Bild 1: Jürgen Werner Apel
Our intercultural network for gifted, highly gifted, multitalented and extremely talented, highly sensitive and synesthetic native residents, work migrants, refugees and asylum seekers would like to give its members and visitors the opportunity to experience the point of view, thoughts and feelings of those whom we would otherwise never meet.
Those of us who are able to see might view blindness as something terrible, because we don’t know whether we ourselves would be able to cope with it. How well someone is able to deal with blindness also has something to do with confidence and giftedness. This interview gives us the chance to experience first-hand how the world looks from the perspective of a gifted, young blind woman.
In the following interview, our member Kirsty Major, who lives and works in England, shares her thoughts on blindness, giftedness, her business and Brexit.
I would like to thank you, dear Kirsty, for your openness and valuable answers which will open our eyes.
With best wishes from Wuppertal, Germany
Picture 2: Kirsty Major
The interview was carried out by Çiğdem Gül
Interview part 1:
This post follows part one of the interview
Çiğdem Gül: How do love and relationships work when you’re blind?
Kirsty Major: Blindness has never played a big role in my relationships because it’s just a small part of me. Of course there are practical things that I can’t do, such as driving a car. I don’t like to have things lying around on the stairs, and it’s not helpful if people move my things, making it harder for me to find them. But these are general things, and not necessarily something to do with a romantic partnership.
I think that there needs to be give and take in every relationship. You have to bring your own skills into a relationship. Otherwise you need a carer, not a loving partner who’s an equal.
In my current relationship, when we go on holiday, my sighted partner is responsible for driving the car and finding our way around, and I do all the internet research beforehand. I put together a list of all the places that might be interesting for us to visit, and then we talk about them together. We also share the housework, each working to our strengths and having our own areas of responsibility.
I didn’t choose my partner based on his physical appearance, but it would be wrong to say that I don’t care about that. I can’t see exactly how he looks or what colour his hair is, and I don’t have set ideas about how I think this should be. But I certainly cared about whether he made an effort for our first date and did something to make the most of his appearance. These things communicate a message to me as a woman, whether or not I can see them myself.
There are blind people who only want relationships with other blind people. In the past I have dated both blind and sighted people, but as my circle of friends consists mainly of sighted people, it doesn’t surprise me that I finally found happiness with a sighted man.
Çiğdem Gül: How do you dream as a blind person? How do you know what’s going on?
Kirsty Major: As I’ve always been blind, my dreams are like real life for me. My brain has never had access to pictures as a sighted person would see them, so I can’t see in my dreams. I know what kind of dreams I had and what happened in them because I rely on my other senses. I hear what the characters in my dreams say to one another. Another difference is that I can find my way around places I’ve never been before ,as if I’d already been there. Probably because these places come from my own imagination. I’ve dreamed about walking around with my guide dog before. I’ve never dreamed about getting around with a white cane though. That’s probably because I love dogs so much!
It would be different for someone who was able to see previously, because their brain would be able to access pictures and memories that could then be used in their dreams.
Çiğdem Gül: You had a wonderful dog called Cindy. What breed was she? What do pets mean to you?
Kirsty Major: Yes, I had a female golden retriever called Cindy. Cindy died of cancer three years ago. Cindy and I had 10 wonderfully happy years together. Even today you can still ssee photos of her on my websites. Previously Cindy was my guide dog. Later, when she got older, she was just my four-legged friend! She knew me better than most people. She loved life, was always very enthusiastic about our adventures and walks, and she had a good heart. I think that through her I learned how to be a better person.
If you don’t like animals, and if you’re not willing to look after your dog every day, brush his coat, take care of him when he’s ill, do things with him in your free time, or just give him a stroke, you’ll never know the kind of friendship that Cindy and I enjoyed.
A blind person has a different way of working out how to pick up after their guide dog, so that they can clear up the mess straight away. No, blindness is not an excuse not to do it. Sometimes blind people put a little bell on the dog’s collar so that they can hear where the dog is when it’s off the lead.
What a pet means to someone has less to do with a disability such as blindness, and more to do with how someone feels about animals, and how much a person is willing to invest in a relationship with an animal.
Çiğdem Gül: How do blind people read?
Kirsty Major: It depends on the person.
I think it’s really important that totally blind children learn how to read Braille. Braille is a system with six raised dots, which show letters, punctuation and groups of letters.
At school I learned Braille at the same time as the other sighted children learned to read and write. I was the only blind child in my class, and I’m very happy that I was able to visit the school in my village, instead of being sent to a school for blind children.
Braille books are very big and heavy. I was always really happy when the postman brought me a big case of books which I’d borrowed from the Braille library. I also had my own books. My Granddad built me a big bookcase, that was sturdy enough to take all of my heavy Braille books.
When I took part in a school exchange at the age of 17, the exchange family borrowed German audio books for me from a library. Since that time I’ve been borrowing audio books from a German library for blind people. I’m very grateful for them, because I often spent hours learning German on my own by reading the books. That helped me a lot with my language skills. If I hadn’t had these books, it would have been much harder for me to find accessible German texts.
Some blind people read using an electronic Braille display that shows the Braille words using movable electronic pins. They are often used in conjunction with screenreading software to present information from the computer screen in Braille characters.
I mainly listen to audio books now because I can download them onto my phone and listen to them wherever I go. Audio books have become more popular among sighted people too, and if the demand for them increases, that can only be good for the production of this reading format.
When I’m out and about, I don’t want to be carrying a heavy Braille book around with me, but Braille is very important, because it shows you how the individual words are written. If you only hear a word, you don’t know how to spell it. If you’re going to be able to write well, you also need to know how to spell.
I think blind people should have the choice as to whether they want to read Braille books, audio books, or large print books for those who can see well enough to read them.
Çiğdem Gül: According to Renate Reymann, President of the DBSV, only 5% of all published books are available to blind people. When do you think Germany and England will make more Braille books available?
Kirsty Major: It’s difficult to say. I definitely think that things have improved. For example, I can read Kindle books using the Kindle app on my phone. It uses the voice of my screenreader, which isn’t as nice as a real person reading an audio book. But still, I have a better chance of getting hold of the books that I want in 2018 than I would have had 50 years ago.
However there’s still a problem in that often new books aren’t available in an accessible format for blind readers. It’s not nice when everyone’s talking about a new book, but blind people can’t join in the discussion because the Braille or audio copy is not yet available.
I am a member of an online library for blind people. They have a good selection of books that I can download and listen to straight away.
I did know that it was a problem, but I was surprised that blind people only have access to 5% of all printed books.
Çiğdem Gül: Where do we experience the biggest differences – in seeing with our eyes or seeing with our senses?
Kirsty Major: I’d say that you have to learn to do both of these things. For example, my sighted boyfriend sees and notices things that other sighted people miss – because he pays attention. Because he uses his sight. You can look without really seeing, and listen without really hearing. That’s why I’d say it depends on the person, and whether he or she has learned to use their senses and make sense of the information that they provide.
Çiğdem Gül: How do blind people show their creativity?
Kirsty Major: I think it’s the same as with sighted people. Everyone interprets their creativity differently. There are people who show their creativity by writing songs. Or they create art with tactile materials or make things with clay. Or they grow things and create a beautiful place in the garden. I can think of endless examples for creativity. I experience creativity with my languages – on my websites and in my blogs. There I enjoy working creatively with words to express my ideas and opinions.
Çiğdem Gül: Blindness and improvisation?
Kirsty Major: For me, improvisation is spontaneously using my creativity to come up with ways to solve problems. Blind people have to be good at this type of improvisation, because every day we face unexpected obstacles, and we need to find new or creative ways around them. Only by doing that can we reach our goals. Sometimes it can wear you out, but I also see it as a strength. So yes, I’d say that improvisation does have something to do with creativity.
Çiğdem Gül: How do you experience your giftedness in everyday life?
Kirsty Major: I’ve never really thought about being gifted. I often think that the things that I can do well are just normal things that everyone can do. But then sometimes I realise that these abilities are things that other people, and sometimes sighted people, find difficult. Of course it’s the same the other way round as well.
Learning languages isn’t difficult for me, but then I’ve also invested a lot of time and energy into my languages to get them to a good level. I’m happy that languages have become part of my everyday life. Every day I write a lot of German at work, and especially when I’m teaching beginner classes, I also speak a lot of German.
I can bring structure out of chaos. I see ways to make tasks or processes easier or more efficient. That also helps in my private life.
The fact that I’m good at actively listening means that it’s easier for me to build better working relationships with my customers. They feel that I’m listening and taking them seriously, and learn to trust me more as a result.
Çiğdem Gül: Do you experience obstacles or barriers?
Kirsty Major: Yes, every day! From cars that are parked on the pavements, to inaccessible websites. Sometimes it comes in the form of attitudes, whereby non-disabled people believe that disabled people are helpless and can’t achieve as much in life.
Also I believe that sometimes blind people make life harder for themselves when they expect other people to know what is helpful or appropriate, when those other people have had no other experiences with blindness in the past. In this respect, my education in a school full of sighted children really helped me. I believe it helped the other children in my class too because they experienced first-hand how a blind child learned alongside them. I had a laptop instead of a pen, and sometimes I needed help. But when my sighted classmates needed help with their German homework, they often came to me. They learned during the lessons that although I did some things in a different way, I learned the same things as them. Children who learn this at school will hopefully have less misconceptions around disability as an adult.
Çiğdem Gül: What can sighted people learn from blind people?
Kirsty Major: Perhaps that you can enjoy experiences with all of your senses, not just your sight. In the past I often went on holidays with sighted assistants (the holidays are cheaper for the sighted participants because they help the blind participants by guiding them or giving them information about what they can see). After we’d been on excursions together, my sighted companions often said they noticed more with their other senses, such as the sounds and scents, and not just that which they could se.
Çiğdem Gül: Why do European and Asian people see blindness as a fault and not an ability?
Kirsty Major: I don’t know. I can only tell you what I think about blindness. I don’t see it as an ability. Recently I read on Facebook how a woman described her blindness as a gift. It’s her opinion, and I respect it, but I don’t share it. The truth is that a part of my body doesn’t work. I don’t feelinferior because of it, but if one day advancements in medicine meant that I had the chance to see, I’d take it without feeling that a part of my identity were being lost. Because there’s no denying the truth – if I weren’t blind, a lot of things in my life would be easier. Having said that, I’m not sad or dissatisfied. I find other ways to reach my goals. I’ve developed new abilities as a result of my blindness, but I don’t see my blindness itself as an ability.
Disabled people are often good at fixing problems because new problems can crop up every day!
What, however, is a problem is that society in general often has quite low expectations of what disabled people can do. Some non-disabled people, and even some disabled people would rather not try something new or to find ways to fix the problems that we all face. I think this is really sad and really frustrating.
In the past I lived on my own. Every day I spent around 3 hours commuting to and from work. I shopped on my own. I did all the cooking. As a young teenager I spent every free minute at the riding stables with the horses, and jumping was my favourite part of the horse-riding lessons. I’ve been running my own online language school for adults for a number of years. I learn languages. These are just a few examples that show how blind people can achieve a lot of different things.
Çiğdem Gül: What do you think about society’s blindness, such as not being aware of how others feel, only caring about themselves and being less socially engaged?
Kirsty Major: I think we miss a lot if we only focus on that which we can see. For example, if we decide after a few seconds that we’re not going to listen to someone because we don’t like the way that they look. Fruit and vegetables are thrown away because they don’t look perfect, even though they would still taste fine. There are people who choose their holiday destination based on how „instagramable“ the pictures would be. That’s not my idea of a holiday. Of course I share photos, which I can’t take myself, and of course I wouldn’t go out of my way to share a terrible photo of myself, but some people are so busy with how they want to present themselves to others, that they don’t find time to just enjoy life. I think that’s sad.
On the other hand, I write a blog in which I often talk about make-up and skincare products.
When I’m going out, I like to take time choosing my clothes and doing my make-up.
Some blind people don’t care at all about their appearance, and I don’t think this is very smart. Even if you can’t see yourself, other people can see you.
Çiğdem Gül: Many non-disabled gifted and highly gifted people don’t receive any recognition. Visually impaired gifted and highly gifted people receive even less recognition. I think that in society and in the world of work, giftedness and disability are seen as characteristics that cancel each other out. What do you think about this?
Kirsty Major: I can tell you about my own experiences. Sometimes I get recognition for things that are really easy for me, whereas I think there are other things that I’ve worked hard at, that would deserve this recognition more. Some things may well be difficult for a sighted person to be able to do, but they’re no big deal for me because I’ve found strategies for doing them and I’ve been doing them for years. Sometimes people are in awe of disabled people for doing the simplest of things, and this feels strange.
At school I always wanted to be the best in the subjects that I enjoyed and was good at. Not just because I wanted better marks than the others in my class, but because I wanted the challenge. I’d rather do a few things really well, than lots of things to an „ok“ standard. Maybe that has something to do with my blindness indirectly. I want people to come to me for help because I’m just good at it. Because then what I „can“ do is the centre of attention, not what I can’t do. Kirsty is the best in this German class. Not Kirsty is the best in this German class even though she’s blind.
Maybe I would get more recognition in society if I made more of a big deal of my blindness. But I don’t want to do that. If I do my job well, or I write things that people find helpful or enjoyable, I trust that people will talk about them and recommend them to others.
Picture 3: Kirsty Major
Çiğdem Gül: On 23rd June 2016, 51.89% of the British voters chose to leave the European Union, what has now become known as Brexit. Kirsty, as a UK citizen, what do you think now since the referendum about your future and the future of Great Britain?
Kirsty Major: To be honest, I’m really worried.
I belonged to the minority, although that minority was actually 48% of those who voted, and we were against Brexit.
Something happened in society. There were big discussions on Facebook and with friends and family, sometimes with insults. Huge debates at work. Family arguments. Contacts were „unfriended“. Here in England it’s usually quite peaceful before an election, even if people have differing political opinions, but Brexit was different.
In the time before the referendum it really annoyed me how much inaccurate information was being shared, but I believed that we couldn’t be that stupid and the no to Brexit campaign would win. But that didn’t happen. WE woke up really early and I read a message from the news app on my phone. The final results weren’t in, but we could see that the yes camp was winning. We couldn’t believe it.
That morning I really tried to work, but I couldn’t concentrate. I wrote a Facebook post on my business page to distance myself from the vote and started tracking the decreasing value of the pound.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, this vote was never about migration. There are so many other factors and things that we must take into consideration. We will have so many problems as a tiny island in a global world.
Together, as a part of the EU, we could achieve so much more. Of course I don’t think everything about the EU is great, and of course there are things that we could do better. But I’d rather have a seat at the table where possible changes are being discussed, than to kick my chair over and storm out of the room, and in so doing, giving up on any right to shape future decisions.
If someone doesn’t share my opinion, I can respect that. If someone can tell me their reasons why they voted for Brexit, and they can support these reasons with scientific or economic evidence. I don’t like it, but I can accept and respect it. What infuriates me though is that many people didn’t take the time to research the issues before voting. Many voted because of feelings, and not provable facts. Many thought „it will all be ok. I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to go and vote.“.
And now we’re heading towards the cliff edge with no plan, and we’re too stubborn to change our direction because of course „this is what the people wanted“.
In my opinion, it should never have been allowed that such a small majority would be able to change the course of a nation like this. Also, the referendum isn’t legally binding.
I’m tired of hearing that Brexit is what the British people wanted. It is what a teeny tiny majority wanted, and if we had to vote again, I’m sure that the results would be different. Not just because my side lost the first time, but because we now have more information about the kind of problems that we could have next year. What kind of negative consequences this decision could have on our economy, security, and way of life.
I support the idea of another referendum, and that one of the options should be to just forget the whole idea of Brexit.
Çiğdem Gül: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?
Kirsty Major: I think we, so blind and sighted people alike, have more similarities and things that we share, than differences and things that keep us apart. As someone who is unable to see, I experience some things differently, but my blindness is just a small part of me. I have hobbies, interests, and opinions, that you maybe share as well.
There are things that sighted people can do to make life easier for blind people. For example, if you have a website, you could think about accessibility for blind people and accessible web design. Even if you love dogs, please don’t distract a guide dog. It can be dangerous, particularly if it’s working. If you have trees in front of your house, please don’t let them get so overgrown that they could hurt someone.
Those are just a few examples that came to mind.
Çiğdem Gül: I’d like to mention that I specifically wanted to talk about blindness in this interview, but my questions don’t reduce you and your life to this one topic of blindness.
Dear Kirsty, with your answers, you’ve opened my eyes, and I imagine too the eyes of other members of our Intercultural Network For Highly Gifted.
For example, I’d never thought before about my website and making the photos on my HTML-based website accessible for blind people. To be honest, I didn’t even know that something like alt text for images exist. You’ve given me helpful tips behind the scenes and I’ve learned from you how to make the description of a photo accessible to blind people, without sighted people seeing it, through HTML code. Blind visitors can’t see the photo, but through the description, they can know what is shown on the picture. So from now on I can design my websites to be accessible to blind readers. Yeeeaaah!
Kirsty Major: Thank you, also on behalf of other blind readers and visitors.
If anyone’s interested in how to make a blog more accessible for blind people, I wrote this guest article:
And finally the links to my pages:
„English with Kirsty“
Çiğdem Gül: Keyifli bir reportaj oldu. Röportaj için çok teşekkür ederim, Kirsty canem.
(Translated into English: „Dear Kirsty, I’d like to thank you for our conversation.“)
– End –
© Çiğdem Gül
Founder & Moderator
of the Intercultural Network For The Highly Gifted
Change Management Consultant
Intercultural Coach For The Highly Gifted
Online Marketing Manager
Picture 1 thanks to © Jürgen Werner Apel (Mannheim/Germany)
Picture 2 + 3 thanks to © Kirsty Major (London/England)