Would you agree that if you’re fully sighted, it’s really difficult to get a true concept of what it’s like to be partially or totally blind? For many, the concept of the spectrum of partial sight is difficult enough to understand; let alone understanding that total blindness does not mean complete darkness.

Am sure many of you have been asked to describe what you see or don’t see, but do you think that it is possible for those with full sight to completely appreciate and empathise about our visual impairments? Do we really need full empathy or does it just take a general understand in order for those with sight to offer the best and most appropriate help?

I ask these questions as I often wonder about the effectiveness of Visual Impairment awareness training and how this can be best employed to raise a positive and realistic impression of what we see and what we don’t see. From time to time, I often clatter along past people being guided under blindfold; being advised on how to find doors, seats and other larger obstacles. Because of the nature of the training courses, they are guided back from whence they came within a few minutes and can take off their blindfolds or simulation specs and hence see again. What is learned? Well, it’s certainly a short and sharp way of introducing different concepts of sight loss through the use of sleep shades and simulation specs. It’s what I would call a short sharp shock technique of putting someone into a simulated VI status, taking them to the extreme and then building discussions and points around them Useful, but not life replicating.

Guide dogs used to put some of their trainees through a longer period of being under blindfold; I seem to remember this was up to 24 hours, so they could build up a longer perception of some visual impairments. Yes very useful in terms of the time spent in a simulated condition, but this would only cover total blindness; it wouldn’t necessarily simulate all conditions.

One of the best ways of doing this that I have heard of in recent times is the ‘dining in the dark experience’. Now, education is meant to be informing but speaking as a teacher myself, it is also meant to be fun and should attract, keep and develop the attention of those people it is being aimed at. Dining in the dark brings together visually impaired people who enable sighted guests to literally have a meal in the dark to gain a greater understanding of what it is like not to be able to see. Okay, having no sight doesn’t necessarily mean being literally in the dark, but its is Nye on impossible to do such an event trying to simulate thousands of eye conditions. Instead, its dealing with the concept, putting a fun element into it but leaving the participants with quite a bit to think about and a greater understanding in assisting them with such ponderings.

I don’t therefore think that it is possible to achieve complete empathy unless you are in the position yourself. However, it is important to give people a greater and more positive understanding of sight loss, so they can develop their perceptions in the right direction.