EBU (Senior Group) Excellent Work
After 36 Years
Sweden Kaj Nordquist (60/Male)

I have seen nothing in the past 36 years. Nothing of Stockholm, Sweden, or any of the other countries I have visited. All my visual impressions of the world are transformed into a rainbow-colored mess that constantly swirls around and around. The retina tricks the brain into thinking that it sees the colors.

Back then, 36 years ago, life seemed to be coming to an end. Unable to read, unable to drive, and unable to do anything successfully. Along came audio books, white canes, and the completion of academic studies. After that came The Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired, politics, and elementary studies for adults in Braille.

I began to realize that I was actually able to accomplish things. But experience also taught me that people in general, even though I know better myself, are certain that the visually impaired are tragic figures, creatures that are usually ignorant, incompetent, and feeble-minded. Others are convinced that blindness is the worst thing that can happen to a person, second only to death. Even though people don’t say it out loud, because that is not appropriate in Sweden nowadays, you can still tell that they don’t expect much from someone who is severely visually impaired. Instead, they are impressed by how we can find our way to our own mailbox or by how we can remember a phone number or listen to spoken information at a higher speed.

A study that was done in our neighboring country Norway showed that employers would rather employ sighted people who were illiterate than highly educated academics who were blind. At conferences, I’ve heard people in supervisory positions say; “These days, things are so tight and the pressure is so high, that we can’t have someone who is slower. There is no room for that in the workplace anymore.”

Statistically, those who can’t see are probably slower than those who can see, in the same way that women are good at languages and bad at technology, and men are good at math.

If someone is visually impaired, they are expected to be however that group of people is assumed to be. Work capability must always be proven. Never miss a telephone number or an e-mail address. Never forget details, facts, or arguments.

However, statistics never apply to just you or any other specific individual. But when you’re blind as a bat, you can never fully lean on that truth. And you can therefore never afford to be any less quick off the mark, not if you, as a blind person, want to be taken seriously. If many hours of preparation are required, let sleep wait. If many texts need to be read, read them all. If accurate notes need to be taken, make a note of everything.

36 years without vision have now passed, and I am not some kind of Jesus incarnate. I did not come to this Earth to fail more than necessary like some kind of vicarious suffering. So I have tried to learn how to control my life to the best of my ability, just like every other visually impaired person.

When I have worked as a politician in the Riksdag, in the Stockholm County Council, or for the city of Stockholm, I have always pressed the correct button during voting. By listening closely to what the chairman of the meeting says, I can keep track of who submits a proposal and to which party that person belongs.

Spoken text can be read quickly with one’s ears with the help of a Daisy-player or a computer, almost as quickly as the others read the same text with their eyes. But you can’t skim through spoken text. You can’t listen to spoken text at the same time as you participate in activities where you have to speak and also listen to others.

When I need to act independently, when presentations need to be prepared and meetings need to be lead, I always write the agenda, important facts, and main points directly in Braille. I can, however, easily take notes with a computer. Meetings can be prepared, articles can be written, and presentations can be created with the help of a computer. Documents can be read by listening to the talking computer. But it is always better and safer to simultaneously check the details with the help of fingers that can feel the dots on a Braille display.

With the help of Braille, it is actually possible to be in control. You are in control of what others are saying and what you are saying and what you are about to say, while your fingers simultaneously feel the written text.

I have seen nothing in the past 36 years. But I realize that seeing and comprehending is not always synonymous. I trust myself in having comprehended a whole lot about Stockholm, Sweden, and the other countries I have visited. In order to gain comprehension, you need to learn to understand that people are different individuals and that you can handle information in different ways. And you need to learn Braille, even if it takes 36 years to learn and your reading speed isn’t very fast since you learned Braille as an adult.


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