Guest Blog: Lisa Howard on the Dangers of #BirdBoxChallenge

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A woman who teaches Orientation and Mobility walks behind a young man who is using a white cane to walk on a sidewalk near a wide intersection.

A certified instructor teaches safe travel skills

Lisa Howard, CEO of Lighthouse of Manasota, prepared the following Op-Ed piece on the #BirdBoxChallenge.   Apart from the obvious danger of walking around blindfolded without proper training from certified professionals, this fad also encourages a false impression of the substantial talents of blind people who receive that training and restore their capacity to succeed in school, competitive employment and family and community life.  A sighted person wearing a blindfold only experiences the shock and fear anyone would feel upon suddenly losing their vision.  This brief moment of “blindness” is completely unrelated to the reality of successful independent living with vision loss after vision rehabilitation training.  Here is Lisa’s excellent message (and if you don’t live near her agency, contact Florida ASB for an agency near you–305-898-2636):

#BirdBoxChallenge drives home the permanence of vision loss for many

By Lisa Howard

When the thriller film Bird Box debuted on Netflix during the holidays, who knew that it would inspire buzz and adulation across the country and beyond? Not only is the movie, which is about a family running for their lives – while wearing blindfolds – from a monster that kills those who get even the briefest glimpse of it, a huge hit, it has also inspired the latest dangerous social media trend.

It’s all over the news and online: people are donning blindfolds and attempting to take on everyday tasks – particularly attempting to navigate streets, offices or their homes – as part of the #BirdBoxChallenge. As you can probably imagine, the results are often not good. Some people have even been injured.

Netflix entreated people, “PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE.” The National Federation of the Blind tweeted, “The #BirdBoxChallenge creates mistaken and harmful impressions of blindness and blind people, perpetuating misconceptions. We strongly condemn it.”

I’m here to tell you that wearing a blindfold for fun and games does not give you the true experience of living with vision loss. The blind and vision impaired do not have the option to remove the blindfold once the laughing is done and find their sight restored. They have to learn to live with the challenges of vision impairment each and every day.

You might assume that it’s easy to move around without sight but it’s not. The intensive and extensive training needed to navigate one’s environment with no or low vision is incredibly challenging. It takes scores of hours of rigorous training and practice to feel confident enough to travel safely and, ultimately, regain independence.

For those who have been blind their whole lives as well as people who are in the process of losing their sight, Lighthouse of Manasota is a place where Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialists teach travel skills to people of all ages, at all levels of vision loss, and Certified Vision Rehab Specialists teach “Adjustment to Vision Loss” courses, where students learn adaptive techniques to accomplish everyday tasks.

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is a profession specific to blindness and low vision (significant vision impairment that can’t be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery). Orientation refers to the ability to know where you are and where you want to go; mobility refers to the ability to move safely, efficiently and effectively from one place to another. O&M Specialists help people to either learn or re-learn skills and strategies, using tactile and auditory clues, to move safely in their homes or out in the community. The training enables the blind and vision impaired to live safe, independent and productive lives.

The profession of O&M had its beginnings during and immediately after World War II, when methods were developed to assist in the rehabilitation of soldiers who were blinded in combat. The results were so successful that the practice began to be replicated more widely to benefit others who were blind or had visual impairments.

Not to appear oversensitive but it’s frustrating to see people laughing while they or their friends fall or bump into objects while blindfolded. Being blind or visually impaired is no laughing matter. While we get that people might be curious to “see” what it’s like to live without one sense or another, we hope that they’ll also have compassion for those who have no choice in the matter.

We invite the community to participate in one of our White Cane Awareness Walks in October, or learn more about living with vision loss by visiting our website. And if you have a friend or loved one who is not living life to the fullest because of vision impairment, we hope you will encourage them to give us a call – we can help.

Lisa Howard is the CEO of Lighthouse of Manasota.