A Storyville documentary: Moving and inspiring account of university professor's sight loss, his rebirth and renewal. Available with audio description or a heightened soundtrack.
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Hello. Testing, testing, testing.
CHILD HUMS SOFTLY
Say "hello, hello, hello".
Hello, hello, hello.
This is cassette one, track one.
10th July 1983.
Have we begun yet?
Speaking out of nowhere. 1984.
Disappearing into nowhere.
Thank you very much for the tape...
Everything was... Waterlogged...
Hello, and welcome to...
Can't we just cut back?
-It's a long time ago, isn't it?
How difficult it is to remember the detail.
We were married on 1st November '79.
Oh, you were driving, of course.
Well, you certainly weren't driving!
-We just took off down to...
-We got to Chichester.
-Oh, that was it.
Chich... No. Was it?
-Where did we go, then?
-On the southern edge of the...
-What was it called again?
-It began with a C.
-That was it.
That's a long way.
That ghastly B&B.
It was quite the worst place we've ever stayed in.
-I don't remember it being so bad.
-It was horrible.
Do you remember the way the tide came in?
Right up the main street.
It took the form of a dark black disc...
..which slowly progressed across the field of vision.
It went very quickly.
The doctors said that the eye was so badly traumatised from...
from previous surgery...
..that all we'll be able to do is to preserve a little bit of sight.
Of course, you never believe that.
You keep on hoping.
-That was the final eye operation.
You were just out of hospital when Tom was born.
He's smiling at you.
I still had that little bit of vision.
I would see a flicker of a shadow across the window
-as you moved across it.
If I stood underneath the central light in the room,
I could tell if it was on or off.
The stars had gone, the moon had gone.
I must be able to see the sun, mustn't I?
I didn't think it would last long.
Here we are again.
Another part of Imogen Hull's tape, side two.
She was thrilled. I mean, you know, as an older sister,
loving a little brother.
I don't think she realised what was going on.
The little drop of the Father
on thy little beloved forehead...
The little drop of the Son on your forehead, beloved one.
The little drop of the Spirit on your forehead, beloved one.
There was nobody much around in the university.
I could hear one of my friends saying,
"You know that John Hull's going completely blind?"
Stopping and hearing that...
Thoughts just came tumbling into my mind.
What about my reading, my research?
What about my teaching?
How am I going to teach?
How am I going to lecture without any notes?
I went up to my office and sat there.
The students will be here in about five weeks.
..how am I going to do this?
A social worker told me about all the things they could offer.
For your first white cane.
There were special holiday homes for blind people.
Maybe I'd like to have a dog and...
Then she said, "Well, you need a mobility course."
I remember saying, "No, I'm not doing that.
"I haven't got time."
I mean, most people would have made the time.
I was just too busy keeping up with everything.
Well, you were also stubborn.
You were sort of in furious denial.
'The only thing I was interested in
'was how to function as a blind academic.
'That, nobody knew.'
What have you got? Ah, The Long Surrender.
'I needed to have serious books recorded sensibly.'
What about anthropology and sociology?
'All that was basically available in the United Kingdom
'was detective novels and romantic fiction.'
Well, I'm interested in reading contemporary social sciences.
No, look, how do blind people read big books?
'They said, "They don't."'
Anyway, I'll sort it out, so thanks for your advice.
'That was it.
'I didn't buy that.
'I had a tape recorder, of course.
'I had cassettes.'
Is that the microphone? Yes.
Is it on?
That makes a difference, doesn't it?
HE CLEARS HIS THROAT
Testing, testing, testing.
Today is Tuesday, and I'm wondering if this machine will record or not.
RECORDING: 'Testing, testing.
'Today is Tuesday,
'and I'm wondering if this machine will record or not.'
The first thing I did was build up
a team of people to record books for me.
How did you get that going?
I can't quite remember but it became an absolute business.
I had up to 30 of them working for me at one stage.
The books would come back on cassettes.
Hundreds of cassettes.
That was transformative.
Down on this level.
'I spent, I suppose,
'the next two or three years learning all of those little tricks.
'With ingenuity and a little bit of help,
'they were problems that COULD be solved.'
-'..Meaning is an operation of intentionality...'
The truth is that, although in a way it was so devastating,
I did enjoy it.
I was entirely occupied.
It wasn't until the final tiny bit of light sensation
that my mood changed.
Do you remember that day in Shrewsbury,
when I caught a glimpse of a...?
Of a church spire?
I think that's the last thing you ever saw.
That's probably true.
I had a dream.
You had a dream?
I had a dream that I got some dinner
but it didn't have at all very much nice stuff in it,
and I lost it again.
Was that the end?
-He's telling me about a dream he had.
Now, then. It'll be cloudy throughout the evening,
and a big patch of wind
on the satellite picture just coming over...
I'd learnt how to lecture without notes.
Learnt how to recognise the students by their voices.
The cassettes were pouring in faster than I could read them.
All of that was done.
It was at that point
..I had to think about blindness...
..because if I didn't understand it...
..it would defeat me.
This is cassette one, track one.
Notes on blindness.
And this is 21st June 1983.
After nearly three years of blindness,
I find that the pictures in the gallery of my mind
have dimmed somewhat.
People and places that I know and love so well.
Memories of my early life spent in Australia.
So I found with great distress
that I could no longer remember easily what my wife looked like.
Or what my daughter Imogen looked like.
I found that memories of photographs
were more easily recaptured.
The case of my daughter Imogen -
I have a wide range of visual memories of her.
Of Thomas, now nearly three,
I have a few very vague impressions
based upon the first six or nine months of his life,
before I lost sight altogether.
And of Elizabeth, I have no visual memories at all and never have had.
KNOCK ON DOOR
Just a minute.
I am concerned...
..to understand blindness...
..to seek its meaning...
..to retain the fullness of my humanity.
We need to know what kind of necessity is it.
Is it a psychological necessity?
Is it logical?
Is it a historical necessity?
'A note on smiles.
'Nearly every time I smile, I'm conscious of smiling.
'I mean, I'm conscious of the movement, even, one might say,
'the effort of smiling.
'I think the reason is that there is no returning smile.
'One never gets anything for one's own smiles.
'One is sending off dead letters.
'Consequently, I can feel myself stopping smiling.
'Or I think I can.
'I must ask someone close to me whether this is true or not.'
A note on Thomas's awareness of my blindness.
-He sadly wandered off into the mountains,
knowing that he could never look into the beautiful eyes
of Rapunzel again.
Thomas asked me, why was he blind?
Because his eyes were poorly.
My eyes are poorly.
He said to me in a very serious and probing voice,
"Are you blind?"
"Yes, I am."
"Your eyes are closed."
"Yes, but even when I open my eyes, I still can't see."
"Can't you see the pictures? I can see the pictures."
"Your eyes aren't poorly."
I put my hand over his eyes and held his eyes closed.
"Now can you see?" I said.
He said no.
"Now?" "Yes, I can see now.
"Yes, my eyes aren't poorly."
I am reminded of being in Wales with Imogen, when she said to me...
"..Daddy, if I cried and my tears fell on your eyes,
"would you be able to see again?"
This thought she had got, I'm sure, from Rapunzel.
-..And they lived happily ever after.
Cassette two, track one.
A strange experience with a faith healer.
On Thursday evening,
we stopped at the Indian restaurant in Bristol Street.
I hope everything is to your satisfaction.
'I took him to be a waiter who worked in the restaurant.
'He asked me if I was completely blind...
'..how long I had been blind, the cause of my blindness was.'
Well, um, in one way or another,
I suppose I've been fighting against blindness most of my life.
Please, go on.
When I was a child, I lost my sight for the first time.
I've had all sorts of operations and gradually sight simply faded away.
Why do you ask?
And now you see nothing?
Nothing. I don't see anything now.
And yet you still wear glasses.
Silly really, isn't it?
I'd feel rather undressed without my glasses.
Tell me, do you still hope that you will see again?
No, I don't hold out hope.
The doctors have told me it's quite impossible.
And you believe them?
'He told me about some of the marvellous cures he had done,'
'My sight is dependent upon my will and he, through hypnotherapy,
'could help to restore my will.'
Could you restore a leg lost in a traffic accident?
You have no eyes?
Are they gone?
It's just a mass of jelly.
Willpower cannot restore it.
God, he was speechless.
He was absolutely speechless!
But, John, do you think it's got to the point
where you don't really want to get your sight back?
What makes you say that?
You always seem to be so happy.
You seem to be functioning so well.
Oh, Liz. If only you knew half the truth.
Of course I want my sight back.
I will never accept the human losses of blindness.
Every time I wake up,
I lose my sight.
Last night, I dreamt that my sight improved.
I had the most intense picture of Thomas as a cuddly little boy.
In my dream, I said to myself,
"There you are, you see.
"In good light you can still manage fairly well."
My waking reflection is that my dreaming life
is still denying the reality.
-..The heavy swell breaking onto the rocks,
five were swept into the sea, three from one group
and two from another. The Sennen and Penlee lifeboats
were sent to search the area, and a Royal Navy helicopter...
This text is an interesting example in the dialogue
of the limitations of a theology of vision...
Give us an H.
Give us an A.
Give us a P.
Give us another P.
Give us a Y.
Because now it's party time!
CHILD HUMS JINGLE BELLS
Come here for a minute.
Hello, hello, hello. Look what I've found. Another one of these.
What's this, Tom?
-Oh, I know what this is.
When you hold it up to the light,
you can see all the colours really brightly, and it's beautiful.
What I remember about you most vividly
in those years was your amazing practicality.
You never expressed regret.
You just got on with the next thing,
step by step.
The way you did that, I always thought, was quite incredible.
MUSIC: Dedicated To The One I Love
Would you take Imagine by John Lennon? An obvious choice?
Dylan. I'd take Dylan.
Well, I know, but I mean there, one is completely stuck.
-I know what you'd take, and I know what we'd both take.
Jacqueline du Pre playing Elgar's cello whatsit.
-Yes, there we are.
-There we are. I think we've got one.
# Each night before you go to bed, my baby
# Whisper a little prayer for me, my baby
# And tell all the stars above
# This is dedicated to the one I love. #
DRIPPING AND SPLOSHING
A huge wave crashed down, separating us all.
There was debris of floating merchandise and dead bodies.
I searched for them everywhere in despair, and found nothing.
It was hopeless. They simply disappeared.
Somebody had reminded me that part of the human brain
specialises in the reception and processing of visual material.
Now, I would like to know what happens to that part of the brain
when optic stimulation ceases.
Could this perhaps account for the sense of suffering
I have experienced over the past year or two?
The feeling I'm describing is a sense of hunger,
A feeling that one's brain longs for optic stimulation,
as the body longs for food.
The brain itself thirsts for that to which it is accustomed.
Part of my brain is dying.
Say merry Christmas to Millie.
Merry Christmas, Susan. Merry Christmas, Chris.
What's that? My word!
What is it, Tom?
What is this?
CHILD'S INDISTINCT REPLY
'That particular Christmas was the worst one.'
-Look at me.
-What is it?
-What is it?
-I don't know. I think it's probably bubble bath.
Father Christmas must have smelt you all the way from the North Pole!
'I was stuck.
'I couldn't get up and leave.
'How could I walk out on Christmas Day?'
But I couldn't stay either.
How do I look in these?
You look terrific.
-Did Father Christmas leave those? Are they comfy?
-Are they warm?
What colour are they?
-They're ever so nice, aren't they?
-Are they a good fit?
Special winter slippers.
Go and look at yourself in the mirror.
That was when you came up to me and said, "You look dreadful.
"Why don't you go into the office?"
Just go to work.
I had a desperate feeling of being enclosed...
..having to get out. I must get out.
I had only gone about 100 yards when I was aware of
a growing feeling of doubt and uncertainty.
I was intensely aware of the fact that I was going through nothing.
Through an intensely cold nothing.
Of being entirely alone.
I turned around and walked back to the house.
ON PIANO: Away In A Manger
I felt as if I was banging my head, my whole body,
against the wall of blindness.
A desperate need to break through this curtain, this veil,
which surrounded me, to come out into the world of light out there.
How could this happen to me?
Who could ask me to go through this?
Who had the right to deprive me of the sight of my children
at Christmas time?
The image that often called to me
during the early days of my blindness
came back to me with such force.
I was in a little coal truck in a mine shaft,
being trundled deeper and deeper into the mine.
Were we just out of control?
Was there nobody in a position to stop it?
Would it just go on and on?
I had to get out. I had to jump out. I had to run back.
But, no, it remorselessly carried me even deeper and deeper and deeper.
I think this idea of you going away into another world
where I couldn't be was... That was awful. That was...
Shall I scratch my eyes out?
Shall I come with you into this world?
I somehow feel that if I were to accept this thing,
if I were to enter into acquiescence...
..then I would die.
Because it would be as if my ability to resist, my will to resist,
On the other hand, not to accept seems futile
because what one is refusing to accept is a fact.
And now what I have to face is...
..the thought that there is no escape.
The thought that I shall now just go on
with another 20, 30 or even more years of this.
RECORDER CLICKS OFF
One fights back by adopting tiny techniques.
the same objects, the same little movements of the hands.
One has to establish some kind of environment -
a study, a room, a route,
a passage - over which one can establish some kind of territory.
'I am not particularly conscious of being blind while I am at work.
'When I'm at work, all my students have to come into MY world
'of ideas and concepts and language.'
OK, let's start with the very oldest or most ancient of these.
That's the very first conflict, faith.
'The essence of the thing is planning, initiatives
'and active participation.
'The moment I sink into passivity and irrelevance,
'then I'm done for.'
Tomorrow it will be reasonably sunny,
reasonably cold, reasonably hot, reasonably everything.
In fact, I don't know at all.
And that is the end of the news.
Dong! Dong! Dong!
A note on the experience of hearing rain falling.
This evening I came out the front door of the house
and it was raining.
I stood for a few minutes, lost in the beauty of it.
Rain brings out the contours of what's around you...
..in that it introduces
of differentiated and specialised sound...
..which fills the whole of the audible environment.
If only there could be something equivalent to rain falling inside...
..then the whole of a room would take on shape and dimension.
Instead of being isolated, cut off,
..you are presented with a world.
You are related to a world.
You are addressed by a world.
Why should this experience strike one as being beautiful?
Cognition is beautiful.
It is beautiful to know.
Well, I must thank you again for your tape from all of you.
You, Thomas, and Lizzie, and Imogen too.
How are you getting along?
We'd love to see you some time.
We don't realise how the time passes.
Anyhow, thank you again.
I hope you'll have the time to come out here to see us.
Hello, Grandpa and Grandma.
I hope you're fine, because we're having a wonderful time here.
Do send love to all the other relatives in Australia.
Now it's time for the morning concert.
(One, two, three.)
# Sparkle, evening star
# I've seen you there... #
MOUTH ORGAN PLAYS
# ..High above the ground
# You sit and stare
# Star bright
# Gleaming white
# I wonder if you hear my song tonight. #
MOUTH ORGAN PLAYS
-That was good, Immy. That worked quite well.
I've got one of them!
-That was good, Immy. That worked quite well.
Well, Mum and Dad, I hope you enjoy that
as an authentic bit of children's production.
I should perhaps also add we will not be able to come to Australia...
..because I do feel that the lack of mobility and of activity...
..would be difficult for me to put up with.
I'm sure you'll understand, Dad.
Well, I must stop now and get this off to you.
Lots of love to all of you from all of us. Bye now.
The grass and the plants, and it was...
What does that little sign mean?
Do it again on my hand.
It's a comma.
-What does that mean?
-It means you pause.
Where does it have it?
On Friday night, putting Thomas to bed,
I had a long and detailed discussion with him
about my blindness.
"Will you always be blind?" he said.
"Couldn't the doctors stop it?"
"The doctors tried."
I explained about the retina,
how it sometimes tears and comes off from the back of the eye.
"What did they say?"
"Well, they just said, 'Sorry, Mr Hull,
"'we can't do any more for you.'"
"Why doesn't God help you?"
"God does help me...in lots of ways."
"Well, he makes me strong and gives me courage."
"But he doesn't help you to get your eyes back."
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day...
Yes, there have been times when I have been angry with God.
Unreasonably so, I suppose.
Sometimes one's emotions spill over...
..but I don't regard faith as a sort of a...
A shield against the ordinary ups and downs of human life.
Why shouldn't it happen to me?
So now at last we come to this...
..great problem, this question.
The problem of mutual understanding.
How can blind and sighted people truly understand each other?
How can men understand women?
How can the rich understand the poor?
How can the old understand the young?
Can we have insight into other people?
This is the great question
upon which the unity of our humanity hangs.
'The last two days have been particularly peaceful and happy.
'Two long days with Marilyn,
'and it was one of the best times I've had playing with the children.'
Yes, Thomas! Wow! Don't go falling off, will you?
'My health is very much better than it was at Christmas time.
'Perhaps blindness won't cut me off after all.'
Was I going to live in reality or live in nostalgia?
Over a period of weeks, months maybe,
the decision hardened in me.
I would not live in nostalgia
but would live in reality...
..and would become blind.
-It's a long drop.
What's that bit in the middle?
Are you all right, darling?
'I wanted my parents to know me as a blind person.
'I wanted them to somehow recognise me and accept me.'
Every year, we used to go and pick cherry plums and bring them home,
and Mother made cherry plum jam by the dozen.
I can remember rows and rows of the jam!
-Say, "Hello, Grandma".
'Of course, they were delighted with the children.
'But I think they were shocked.'
'It was like...
'..having to get to know me all over again.'
-It's a nice photo, that.
We have a photo of us sitting up in this car out in our backyard.
How strangely coloured photographs fade.
It's all laid out like a professional poet!
"Poems to my mother."
Ah, to my mother?
Not to my mother and father.
-To my mother.
'I never had a close relationship with my father.
'I don't know what he thought of it all.
'I walked down to the shops with him.
'We went to buy some bread and butter.
'It was the first time I touched him on that visit.
'And I was shocked at how fragile he was.
'How slowly he moved along.
'And as we went along,
'he with his blind son at his elbow...
'..I wondered what was going on in his mind
'but we didn't talk about it.
'I wish I'd known.
'I wish I did know.'
CHILDREN SING HAPPILY
It was a strange thing, John, wasn't it?
That Dad came from England and married an Australian girl,
and you were born in Australia and married an English girl.
-Yes, it's just that.
He's a good father, then.
'I remember she's sitting next to me, cuddling up quite close.
'"John," she said, "I have to come up close to you now
'"because there's no other way we can get in contact, is there?"
'I said, "Yes, Mother, but that's all right."
'Dear old Mother.
'What's it like for you?'
Where are you?
It's all right.
-Is she hurt?
-She shut her finger in the door.
'I remember taking her little hand.'
'Painful for the child but no harm done, really.'
That's a good girl. Try to stretch out your fingers a little bit.
It'll be fine, love.
'That was a frightening moment.
'The discovery that you're useless is not a nice discovery...
'..for any father to make.'
-You all right?
You just look a bit... Do you want some water?
I'm all right.
-..When will it come?
-When will what come?
The speaking bit.
We have to speak, darling.
Just like a telephone.
-Do you know what this is called?
It's called a tape recorder.
See that going round inside there?
It's making little records,
and your voice and my voice are on it.
Say, "Hello, hello, hello".
Hello, hello, hello.
RECORDER CLICKS OFF
RECORDED CLICKS ON
I knew that this was the first time I'd seen her.
I stared at her, full of wonder...
..taking in every detail of her face.
I thought, so this is her.
This is she.
These are those lovely luminous brown eyes.
This is that smile that they all talk about.
Everything went black again.
I was back in consciousness...
..and in blindness...
..and I realised with a shock...
..that it had been a dream.
I got sick of recording this one so I've stopped.
When I was last here,
many of my best-remembered places...
..were already fading.
..I expected Melbourne to be there.
That's stupid, isn't it?
Just move in. Just move in.
You want to take your kids and say,
"This is the beach we used to come to.
"That's the place where we used to play footy.
"This is the school I went to."
But there was nothing there.
Just people's hands and voices.
The feel of the car on the road.
The wind, of course.
Walking along somewhere, never quite knew where.
That's really all there was.
I didn't somehow expect it.
I didn't anticipate that.
I don't know why.
CAMERA SHUTTER CLICKS
Come along. What are you doing?
The house itself...
What was it like?
Where did I sleep?
I can't remember much.
This is too difficult.
I don't remember.
Isn't that strange?
Oh, I just don't remember.
'It was exactly that moment.
'The world is lost.
'And it wasn't just the Melbourne I knew that was lost.
'I myself was lost.
'I began to be terribly afraid...
'..that something would be broken between us
'which could not be healed.
'That you were disappearing into a world where I could not follow.'
Everything was just tumbling down.
We knew we wouldn't go back, didn't we?
We will never do this again.
I have returned home with a feeling of immense relief.
To be again in a familiar house, surrounded by familiar objects...
..to have in my mind a mental picture of the environment
in the streets and city around me
is like having the world restored to me again.
..one! Here I come, ready or not.
Now, let me see.
'Never have I done the washing up with such happiness.
'I got up this morning and made Marilyn a cup of tea...
'..feeling so grateful...
'..that I could move freely, that I knew where things were,
'that I could act.'
Is he behind the curtain?
No, not there, either.
'That I was coming out of that shadow land of passivity...'
Where could he be?
'..into personal action and life again.'
September 22nd 1985.
I love the thrill of him...
..the way I can slightly sense when he's looking at me now.
I also like feeling his little nose and holding one foot.
I love holding his little hands and putting my own hand
on the warmth of his head.
The feel of him as I have him over my shoulder.
It's seven o'clock and time for Radio 8 and here's your host,
It will be drizzly today with occasional intervals of sun.
Later on in the day...
Two or three times this week I have taken Thomas to school.
Perhaps I'd say, he has taken me.
And he is getting quite good at guiding me, although unreliable.
Right, let's have a look at you.
'We also have a way of saying goodbye
'which is the equivalent of waving.
'As he runs off through the playground he shouts out "bye".'
'And I shout "bye".'
'And we keep up this echoing chorus
'until his voice becomes faint.'
'I love this.'
I had said to myself that I would learn to live with blindness
but I would never accept it.
Now I find that there's been a strange kind of change
in the state of my brain.
It's as if now, being denied the stimulus of the outside world,
the thing has turned in upon itself
in order to find inner resources.
Occasionally I go home in the evening and I feel as if my mind
is almost blown with new ideas and new horizons.
I find myself connecting more, remembering more,
making more links in my mind between the various things I've read
and learned all my life.
I now feel clearer, more excited, more adventurous,
more confident intellectually than I've ever felt in my life.
There is something so totally purging about blindness
that one either is destroyed or renewed.
Your consciousness is evacuated.
Your past memories, your interests,
your perception of time.
The world itself.
One must recreate one's life.
In my case, fortunately,
I had a central core around which to recreate it.
That was my good fortune.
ORGAN MUSIC PLAYS
You all right there, John?
-Anything I can help you with?
-No, I'm fine.
ORGAN MUSIC SWELLS
The whole place was just throbbing.
You know, you could feel the pews vibrating with it.
Suddenly I had the most intense feeling...
..that God was approaching me.
And I just had this vivid, vivid sense
of the divine presence.
Now, He'd come
sort of swooping in
from some great business he'd been up to, intergalactically!
That's ridiculous, darling!
Well, you know, that's how it seemed.
He had made a special visit.
And He threw a dark cloak over me.
..the most remarkable thing was...
..that He didn't...He couldn't leave.
He was there, just waiting.
And I said, "I'll be fine.
"Don't worry about me."
And in that pause I had a sense...
..of such grace...
..and I thought, that's it.
It's a gift.
It's not a gift I want.
It's not a gift that I want my children to have.
But it is a gift.
So the question is...
..not why have I got it, but what can I do with it?
This BAFTA-nominated film is a moving and inspiring account of loss, rebirth and renewal - and the discovery of 'a world beyond sight'. In 1983, after decades of steady deterioration, John Hull, a professor at the University of Birmingham, became totally blind. To help him make sense of the upheaval in his life, he began documenting his experiences on audio cassette. Over three years he recorded over sixteen hours of material. This beautifully crafted documentary takes John's original recordings as the template for the film, incorporating lip-syncing by actors in evocative reconstructions. The technique allows the viewer to immerse themselves in John's world as he comes to terms with his deteriorating sight, and learns to experience the world in different ways. As John explains about his redemptive journey: "I knew that if I didn't understand blindness, it would destroy me." A Storyville documentary that is available in two versions, with audio description or with a heightened soundtrack. This audio described version is read by Stephen Mangan and aims to provide blind and partially sighted audiences with an alternative to the standard AD track. The heightened soundtrack uses more original narration from John and Marilyn, with extra sound design and music, to guide the audience through the story of how John coped with his sight loss.