For the benefit of those who see offers a different journey from John Hull’s travel into darkness. Rosemary Mahoney, the author of the book, had a squash ball hit her in the eye during a college game, and her vision blurred for a few days. She then realised how essential vision was to her life, and was truly terrified: “Surely being blind was like being buried alive. I was certain then that I would rather die than lose my eyesight.” Later, when she recovered her sight, she meditates on the importance of seeing:
Most of us who have healthy eyesight are extremely attached to our vision, often without being conscious that we are. We depend heavily on our eyes and yet we rarely give them a second thought. I, at least, am this way. The physical world is almost hypervivid to me. The appearance of objects is registered instantly and boldly in my mind with no conscious effort on my part. I cannot help noticing tiny details.
Decades later, she goes to Tibet for a freelance assignment that was to upend that conclusion. Her subject was Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German woman who became a founder of Tibet’s first school for the blind, in Lhasa in 1997, and then an international school in southern India in 2009.
The book offers her own understanding of the predicament of the students, and an important history of blindness and schooling for the blind. New technologies – such as sensory substitution devices, on which our project works – are not easily accessible in developing countries, and, reading the book raised important question as to how to make these technologies more accessible, but also how to integrate them into the regular curriculum of the schools for the blind.