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These Are Our Children (1957) » Hands of the Blind

Hands of the Blind

The hands of the blind are like the sensitive creative hands of the artist busy at his work except, for the blind, the work of their hands is never done. For with the loss of sight, representing as it does, the source of more than 85% of the sensory impressions, comes an ever-present challenge to the remaining senses with the sense of touch carrying most of the load. It is in the acceptance of this challenge that a compensating sharpening of the other senses is developed-senses made even keener and more responsive through use and training, Blindness would be a cruel fate indeed, if the sense of touch and the other senses were allowed to remain normal and undeveloped, for their fingertips and, yes, the other skin surface, too, are the "eyes" of the blind.

Two pairs of hands play checkers on a wooden tactile board. Caption: Better know your checkers well before you play with these "blind" champs. The skin surfaces of the hands and often of the face develop a high degree of sensitivity and usefulness The so-called "facial vision” is a dramatic reference to a facial sensitiveness acquired by many blind people enabling them on occasions, to detect the presence or absence of light which, after all, is nothing more than heat. It would be inaccurate to conclude, however, that the awareness on the part of the blind of their proximity to a large object such as a tree or a building is due entirely to the shadow cast or to the momentary interception of light-for contributing to this awareness is the sense of hearing—a sense of hearing which tunes in on sound waves unheeded by most of us, but having meaning for those who have learned to interpret them. The human voice, which Disraeli once referred to as "the truest index of character," and the sounds of footsteps, including their own, contain for the blind tell-tale clues as to the identity and character of persons and places.


Blind student at a museum exploring hieroglyphics.

The introductory handclasp is more than a social amenity for the blind. The physical contact it effects is often an important source of first-hand knowledge as to both physical and personal characteristics. The impressions gained through touch, particularly, when the object under examination is tactile, in many instances out-number the impressions gained through sight alone. The manual examination of a cat, for example, reveals the texture of its fur. Its reflexes and pulsations, its muscular development, the shape and thickness of parts of its body and, finally, its temperature. Absent from this so-called "manual vision" is color, but color is only one of the many attributes of a cat.


"Can you feel colors?" a blind friend was asked. "Why, certainly," was the quick reply, "occasionally, I fell blue.'· Of course, the serious answer is "no." The blind cannot distinguish colors through their sense of touch nor can they learn unaided the denomination of the various paper currencies as another popular misconception would have it. The reason is obvious-there can be no color in the absence of light. This is not to say, however, that color is not part of the thinking of the blind. There is an inevitable and inseparable association of color with objects-an association acquired and retained through training and memory, to be sure, but meaningful none the less.


Those who have been blind from birth and therefore lack the faculty of visualization develop a unique method of mental reproduction. They think of a table or a chair in terms of their own personal experience in its examination, contact with it or its utility. They are incapable of imagery as we know it. Blind boy uses his fingers to explore a tree trunk. Perhaps the best way to clarify this point is to look in on the dreams of the blind.


Of course, they do dream and as you logically would conclude, the blind dreamer, if nor a leading figure in the dream must be present in every aspect of it for, in order to reproduce even subconsciously an object or a particular setting, it must be achieved through the personal experience acquired through contact with it. If, for example, the dream includes the movement of a dog, the blind dreamer can only think of that movement in terms of his hand on the dog which was the only possible way he could have learned of it.


Experienced teachers of the blind are afforded the opportunity and the privilege to know hundreds of blind children and to work with them in their achievement of self-dependence and usefulness. Their success in the attainment of this goal, in most instances, can be measured in terms of the versatility skills of their hands. It is perhaps even truer among the blind that skilled hands know no idleness. The present day participation of blind workers in industry bears eloquent testimony of this truth, for never before, has there been such widespread employment of the blind in industry and, never before, has their industrial contribution been so great.