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Saturday, 18 February 2012

Dame Judi Dench

I listen to the radio every day. Mostly Radio 4. I almost never read the papers because the print is just too small. I can read newspaper print with my reading glasses (and do so dutifully every time I go to the JR for a check-up) but it is usually just too much of an effort. This morning the first story I heard on the radio was about Judi Dench who has revealed that she is suffering from macular degeneration. The story was billed as 'sad and touching', presumably because Judi Dench is a National Treasure and it is of course upsetting to see someone lose something so precious. (In fact, Judith Wood, a counsellor who works for the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind has described the feelings associated with sight loss as a kind of mourning.)

But the very fact that Dame Judi is in the public eye means that she is in a great position to challenge some of the myths surrounding blindness. Blindness does not have to be seen as something to be 'overcome' or as a barrier to a 'normal' life and yet this is the language of the headlines reporting Judi's news. These predictable headlines are happily at odds with Judi's rather more cheerful account of how she is carrying on with her work. She likes having her scripts read to her by friends and family and loves listening to audio books. I too am finding that not having to worry about seeing has given me more time for listening, touching, smelling, tasting. I don't believe in the myth that says that the blind have super-enhanced senses as compensation for their lack of sight. But I have noticed that non-visual experiences bring me as much pleasure as visual ones do. And yet our occulocentric world almost always assumes that sight is best. I love reading braille in the dark when everyone else is asleep. And I love listening to Radio 4 in every room of the house. Perhaps Dame Judi Dench's positive take on blindness will encourage more people to stop reading and start listening.

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