“You could go blind, you know.“
My eye doctor said that. He’d barely stopped exhaling the words “Your eyes look great, they’re as healthy as they could be.” So what’s this blind thing about? Maybe he was reminding me to be grateful, or simply giving me a warning he gives everyone. I thought about it the rest of the day, partly because he dilates my eyes – which I do not enjoy. It’s my annual reminder that being blind might be “awful” until I got used to it. Dilation robs me of clear vision for a few hours and gives me a tiny little peek at a world that functions much differently. It’s OK – I know my doc is doing what’s best, but it still makes me crazy. This time, his passing comment (coupled with the dilation) made me think a little. What if I went blind? Clearly my life would change. My first thought went to “How would I make a living?” DUH, probably in much the same way. More importantly, what about my work would change? What wouldn’t change? Could I still deliver value to clients?
While my eyes are apparently super healthy, the Debbie Downer comment got me thinking. My first thought went to “What isn’t documented well enough?”, perhaps because I regularly nag about process documentation & checklists. I wondered if the difficult-to-explain tasks are properly documented for that situation. Not likely.
A lot of my work revolves around the ability to see software or a web page. That’d be OK for a short while, until the familiarity I have from frequent use is eroded over time. Even without that erosion, web pages and apps change over time. That’d make using some of them quite difficult a year from now. Screen readers and adaptive technologies have improved greatly over the last 10 years. Despite that, there would almost certainly be difficult moments at the computer.
A lot of my work is communicating. I’d need to figure out how to read & respond to email. I could dictate to an app & have someone transcribe it, but there’d be that initial jarring loss of privacy & independence. The loss of independence would initially go much further than the increased difficulty of emailing. However, it wouldn’t really change phone calls or webinars much. I’d have to come up with a system for writing, editing, & following agendas that I could no longer see with my eyes. Someone’s mastered that, I’m sure.
Changing the how doesn’t change the what
For whatever reason, I never pondered the possible impact blindness would have on the day to day basics of life that afternoon. Things like eating, cooking, the bathroom, transportation, interaction with people, hiking, getting dressed, or finding that stubborn piece of spinach in my tooth without a mirror. Steve Jobs supposedly wore the same outfit every day as a strategy to reduce his cognitive load. None of that stuff crossed my mind at the time. Maybe my subconscious assumed those things were trivial or could be mastered. Perhaps my subconscious “knows” that continuing to make a living would dominate my thought if this happened.
The interesting part of this (perhaps odd) thought process was a deep introspection of what I do, how I do it, for whom, and the value delivered.
I thought about the clients I have and what would change. Clearly, the work that requires hands on software use would change. While I could use voice to text or other adaptive tools to write, program, strategize, or produce marketing copy – certain aspects would likely become quite difficult. Curious, I googled around a little and found several interesting pieces where blind programmers described how they do what they do. These were not hobbyists, but seasoned professionals.
Ultimately, I realized that the majority of the value I deliver isn’t visual, has little to do with the software I occasionally write, and isn’t defined by this column (even when it’s good). This would surely be different if I were in my twenties and didn’t have the experience I have now, but that’s really not relevant to me. To others, it might be significant.
If I went blind, the mechanical details of my work (ie: “the how”) would change substantially. Thing is, people don’t get value from the how. They get value from the what. What do you think?