If you ever meet me in person, you may notice something a bit off about me. Maybe it’s the way I don’t quite meet your eyes or the way I miss the most obvious details. Or maybe you see me reading something with my trusty magnifying glass, the manuscript mere inches from my nose.
Let me just start by answering your first question: No, glasses will not help. Glasses, though they help so many, are not a magical cure. Alas, those of us whose problems do not lie in the area of the lens cannot benefit from the corrective power of glasses or contacts. I’m afraid I have a broken retina.
I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease when I was sixteen years old, at which point I began a rapid spiral towards legal blindness. Scar tissue formed on the center of my retina, creating a hole in the center of my vision. I don’t see a black spot – like anyone with a blind spot my brain tries to compensate by filling it in with details from the periphery. At the right distance, you’ll look like Cousin It to me. Step a little farther back and you may lose your head to the wall behind you.
“Legally blind” is a difficult concept to describe. I can give you some technical jargon about having 20/200 vision with best correction but what does that mean?
Between guide dogs and glasses lies a middle ground of visual impairment, one that comes with blurred vision, an inability to see details, and a check in a box on tax forms. I can see you, but not as well as you see me. I can read, but not without enlargement of some sort. I am writing this right now in 26-point font, though it will appear normal on my web site.
When it comes to my daily routine, the biggest problem with legal blindness is that I cannot drive. It is a freedom that so many take for granted, but I’m afraid I have less sympathy with the current oil crisis than most. For me, an increase in public transportation would kill two birds with one stone.
I am very glad that my first novel will come out as both an e-book and a paperback. Having it available in e-book form means that I can enlarge it so I can read my own novel in print. I was not sure I would be able to do that.
For more information on Stargardt’s Disease (including more technical information), visit the American Macular Degeneration Foundation at http://www.macular.org/stargardts.html.
I wrote this article in 2005 and only just realized how out of date it has become. First of all, I am now drafting this in 36-point font, not 26. (Yes, my visual acuity has slipped a bit more.) In fact, I am no longer at a point where I can decipher normal sized print with anything short of extreme magnification. I have some tools, including an oversize tablet with a camera, not to mention a cell phone with a camera. (I use the tablet for playing certain board games and the cell phone for spot checks, especially at stores.) I also have extremely thick reading glasses — sometimes, I need to use both tools at the same time.
I have also come to the conclusion over the past fourteen years that next to driving, my inability to recognize people or see facial expressions creates a lot of challenges as well. Back in 2005, I was still hanging around the same people I’d known for years, but then I had a child and the world shifted. I now meet a lot of new people through my kids, and I have no faces to put with the names I hear. The other kids are the worst — a sea of tiny humans with various hair and skin colors. And don’t even get me started on teens. Adult-shaped blobs with voices to match.
I continue to write, though, and I’m also an editor. Yes, in 36-point font, but I’m an editor. A damn good one too, even if I do say so myself. I prefer not to do final proofreads, but even a copy edit is doable thanks to modern technology. Really, if you’re going to have vision problems, now’s the time to do it! Fifty years ago, I would have had real problems. 🙂