How do we do it? (Part 2)

If you're blind, you can still go to college, use money and coordinate your outfit. Here's how.

A young man in graduation robes smiles and holds up a diploma

Watching movies, picking up the tab, getting dressed, earning a degree – these are all things people with visual impairment do with varying regularity. But how do they do them?

For our Spring 2017 issue of Perspectives magazine, we asked people who are blind to tell us how they do everyday activities, from grocery shopping to skiing. Their answers became our cover story and inspired us to keep expanding our understanding of how people who are visually impaired live their lives.

Read on to learn how people who are blind can…

Watch a movie

Going to the movies is Gina Russo’s favorite way to relax, even if she can’t see what’s happening onscreen. The key to her enjoyment is audio description – a running narration of the visual elements of a movie, from the scenery to a character’s facial expression. After purchasing her ticket, Russo requests an audio description headset from customer service. It’s programmed to sync with the movie, and the narration fits between lines of dialogue. “It helps me know who’s who right from the beginning,” Russo says. “With the extra description I don’t have to think, ‘Whose voice is that?’ I can sit back and enjoy what’s happening.”

Pay for purchases

Is that origami inside Jerry Berrier’s wallet? Not quite – but the Perkins employee does fold his bills in different ways to distinguish denominations by touch. It’s common practice amongst people who are visually impaired, because the United States is one of the few developed countries without accessible currency. To keep things simple when he pays, Berrier prefers using credit cards, which he labels with braille. Technology has been a major boon: He can use an iPhone app to identify bills people hand him, and shop on Amazon with his credit card information on file. “We need to be able to buy things like everyone else, safely and accurately,” he says.  

Go to college

Perkins Library employee Cory Kadlik has fond memories of college – from dorm hangouts to chicken fingers in the dining hall. His visual impairment didn’t keep him from completing his communications degree on time, or from making friends, but it did require some extra work. The summer before freshman year, Kadlik met with his orientation and mobility instructor twice a week to memorize the layout of campus. Other things were easier. Publishers sent Kadlik accessible PDFs of his textbooks that he read using the screen-reading software on his computer. He emailed assignments to professors, and studied from electronic notes taken by volunteer notetakers. “It was challenging,” he says. “But I think about it now and it was all worth it.”

Pick out clothing

Meet Perkins’ style maven: Perkins Solutions staffer JoAnn Becker, who always looks sleek and professional. She has a few fashion rules to guide her. She rarely buys patterns, preferring solid colors like blue and black that pair well together. She relies on a few trusted sighted friends and salespeople to give her frank feedback when she shops. Each morning, she uses an iPhone app to tell her the color of her clothing – a high-tech alternative to the braille labels she used to use. Style matters when you’re blind, says Becker: “First impressions are important because people have so many misconceptions about blindness.”


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