while, I learnt about what it might mean to live with a partially distorted vision. Following sounds and relying on touching objects, I had a unique experience. Afterwards, I was intrigued to know more about how do people with visual impairment live their lives and what do their surroundings mean to them.

This post is a result of that pursuit for understanding. Here are thirteen things that you may not know about blind people. And these thirteen things will go a long way in helping you deal with your awkwardness of interacting with people who have visual impairment.

1. They may possess some form of perception, if not their full sight.

Visual impairment does not equate with complete loss of vision. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15.88% of people who are visually impaired, face total darkness or are blind. The remaining 84.12% have partial or residual vision, like color perception, light perception, movement or even form perception. They may be able to see in blurs or varying degrees of distortion, with literal blind spots in some areas. As you can see, there are many ways of having low vision, and it is not a binary between sight and darkness.

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2. They are not ashamed of having visual impairment.

Many blind people report perceiving their visual impairment as a mere physical challenge. By no means do they see it as debilitating or the end of their joy. And they don’t believe that ‘being’ blind is their identity. This group of people is as powerful, magnificent and capable as anybody else. And the onus on making a much needed attitudinal shift lies with the rest of us. So, the next time you find yourself thinking “Oh poor thing, s/he is blind”, check yourself and explore how you can change some deep rooted assumptions that play out when interacting with people who have different abilities.

3. They do not always need acute supervision.

Blind people are far more aware of their environment and have more mastery than they are given credit for. They may need inputs just like anyone else, to familiarize themselves in a new place or learn a new technology. But, visually impaired people by no means are perpetually dependent on others for their living. I would urge you to approach all visually impaired people with this in mind – If they need assistance, trust that they will ask for it on their own.

4. They feel as insulted by overcompensating kindness, as by judgment.

Some visually impaired people I know, often wish that everyone else would just treat them as people, and not as people with a condition. Unsolicited and extra assistance is something that may make them feel small. For example, helping them cross the road and taking them to their destination, when they just ask for directions. Or buying groceries for them and counting money on their behalf. Even picking up something they dropped and taking over carrying their stuff, are all considered as overcompensating kindness, which many blind people report as derogatory. Ask if they need help. Accept it if they say no.

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5. They are not super-sensory, and may not have heightened senses.

Popular culture depicts that if one of the senses of a person stops working, the others become sharper. This is not necessarily true! Though blind people may rely more on their other senses, and develop a strong memory or are tuned into auditory cues, they may not always have a sixth sense. However, there is evidence that suggests blind people use a process called ‘echolocation’, whereby sound waves are used to determine the location and size of objects within a particular area. Dr. Gavin Buckingham says, “They will either snap their fingers or click their tongue to bounce sound waves off objects, a skill often associated with bats, which use echolocation when flying.

6. They enjoy being spoken to with normal language.

You don’t have to hold yourself back from using vision oriented language with them, like look, see, watch, witness or even viewpoint! They do not take offense at such words, and might actually feel awkward if they sense you making a conscious effort to avoid such terms. Instead, just let them be a part of your experience, as they make you a part of theirs. After all, blindness is not a stigma.

7. They are as responsive and engaging with their environment, as any other human.

Yes. People with blindness like exploring new places, go to the movies, music concerts, try out new restaurants and even indulge in adventure sports like racing, snowboarding, trekking, skydiving etc. They as excited or hindered by their surroundings, as anybody else. This predisposition primarily depends on the personality types of individuals. Some are introverted and prefer their alone time or controlled environments. Others are extraverted and proactively seek varied experience.

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8. They do dream while sleeping.

Their dreams show up just the way they experience daily life- with a rich mix of sensory cues. In a Danish study (2014) of 50 blind adults, 18% of the blind participants (both congenital and later-onset) reported tasting in at least one dream, compared with 7% of sighted participants. Nearly 30% of the blind reported smelling in at least one dream. Almost 70% reported a touch sensation and 86% hearing. However, the emotions and themes of their dreams are known to be similar to that of people with sight.

9. They understand colors in unique ways.

Some individuals who develop blindness later in life, relate to colors just like people with sight. For others who haven’t experienced color as intricately, relate to it through association and building concepts like the fire is yellow or the sky is blue. They also associate it with energy forms: blue=cold, white=frozen, red=hot. Sometimes s/he can only tell bright colors or they might have a hard time telling blue or black or brown apart, or pink from white. Whatever is the case, colors have meaning for all people and the blind understand the concept.

10. They have more nightmares than sighted people.

This is a result of mental impressions or interpretations of distressing situations, because blind people generally report more anxiety in daily life than others. They find it challenging to avoid stressors, and hence their nightmares are closely tied to reality- falling into a ditch, getting run over by a car, running into a tree or getting stalked. Dr. Amani Meaidi who has studied this phenomenon closely, says such nightmares don’t affect the quality of life of blind people, but are a true indicator of the experiences they have.

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11. Not all of them use a cane.

Since there are varying degrees of visual impairment and blindness, some individuals seek assistance in the form of white canes or red tips canes which denote degree of impairment. Many others prefer using guide dogs, who are trained to help them navigate through curbs, doors or crosswalks. They keep an eye on their owner’s right shoulder to protect against collisions.

12. They are open to curious inquiries about their situation.

You may not know how to be with people who are blind, or might want to understand them better. Thus, it is perfectly fine for you to ask them about their lives and how their experiences are. The key here is to be curious, have a willingness to learn and appreciate the uniqueness that comes with being visually impaired. As said earlier, many blind people don’t see their situation as limiting, and can offer great insights, if you just ask.

13. Their success also hinges on how you view them.

Psychologists say that success in life, education and jobs of visually impaired individuals are directly proportional to the expectations that people around have of them, and the degree of positive attitudes they encounter. The more capable and able you believe they are, the more they will shine. Self-esteem, self-belief and self-image are partially formed through social interactions, and it is important that people encounter empowering experiences. Be that experience!

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As you allow this understanding to settle, just remember that blindness is not a defect or a stigma. It is a characteristic, just as sight is, and Helen Keller’s words capture this fact beautifully: “I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world.”

Featured photo credit: blind woman walking in a park via shutterstock.com

More by this author

Nilisha Mohapatra

Nilisha is a Facilitator, Learning Designer, and Adult Learning Specialist.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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