My Heart Is Not Blind: On Blindness and Perception

My Heart Is Not Blind: On Blindness and Perception


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My Heart Is Not Blind: On Blindness and Perception is a collection of stunning portraits of blind and visually impaired people taken by photographer Michael Nye. Each image is accompanied by an intimate story told by the subject concerning his or her experiences and unique perspective.

The causes of vision loss range from genetic predispositions (retinitis pigmentosa) or disease (glaucoma) to external circumstances such as accidents (struck by a train) or violence (gunshot wound). The people in this diverse group differ not only in their particular conditions and losses but also in their cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Taken as a whole, however, the accounts of adapting to changing modes of perception are bound by a common theme of resilience, revealed in shared reactions and unexpected insights.

The subjects depicted in My Heart Is Not Blind share their experiences and unique perspectives in a personal narratives that accompany their respective portraits. Most speak of the transition from sight to vision loss, and how that has changed—and not changed—their ability to perceive the surrounding world. Some question the classification of blindness as a disability. One participant proposes that blindness may, in some ways, even aid in perception, musing, “if you can always see the sun, you can never discover the stars.”

My Heart Is Not Blind offers a window into the world of the blind and visually impaired, revealing surprising similarities and fascinating differences alongside compelling accounts of survival, adaptation, and heightened understanding. The collection invites us to reconsider what we think we know about blindness in order to gain a deeper understanding of vision and perception.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595348746
Publisher: Trinity University Press
Publication date: 03/19/2019
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 818,517
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael Nye practiced law for ten years before pursuing photography full time. He has received a Mid-America National Endowment for the Arts grant in photography and a Kronkosky Charitable Foundation grant, and he has exhibited and lectured widely at museums and universities nationally and internationally, including in Morocco, India, and Mexico. His journeys to photograph around the world include projects in Russian Siberia, Iraq after the first Gulf War, Palestine, China, and Labrador, and he has participated in two Arts America tours in the Middle East and Asia. His documentaries, photography, and audio exhibitions Children of Children, stories of teenage pregnancy, and Fine Line: Mental Health/Mental Illness and About Hunger & Resilience have traveled to more than 150 cities across the country. He lives in downtown San Antonio.

Read an Excerpt

My name is Burns Taylor. I’m seventy-four and live with my wife in El Paso, Texas. I’m a former college English instructor and a freelance writer. I just published a book this year called Hands Like Eyes.
When I was three years old in 1944, my mother had left us at home while she went to the store. There were four or five cousins, my brother, and me. I don’t know how to interpret my brother’s feelings, but at some point he picked up a rifle and pointed the gun at me. I think it was partly for show. The gun was loaded with .22 birdshot. At the time, my brother was a little past eleven. I remember my brother asking if I wanted to play cowboys and I said no. That was just before the gun went off. According to the doctors the gunshot severed my optic nerves. They removed both eyes, and I now have two prosthesis, artificial eyes.
My brother is about nine years older than I am. My memories of him were sort of shadowy. He was a very troubled adolescent, and I’m sure it was because of what happened. My mother tried to protect him and hold the family together. Everyone in my family was impacted. My sister got the impression from my father that she should have done something, because she was there. My mother felt guilty, because she wasn’t there. My dad had been working graveyard shift, so he was asleep.
After I was shot I had a recurring dream. I would be in the sky, floating down very slowly, almost like through a Jell-O sky. I’d hear these two old hags cackling away. As I got closer and closer to them, they would shove me back up, and then I’d come floating down again. They’d be cackling and cackling. (Making cackling sounds) As I got closer again, their old boney fingers would shove me back up into the sky. I had that dream—maybe a year—just intermittently.
I was very hostile after the shooting. I had a lot of fights. I was destructive. I broke things. I smashed rocks with a hammer. I chopped up clay soldiers all over my mother’s hardwood floor. That anger followed me into young adulthood. My brother had a very successful business, but I wasn’t doing so well. I was working part-time, trying to go to school, and thinking about how he was tooling around in his Thunderbird while I’m standing in the rain waiting for a bus. That created anger and hostility. To make things worse, my sister had been manager of my mother’s estate. She found that my mother had about 4,000 bucks in an account. My brother was actually the administrator of the estate. My sister contacted him, and said, “Hey, Burns is trying to buy a house in El Paso and is looking for some money for a down payment. I found this money in mother’s account. What do you think?” He said, “That’s my money.” When I heard that, I said, “What do you think a pair of eyes is worth—five thousand bucks, ten thousand?” That really fueled my anger.
One of the essential questions of existence is, “As a person with a disability, how can I live peacefully with something that no one else would ever want to be?” People aren’t lining up saying I want to be blind too. That’s the last thing they want. In surveys, blindness used to be number one on everybody’s list of what they didn’t want happen to them next to cancer. How do you learn to live with something that society makes you feel ashamed of, makes you feel that you are not as capable and not whole like everybody else? Society’s perception is that I’m not equal to them. That I can’t do the jobs they can do. That’s something that I have to live with every day.
Here’s one of the things that used to crack me up. I’d be walking down the street and come to a corner. I knew exactly where I was, and about to cross the street. Then some guy would come up to me and say, “Okay, let’s see here. You’re at the corner of Third Street and Vermont. You’re facing Vermont.” I’m thinking, “Asshole, I know where I am, get out of my face.” It’s like they thought I had just dropped from outer space. (Laughing)
Another thing. Strangers on the bus would sit next to me and ask, “Do you mind me asking you a personal question?” Usually I say, “Nah, go ahead.” “How did you go blind?” I’d make up different stories to amuse myself. “When I was young my mother one time caught me masturbating. My mother said, ‘Son, you know that could make you go blind.’ Well, here I am blind as a bat.” (Laughing) I mean who the hell are you—a stranger—to be asking me a question like that? You deserve whatever I tell you if you’re that brash and goofy.
When you’re blind at an early age you really have no impression of your physical identity. Am I good-looking? Am I ugly? Am I handsome? You don’t have that access to your own physicality. There definitely were times during my adolescence when I had a feeling of inferiority. I can remember trying to work myself up to asking a girl for a date and thinking, “Well why would she want to go somewhere with me? I’m blind.” I would tell myself, “Well okay, make the call anyway.” Oh, that was so hard for me, because I had no confidence.
I’ve had a lot of women ask, “Would you like to touch my face?” and I’d say, “Honey, that’s the last thing I’d be interested in touching.” The cues that I look for in the opposite sex are the voice and footsteps, which tell you something about their size and weight. In most cases a person with a disability is the one who waits to be sought after because of the worry of rejection. If a girl makes a move to introduce herself or sits down next to you—you learn to read those cues. I think it is probably easier for a woman who’s blind because that’s the way it’s supposed to go. The guy is supposed to reach out to the woman, right?
I got a secret, just follow me around and you’ll see what it is—that I am competent and I am equal—and on any given day I’ll kick your ass. I’m blind, but it’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned to compensate for most things. I can cook a damn good steak. I’ve taught college. I’ve written books. I’ve done a lot more than many people with all their senses and sight haven’t done. I’m doing pretty damn good.
I was interviewed at the University of Texas at El Paso for a teaching position by the dean of arts and sciences. The dean asked, “Well, Mr. Taylor, how are you going to grade papers?” I said, “Well I plan to use part of what you pay me as a teacher to pay a reader to read the essays to me.” “Ah, okay, well how are you going to put up material on the blackboard for the students to read?” I said, “I plan to bring in a typed page and ask for volunteers to write the information on the board.” I said, “Look, Dean, I know you have a whole lot of questions. What I’d like for you to do is just look at my résumé. Contact my former employers, because I have had jobs before. Just talk to them, review my transcripts, and make your decision just like you would with anybody else.” The dean hired me. So I did something right.
Blindness is not helplessness. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something that makes you less fortunate or less competent than other people. It’s not something that should warrant you being separated from other people. It’s not confusion or helplessness. A lot of those things are society’s perceptions of blind people. Blindness has made me a pretty good judge of character. I’ve learned to listen behind the words, trying to connect those words with people’s feelings.
My sister was my mentor and teacher. She was a compendium of the good and the bad. She was a devil and an angel. She gave me the poison and the cure at the same time. We got into a lot of trouble together. She was a collection of positives and negatives that was just wonderful. She was always ready for an adventure. She was always ready to help somebody who needed help (and a good drinking buddy, too). She taught me that the world was not going to give me any kind of special treatment. She played jokes on me. She’d hit me and run, and I’d start chasing her. She would slam the door right in front of me. Wham! She could be diabolical. I remember we would be outside at night and she would take my hand and point it at the sky. She would say, “Look, Burns, there’s the evening star. Make a wish.” I always say that she gave me the faith to believe in myself. When you’re blind it takes courage to get you out the door, but it takes faith to get you across the street.
When I was about eight, I discovered echolocation just by accident. We were parked in a car, and I remember distinctly that I stuck my head out the window and made the sound like you make when you’re shaming a kid. “Click, click, click, click.” And I got back an echo. I thought, “Wait, wow, I hear something over there. What is that?” I could hear a house over there, and had a sense of how far away it was. Well, with that sound I could measure distances. I could read textures. I could tell whether it was a fence or a wall that I was passing. You can read the difference between hard or soft surfaces. In a room you get a three-dimensional view of the size of the room.
When I was nine I wanted a bicycle. The echolocation enabled me to ride the bicycle around my mother’s laundry store, and detect cars that had pulled in or out. I’d go around the end of the car to avoid a collision. I had my wrecks and I crashed and skinned myself. Did you ever ride a bike when you were a kid and fall and hit that bar on your balls? (Laughing) I did that more than once, but I wanted to keep riding the bike because I loved it.
To me, sight is the most superficial of the senses because it measures surfaces only. It doesn’t touch the inside of anything. In a way it has contributed to a lot of the suffering and cruelty in this world. Sight makes a judgment of a person because of the color of their skin or how they look. It just looks at the surface. Whereas touch, of course, is much more real. With Braille you’re feeling the dots. Damn man, it’s a sexy thing almost. You’re touching those words. I can read Braille even with my tongue, if need be.
My mother had always referred to the shooting as “your accident.” As if I were the author of the shooting. I accepted that explanation until I got to college. I started thinking, “My accident, hell, how could that be?” I was three and in my crib. How could that be my accident?
I guess the bottom line of this whole story is about forgiveness. I went through years of being resentful, hostile, and angry toward my brother. I didn’t really work through that one until a few years ago. My brother has in a way suffered the perils of Cane, and I often think about it in those terms. In the Bible, Cane killed Abel. In our case, it’s like Cane maimed Abel. My brother has suffered the loss of both his sons. When he lost the second son, he telephoned. I didn’t know about it. He called and told me what happened. I could tell he was very choked up.
After he told me, he said, “Man, I’m so sorry.” And I said, “For what?” He said, “For everything.” And I thought, “Okay, okay, I finally got something out of this guy.” From that point on, I forgave my brother. He had included me in that everything.

Table of Contents

- Contents
- Introduction
- 46 people
- Index of Medical Conditions and Circumstances
- Acknowledgments

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