Playing Blind

Since I’ve been behind in my MCU watching I’ve done a fabulous job of ignoring the internet in my endeavor to avoid spoilers. So, I’m only now catching a lot of the chatter about things, including a lot of Daredevil and blindness stuff. Among that was this image of Charlie Cox on my Tumblr dashboard; I very nearly fell out of my chair when I saw it.

Why? Because he’s not just walking with a white cane, he is utilizing almost perfect cane technique! Right down to the position of his index finger.

I chose not to go on in ridiculously nitpicky detail how very impressed I am with Cox’s performance as Matt Murdock from a blindness perspective. I don’t want to define his worth as an actor by that any more than I define my own existence purely as a blind person. Plus, my issues are so terribly miniscule that I don’t feel they’re worth putting into text.

Then I saw the above photo and I just had to take a moment to commend the incredible attention to detail that he’s brought to this part. It’s not often that I can say someone playing at being blind is done respectfully because the very essence of the statement sounds like a contradiction. Honestly, the most unrealistic thing about the photo is that the majority of real-life cane users themselves aren’t being as spot on with their technique as he’s showcasing here. And that’s exactly what differentiates this from the cane usage of others on film: being sloppy and/or lazy when walking with a cane and not actually using it properly. If you’re doing it right, it should be as natural as swinging your arms as you walk. What is often seen in movies and television is better described as random flailing about. There’s no effort to walk in stride with the cane and almost no one even holds it correctly! The simple fact that there are multiple schools of thought on proper cane technique only emphasizes how terribly out of place it appears on screen.

Maybe I’m the only person in all the world that even gives a damn about it and that’s fine, though, I rather doubt that’s true. Really, it’s just nice to see someone actually get it right regardless of how inconsequential it might be in the big picture of the show.


Title card

As a comics fan and a blind person, I guess it’s all but imperative I share my thoughts on the Daredevil series.

It’s no secret that I’m rather nitpicky about adaptations of things I’m a fan of, but that pales in comparison to how rigidly I scrutinize the portrayal of blindness in entertainment. There are many misconceptions about blindness and as a blind person I am constantly reminded how prevalent these are. I can’t count how many times in my life I’ve been told that I don’t seem blind. Maybe part of this is because I was born blind and I’ve always seen the way I do that such statements confound me so, but I think it’s more that the general public is often astonished to discover how capable a person without 20/20 vision can actually be.

In any case, I’m very pleased to say that Charlie Cox’s performance is without a doubt the best sighted man playing a blind person I’ve seen. Sure there are niggling things here and there, but for the most part he’s incredibly natural and it’s a refreshing treat for me to watch. Now, of course, Matt Murdock isn’t your typical blind person and if you really wanted to quibble the point I’d argue the character himself plays at being blind. His heightened senses have more than replaced his loss of eyesight and that’s the whole point of his alter-ego, Daredevil.

I actually like this particular interpretation of Matt because it’s actually closer to the reality of blindness. There’s a common and very inaccurate belief about blindness and better hearing, but the truth is that the two aren’t correlated. That’s like saying going deaf would make your vision better. In truth all of your senses will compensate for a loss of one, but not without work to do so. There’s a very quick scene with young Matt that explains this concept perfectly when he expresses his difficulties learning to read Braille. He’s confusing some of the letters because at this point he hasn’t developed the sensitivity in his fingers to be able to easily differentiate them. The gravitas of that may be lost on many, but it’s the truth of learning Braille. Anyone can memorize the Grade I alphabet, but recognizing those little bumps with your fingertips takes practice.1

My spoiler allergy kept me from following any news about the series, so I missed the whole descriptive audio kerfluffle. I watched the series with the descriptive track partly to critique it and mostly because this show is absurdly dark and I can hardly make out anything. For the most part it’s done quite well. There are some amusing and awkward grammar choices that sometimes made following along mildly confusing. Also at times it’s a bit out of sync with the action and describes things that happen some thirty seconds after a prolonged silence. It’s also worth noting that it definitely expects you’ve watched the series in order by referring to unnamed characters by their initial introductions. Granted I don’t expect many people to just randomly jump into the show anyway since it is unforgivingly serialized.

With all that said, the show itself is incredibly good. Of particular note is the action. It’s well-choreographed and an enjoyable departure from the over-the-top acrobatics that has been done to death. These are more-or-less regular people trading painful blows. And sometimes microwave ovens. The villains, for the most part, were another treat. They’re a colorful and interesting bunch, capped off by D’Onofrio’s Fisk who is fascinatingly odd.

Not everything with Daredevil dazzled me, though. The standout being the feud Matt and Foggy have. Especially that it’s quashed even more randomly than it’s started. All it really accomplishes is biding some time between some really nice flashbacks, which in turn only emphasize how absurd the fight itself is. To be fair, I did like the bit with Karen on the phone with Ben in a pure “mommy and daddy are fighting and the kids are upset” moment. Which, by the way, is about the only thing I can say I enjoyed when it comes to Ben. I’m sad to admit this because I really like the character and the actor, but he doesn’t do anything. To the point that his own death isn’t even caused by his actions, but Karen’s.

As a whole the show is a mixed bag in terms of style. It’s a lot of things from crime drama to noir mystery and I most favor the direction it starts in and am baffled by where it ends up in the final episode. It’s rooted in a gritty realism that is far better than anything Nolan’s put on screen, but by the end of the arc when Daredevil dons his iconic red costume it’s veered a bit off course and seriously what was up with the Wilson v. Matt fight? I don’t quite understand how that ties together with the action from say the second episode, but at least the majority of the time there’s a fairly good balance of all that this show is trying to be.

I’m eager to see where season two goes.

  1. This is why after learning Braille almost 30 years ago, I personally struggle with reading it these days.

Color Blind Gaming

Armos Knights from A Link to the PastThe first game I got with my Super Nintendo when I was a kid was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and to this day I still haven’t completed it. Partly because back then the bosses scared the utter crap out of me. Those Armos Knights are one of the easiest bosses in the whole series, but they absolutely freaked me out as a kid. They’re huge, in comparison to Link, and they jump up and down in a way that seems to defy the dimensional space of the game. It was the first time I found myself actively stressed out playing a game and it was not enjoyable. But as terrible as the bosses were, it was the puzzles that actually were my roadblock. No, they aren’t hard. Honestly, the most you can say about a Zelda puzzle in terms of difficulty is that it might be confusing. It’s that a lot of the puzzles involve hitting various colored switches. Similarly, years later Paper Mario reduced me to tears with the “yellow, green, red, and then blue” blocks in the Toy Box.

Honestly, you’d be surprised how many games utilize color perception as a mechanic in some way. It might seem like a great way to create simple puzzles, but the reality is that it’s a very limiting and archaic way to do so since there really isn’t any cognitive reasoning behind such tasks. I’ve talked before about how colors are such a natural thing to us because we learn them at such a young age. Perhaps that’s why as a child it would frustrate me so much that something as simple as differentiating the color green was stopping me from progressing further in a game that I was tremendously enjoying. Call it stubborn determination, but I would try again and again to plow my way through these puzzles, spending hours stuck in the same place and/or resetting my game countless times. Sure, I could have just asked my parents to help me out, but I was too embarrassed to bring attention to the matter. Nowadays I can scour the Internet for a walkthrough to find a potential pattern for these puzzles or turn to my Twitter followers to aid with color choice options.

So, it was incredibly refreshing to hear a developer requesting color blind testers. After a bit of back-and-forth to confirm my complete lack of color perception wasn’t beyond their scope, I got a build of their game that crashed my computer. No, seriously, it was a pretty epic crash. I was quite impressed. By the time they got back in touch with me, the team had a new build to try out and this one did not eat my computer alive.

Contrasting colored tiles with distinct symbols from the game 404SightI had utterly no idea about the game before starting it up because I was too lazy to bother researching wanted to see how well I could use the game. This meant that I literally didn’t know what the heck to do and basically just wandered around the starting area. However, despite my inept playing, I did notice the different tiles on the ground. The team had done a wonderful job at making them distinct through the use of contrasting colors and identifying symbols. The tiles give the main character various abilities, though, all I could get her1 to do was randomly zoom into walls or fling about the screen like a ragdoll.

Anyway, what really stood out to me was that Retro Yeti Games had been thinking about player accessibility throughout their creation of 404Sight. That meant things like making sure it was color blind friendly were incorporated into the development of the game. And doing so, by their own assertion, “barely took any time.” I definitely join their bandwagon in wondering why more developers aren’t doing the same.

Last Dream tutorial showing the Dash commandYesterday I was reminded of all this when I finally followed the many recommendations I’ve received from people2 to play Last Dream. On the surface it sounds like exactly the kind of game I would instantly love. It’s basically an homage to all the retro JRPGs from my childhood. I can’t say whether or not I would enjoy it, though, since I got roadblocked by a color perception issue. My frustration and irritation at this was only compounded by the fact it happened in the tutorial! Yes, I could have utilized the aforementioned power of the Internet to get through this or reset the game and opted out of the tutorial. However, I could only assume, and the developer has since confirmed, that if color perception is being presented as a necessary mechanic in the tutorial it is present throughout the game itself.

The story could end there, but I sent an email to White Giant RPG, the independent studio that developed Last Dream and it’s forthcoming expansion and sequels, and they quickly responded with an apology and a refund. It was a grand gesture and I’m very appreciative. What truly made my day was their acknowledgement that they hadn’t thought about color perception when working on the game and were actively talking about how to improve the accessibility in the games they’re currently developing. Props to them; I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on their future work.

By the way, I know there’s been a lot of talk around here about video games lately and some of you must be wondering: “Why Bleu no blog about books or review movies?” I promise, I haven’t tossed all my energy into babbling about video games; it’s just that I haven’t run across anything that’s sparked enough commentary to write about in quite awhile. Yes, I could just post about whatever, but the idea is not to burn myself out because then you’ll just complain I’m not updating period.

  1. I didn’t know this then, but the main character is female.
  2. Not surprisingly, lately I’ve had a lot of contact from people suggesting various JRPGs to play. It’s awesome, even if most of them are games I’ve already played.

“Red” Flower

As iPhone photos go, I’m actually pretty happy with this one:

Red flower

The red isn’t quite right1, which is something of an issue with the iPhone camera in my experience. But oddly it is far closer to the actual color2 than I was able to achieve when taking the same photo with my Nikon. It’s the first time I’ve run into this issue since I made the leap to a DSLR. I intend to tinker some and see if I can’t pinpoint how to better capture these pretty flowers in front of my house.

  1. Yes, I can actually tell that despite my colorblindness.
  2. I’m told it’s more a burnt orange.

15 Years (and Then Some) of Learning

Ideally, this would have been posted last June to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of partnering with my first guide dog. In fact, it was my intention to submit it for the twelfth ADBC. Months later, Brooke even tried to “help” me finally write this in the hopes that I’d participate in the thirteenth ADBC.

Collage of three black-and-white images of Yara, Dolly and Uschi in harness

Even though it seems to have gone by faster than it should have, fifteen years is a long time. Nearly half my life, in fact.

A lot has changed over that decade-and-a-half. I’ve changed a lot over that decade-and-a-half, which seems cliché but is nevertheless the truth. I’ve written about this previously, of course, and later expanded on the profound differences. But one thing I’ve not really stressed before is just how much I’ve learned as a guide dog handler.

The key things are probably the most obvious: I’ve learned about how to work with a guide dog, what a lifestyle change it involves, and the incredible life-changing effect it can provide. My knowledge of dog training has grown in leaps and bounds and evolved along with the differences that dog training has undergone since my time at Guiding Eyes. And with fifteen years experience as a handler, I have a better understanding of my specific needs and desires in a partner.

Over the years I’ve amassed a wealth of information about public access and discrimination due mostly to personal experience. Nothing on a grand scale by any means,1 but I have been more-or-less thrown out of a few stores, had a few issues with some restaurants, and met with a fair amount of discrimination when hunting for an apartment. My favorite incident is a rather hilarious story involving a liquor store that ended with me arguing with a policeman about NYS access laws.

I wasn’t even aware of how self-conscious I was about being blind before I started working with a guide dog. I coped by trying to hide my limitations, which is practically impossible to do when you are accompanied by the most visible sign of blindness. A fact that was actually the argument more than a few family and friends used as to why I shouldn’t get and didn’t need a guide dog, which is amusing to me since that was basically the whole point for me. At the time I wasn’t quite able to explain it or maybe I was just too much of a stubborn teenager and didn’t want to.

What really stands out to me, though, is what I’ve been taught by my girls specifically. I’ve gained firsthand experience in how profound a bond there is between guide dog and handler and along the way gained more than a few insights on life: Dolly with her joie de vivre reminded me to not forget to enjoy myself, even when it was a simple and small thing. Yara’s serious attitude always makes me think of how I can better do the task at hand. And, in her own unique way, Uschi has shown me that it’s important to embrace who you are, quirks and all.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate out the specific things I’ve gained by working with a guide dog, so perhaps that’s why I feel I should have far more to say on the subject. Which only proves the point that all three of my guides have made me acutely aware of how much I have yet to learn and so the lessons continue on.

  1. Arguably, there has been cause for a lawsuit here and there, but none that have been worth it in my personal opinion.