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Book Review: Blindness for Beginners by Maribel Steel

ADA Sign Depot

February 19, 2019

Blindness for Beginners: A Renewed Vision of the Possible, by Maribel Steel

Review by Bill Holton

In any bookstore, online or brick and mortar, cookbooks, diet books, and self-help books are without doubt the three most popular categories. For cookbooks, the reason is obvious: we like to eat. For diet books, it's equally obvious: we like to eat…too much.

Self-help books cover a wide range of topics--everything from healing a broken heart to enjoying an active retirement. Self-help sales are strong. After all, millions of people suffer a broken heart every year, while millions more retire and ask themselves, "What's next?"

photo of Maribel SteelBut what about vision loss? There is no The Joy of I Can't Read Print Anymore, or Low Vision for Dummies. There is, however, a brand new offering from Australia's Maribel Steel called Blindness for Beginners: A Renewed Vision of the Possible. Even though the book's pricing and formats have not yet been finalized, we at AccessWorld believe it is nonetheless worthy of inclusion in this seniors issue. You can view the book's Table of Contents, get pricing information, and hear about the upcoming audio version of the book at Maribel Steel's website.

Maribel Steel is an international educator and speaker who recently appeared at the 2018 AFB Leadership Conference. She is also the vision loss expert for the network and an award-winning blogger at At the Gateway to Blindness and Touching Landscapes.

The author was diagnosed with RP as a teen, and the first section of her book describes her journey from full to partial sight and on to near complete blindness. Along the way she raised four children, worked at her family business and later became a certified aroma and massage therapist.

Describing her many years with partial sight, Steel shines a spotlight on her former denial, including her insistence that no one other than friends and family know that she had a vision problem; her teenage silent rebellion of resistance; the many tricks she used to hide her vision loss, and the various sticky situations she found herself in as a result. Sound familiar?

According to Steel, "Going blind is the second most feared prospect for people next to being diagnosed with a terminal illness. It's a true shock to the system, and can make you feel like you've been dealt the worst blow imaginable." Acceptance of a visual disability can be a slow and prolong process. Other times circumstances conspire to give you a nudge, as happened to Steel after a chance encounter in a bank pointed her toward acceptance.

Part Two of the book offers a series of suggestions and tips to guide the newly blind on his or her own journey from denial through fear and onto acceptance. She gently guides the reader step by step toward an understanding that your life's path is not ending, it is merely taking a detour down a different and unexpected road, much the same as if you had lost a job, ended a long-term relationship, or experienced some other dramatic life change. Again, autobiographical notes are interweaved into the narrative, such as how Steel has used journaling through the years to help clarify and overcome her own feelings of frustration, helplessness, and inadequacy.

Of course acceptance is but merely the first step in your new life journey, and Steel devotes the rest of this section to some concrete suggestions to help you along your way. She offers tips on how to improve your memory, since remembering things such as exactly where the coffee table is will become increasingly essential. She discusses how to seek and accept assistance while retaining a sense of dignity and independence.

At this point the book takes a dramatic turn toward the practical. According to Steel, for a blind person, "It is vital to maintain an organized way of living. Putting everything back in a specific place is not proof that a control freak is in residence, it's an efficient way of staying safe among shifting hazards."

Toward this goal Steel offers a series of problem solving strategies to help you organize your kitchen, bathroom and other rooms and spaces, and--equally essential--to enlist others to help keep it that way.

Steel enjoys cooking, and there is a lot of information the newly blind chef can use to help you get back in front of the frying pan. And though she does not specifically discuss laundry, cleaning, and other household tasks, there is much here that can be generalized and used in other rooms of your living and work environments.

It wouldn't be much of a life, however, if you were confined to your home. Steel devotes an entire chapter to getting out, with information about mobility training, shopping, and choosing between using a white cane and a guide dog--Steel has experience with both.

Blindness for Beginners delves only briefly into the ever-expanding world of adaptive equipment and high-tech gadgetry. This is probably a good thing, since by the time you have read Steel's book, the state of the art will likely have moved on and the information will be out of date. That's where AccessWorld can help. Every month we discuss and detail the very latest and greatest in accessible technology. So be sure to stop by here regularly.

If you are a family member or a friend to someone who has recently lost his or her sight, the third and final section of Blindness for Beginners will be of particular interest. Here Steel offers a number of strategies to help organize a shared living space so that everyone benefits. She also teaches sighted helpers some proper techniques to interact with a person with a visual impairment. For example, never grab a blind person by the elbow to "lead" them. Let him or her grip you by the arm or shoulder. Also, "a flight of stairs coming up," can mean a flight of stairs are approaching, and they are going up, or there are stairs approaching, and I have to guess if they are up or down stairs so I will probably guess wrong and trip and fall.

Blindness for Beginners is not a comprehensive guide to your new life as a person with a visual impairment. It's an introduction, an inspirational look at what is possible. As such, we highly recommend it for any newly blind individual or family member. But consider this book as the first step in your journey.

The author includes a resource guide at the conclusion of the book intended to offer readers more information, but since the author resides in Australia most of the listings are not generally available to US residents.

We suggest you continue your journey at Resources for Adults New to Vision Loss. Here you will find a state-by-state Guide to Local Services for the Blind, along with links to numerous other useful blindness guides from VisionAware, including The Roadmap to Living with Vision Loss, Getting Started Kit for People New to Vision Loss and A Guide to Vision Loss for Family and Friends.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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