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How To See Like a Person Who is Visually Impaired

Wednesday December 07, 2016

By: GDB Graduate Maia Scott

Throughout my life, people have asked me, “What do you see?” Having nothing to compare it with, I do my best to describe my vision in some way a sighted person might understand. It took many years for me to finally realize I am not the only one who sees differently. I discovered you can put a pack of people who see 20/20 into a space and all of them focus on different things.

After fighting against allowing my vision impairment to influence my visual art and performance, I decided to do my MFA thesis project on seeing.

The San Francisco Public Library - Library for the Blind and Print Disabled on the 2nd Floor allowed me to fill the space with installations that invited visitors to interact, explore, and share how they see things. One of these pieces still lives there on a big wall near the office. Library staff and patrons say it's a useful landmark as well as something fun to explore. This collection of 100 squares of text based abstract art, aptly titled Squared, invites the viewer to puzzle out 100 positive words. Each square is comprised of the letters of one word transformed; their letters re-sized, flipped, tilted, and layered to take on new life in the constraints of the beloved square. The end result is little works of abstract art. When I read, and even when I use my functional vision to identify things, I often have to tap into my understanding of the general shape to puzzle out what words and things might be. Viewers of Squared are encouraged to take a moment to play with shape, just as I do, in order to see what words emerge for them. Seeing is subjective and involves a game of matching to memory, and making it up along the way. Quite often, I identify words, letters, and other things simply by the way they are shaped. Unknown images wait close at hand until I am ready to learn how to see them. And there are times when I let my imagination take over and witness the words and letters becoming wondrous creations of color and motion.

Focusing on how to see differently also helped me to explore things through my guide dog Fiddler's eyes. A dog's eye view has taught me to live more deeply in the moment, appreciate the simple things, and that tennis balls are really, really big when sitting in front of your nose. Partnering with a guide dog has enabled me to use my functional sight to play with the shapes around me, allowing me the chance to embrace my seeing as the wild, abstract art that it is without fear or judgment.

Categories: GDB Alumni

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