The Question of Blindfolds

One cannot make generalizations about parents needing to take blindfolds, sometimes known as sleep shades, with them when they shop for toys in order to determine how a blind child would play with them. Any parent who spends time with his or her blind child will already know the child’s play and toy preferences. The parent will try to buy toys that not only meet the child’s current skills and preferences but also stimulate the child to try new things and develop new skills.

I have been following your inquiries, Andrew, and I’m concerned that you are looking for differences that really don’t exist. I don’t know the details of your research, but I hope very much that you aren’t falling into the trap of believing that there is a homogenous group of children, “the blind,” that can be compared with another group of children, “the sighted.” The younger the children, the wider the distribution of skills, knowledge,

experiences, and abilities you will find in both the blind and sighted populations. Any recommendations about how to use sleep shades in a mixed group will be guesswork at best unless you have specific children, under specific circumstances, in mind. The great range of variables to consider when doing research on blind children accounts for the fact that there are so very few large-group studies available; there just isn’t a large enough sample to study and make conclusions about.

When it comes to blindness, one should be very careful about what one reads in books. I am blind myself, and some of the things I’ve read about blind people have been a little short of fantasy.

I’ve been teaching for over thirty years. I’ve seen little point in putting sighted children under sleep shades, apart from sensory development activities where they are encouraged to touch and identify objects in a “feely bag.” Putting sleep shades on sighted children doesn’t in any way simulate blindness for them. They have no nonvisual techniques like those of their blind peers. They tend to feel helpless and frightened, which is not the way most blind children feel if they have been allowed to live normal lives full of healthy childhood risk, adventure, exploration, and experiment.

It is important for your research to think about blind children as individuals. Blindness is a generic term used to refer to the fact that these particular children have eyes, or sometimes visual areas in their brains, that don’t work well. However, you cannot usually make generalizations that work for all blind children. Some have a little bit of vision that they can use well. Some have quite a lot of vision that they can’t rely on because of complicating factors such as light sensitivity, nystagmus, or eye pain. Some children have no vision at all. Some have no known eye condition, but they have brain or optic nerve complications so that the signals from the eyes aren’t transmitted to or processed in the visual cortex.

Each blind child differs in terms of experiences and skills, as well as in the amount of sight she or he possesses. Each child who has some vision may be affected by circumstances such as lighting, glare, or contrast. Furthermore, many blind children have other conditions as well as visual impairment. Some wear leg braces to help them walk or arm weights to help stabilize their hands for reading Braille.

Some children with no usable vision are good at playing board games that have been adapted with tactile materials, moving their tokens around the board with delicate touch. Some children with usable vision cannot see the game board well and are not easily able to move their own tokens. They may lose count of their squares and knock over the tokens of other players. Yet another child with no usable vision may never have been given the opportunity to play board games and move his own token around the board. He may be unable to keep count of the squares or keep from bumping the tokens of other players.

The Question of Blindfolds

Whether or not one requires a sighted child to wear sleep shades in a game with blind peers, or whether one requires a child with limited vision to wear sleep shades during a game depends on what you are trying to achieve. For example, if a child has a prognosis that she will likely lose her remaining vision, she needs to learn nonvisual techniques so that she will know how to function without sight. In this case, it could be useful for her to wear sleep shades when she plays a particular game. However, if sighted children wear sleep shades when they play a game with blind children, blind children may have an unfair advantage. Sighted children will not know how to function without vision.