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November 7, 2009

disABILITY: Q&A on math, dreams, beauty, fear

Here is the last edition of questions and answers. These are questions I’ve been asked by people of various ages through the years. The answers I share are from my perspective, experience and what I’ve learned over the years.

Q: How do blind people learn to do math or math problems?

A: In grade school, blind students use the abacus to learn basic math skills. Later on, a lot of math can be written in Braille. Blind people follow along in their Braille books and materials just like their sighted peers follow along in their printed books and materials. For graphing, there are cork boards with a rubber graph grid affixed to it. Push pins can be stuck in to represent points on the graph. And rubber bands can be stretched around two pushpins to form a tactile line between the two points. Geometric shapes can be traced on sturdy foil or plastic sheets. In both cases they result in raised line drawings for the blind student to feel. There are also talking calculators available. I had the ability to do certain math functions in my head. I was able to do simple math and long division in my head as well as geometry and trigonometry. The more numbers and figures and variables there were the harder it was to juggle them all in my mind, though.

A: Do blind people dream? What do they see when they dream?

A: I have never asked anyone who was blind from birth about this so I don’t have any answer for sure about those folks and what they might hear or otherwise sense during dreams. Physiologically I have to think that something goes on for them during REM sleep just like it does for anyone else. I do dream and I often dream as though I’m watching a movie. I see scenes and hear sounds. Often my dreams have elements of seeing and not seeing. I may be walking around in my dream being able to see everything around me but I might still be using my cane. Or I might go from being able to see the stars in the sky in one part of my dream to not being able to see anything, and then back to seeing things in the next part of my dream. But I always dream and they’re made up of sounds, textures and often they’re made up of sights, too.

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