I lost my sight at the age of twelve and ever since then I think I’ve heard just about every stereotype there is for people who are visually impaired. My childhood friends waited for the day I could hear like Daredevil and warned them when our parents were coming back home. Family members pitched in and bought me a keyboard and insisted that I become the next musical sensation. Although I can still play a decent rendition of “Chopsticks” I am no closer to becoming a rock star.
These type of stereotypes are in no way the reality for the visually impaired. But, it turns out that there is some truth to how differently the blind perceive the world around us. A new medical study published in Plos one is the first to show that there is structural, functional and anatomical differences in the brains of blind people that are not present in normally sighted individuals.
The study was conducted on visually impaired individuals who were blind since birth or lost their sight before the age of 3. However, it does specify that in studies where sighted individuals are blindfolded for 90 minutes, the brain immediately starts to compensate and help pick up sounds the subjects were not able to hear before. This compensation may not be as indicative as the rewiring of the brain observed in the study. But, it does show how much the human brain can adapt to the loss of a sense and help individuals compensate. The entire publication can be found here, but a quick summary is available if the medical journal article is too long.
I won’t be the next Daredevil or Latin Rock Star any time soon but, I may have to go looking for that old keyboard and see if my version of “Chopsticks” has gotten any better.