Am I Really Blind? Adapting to Adaptive Technology

04/16/2015 01:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015
John Lamb via Getty Images

When I mention this to friends, they laugh and suggest the same interpretation for my confession. "Maybe," they begin, their voices pensive, "you're not always conscious of your blindness because you have no light perception -- there are no fuzzy images and there's no light to remind you of what you can't see."

Although I don't completely dismiss their analysis, I believe the main reason why I can live alone, teach, write and go about my business without dwelling on my blindness is because of technology. I have an app that decodes paper money, another that describes the colors and patterns on my clothing, and I even have a talking microwave that always wishes me a great day. I'm constantly texting and emailing as my guide dog, Oslo, and I mosey through the city, and I'm only conscious of being blind when someone with vision points out my lack of sight.

One day, I had just finished my lunch at a diner in downtown San Francisco, and was about to put a few bills on the table, when I heard an older woman say, "Let me get your lunch."

Puzzled, I shifted my face towards the unfamiliar voice and asked if she was the manager. She answered in the negative and explained she was just a customer.

"You shouldn't carry cash," she continued. "You're gonna get ripped off."

Her comment braced my nerves. Yet, I reminded myself that, like most people, she was probably not familiar with adaptive technology. So, I decided to give her a demo. I took my phone out, scanned a bill and heard my cell read the currency.

"Let me pay for your lunch. You're blind and you need my help," she said.
Wondering if the volume on my cell was too low, I shook my head and asked Oslo to find the register.

As I paid for my meal, I heard the woman speak from a few feet behind me, "I know how to help you. My favorite movie is The Miracle Worker."

I felt my face go hot. Helen Keller may have done some great things in her life, but as a modern man in the 21st century, I find it incredibly irritating to be compared to someone born in 1880. Not to mention, being deaf and blind is a completely different journey, as missing two senses is not the same as missing one.

"I don't need your help," I huffed, walking towards the exit door. "I have Siri."

Weaving around a crowd on the sidewalk, I wondered why some people are unable to make the connection that, because of technology, being disabled is not what it used to be.

The next day, I arrived at my Capoeira studio early and caught the tail end of an Afro-Brazilian dance class. Feeling inspired by the live drumming, I had Oslo sit next to the wall as I joined the samba session in the middle of the room.

Smiling, I swayed back and forth, recalling my clubbing days in Rio. The music came to an end and the class was adjourned. Ambling my way back to Oslo, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a guy say, "You dance well. You remind me of that movie Dancer in the Dark."

"I hate that movie," I said dryly. "It's not accurate at all."

"But it won so many awards," he defended. "Are you sure we're talking about the same movie? It had Bjork in it."

I assured him we were referring to the same movie and then dove into what I didn't like.

"The character is not a believable blind person. I know plenty of blind people and I have never met one who walks on train tracks to avoid getting lost, or one that could fool their employer into believing they can see," I said.

"Well, how are people supposed to know what's real and what is not?" he asked.

I paused for a few seconds, unsure of how to answer. Flashing back to the woman from the diner, I said, "Well, one of the reasons why there are so many bad disability movies is because directors don't cast real disabled people."

After class, Oslo and I arrived home and I began to scan my snail mail. As my laptop read an offer from my local pizza parlor, I realized that it isn't just movies contributing to a false perception of disability, but also the lack of disabled faces in popular culture at large. Maybe someday there will be a hip show with a funny, romantic or even slutty disabled protagonist. But, until then, I'll just keep flashing my tech toys around.

Belo Cipriani is a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, and a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Learn more at You are also invited to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.