Visual things people take for granted

The thoughts for this post have been growing for a while, and they started from a much narrower point of view, but it kept growing while writing. Visual things people take for granted… as there are so many.

Lots of these things are actually interpersonal. It’s been a big surprise to discover that for instance all the psychology books I’ve read (as in, listened) so far have always been written from sighted perspective. Sighted, hearing, and nonautistic perspective. Humans are usually really visual, I get it. But there seems to be just too much focus on what things look like. Facial expressions, body language, judging people’s psychological statuses from visual cues etc. Eye contact. All those things. Where are all the books about (positive) psychology where the focus is for people who have a visual impairment? I can’t think of a single one. Definitely searching for those.

I learned about body language and facial expressions from books, then applied what I had studied to practice and it used to work pretty well while visual cues worked. And applying it to less visuals and to of course adjust it to all the different countries adds some extras. I don’t think I ever paid that much attention to the emotional tones of peoples’ voices when I didn’t have to rely on those. I thought using emotional voices was something some people did to highlight their personality, and what others did because they were weak and unable to control their emotional statuses and to keep it all inside. I still view the emotional expressiveness of speaking voice as optional, but a big part of learning about that has come the hard way. People expect others to use certain emotional expressiveness when they talk, and that expressiveness depends on the person’s culture, sex and gender, age and situation, and language. In USA women are expected to have more emotional expressiveness in their voice, or it can be misinterpreted as a problem. (“Depressed”, just because a person with femaleness does not use female-neurotypical speach patterns and intonations). Men don’t have to; they can sound professional. Still searching my ways around interpreting peoples’s voices for getting all the same information others get from voice…

I guess those who always had a good sight just learn to interpret facial expressions naturally. Babies like to look at things, and adults close to them like to do weird overly emotional faces and smiles at them. Mirror those and learn, I imagine. Kind of facial expression version of the usual baby babble sounds (gägä, dädä, gugu etc) that their parents (and maybe others with experience in baby language) seem to understand. I imagine not having enough adult attention at a young age to help with those facial practices will carry some difficulties in later expressiveness and interpretations. As will not being able to see enough detail. And so at a young age the expressiveness of a language and culture will be trained and imprinted on the child. Some cultures have much more expressiveness, some like blankface, and some seem to be open only to expressiveness within family. Whatever you grow into is the natural, and rarely gets questioned later. Unless you move to a very different country, or can’t use your face to express as much as others, or can’t see.

People seem to use facial expressions fairly often and often even naturally. Of course there are exceptions such as when someone works in a customer facing environment, so they are required to use a certain emotional range on their face and in their voice. But on free time and with friends or family I imagine the expressiveness should be pretty natural and not so judgemental. So you just… use facial expressions on your face, and can see and interpret others’ expressions naturally? That sounds nice.

I imagine a part of that expressiveness can be trained. As many Deaf people seem very expressive, and I’ve heard facial expressions are part of sign language’s use and even grammar. I’m still marveling at the thought someone can see a person’s face AND hands on the same time they are speaking…

Eye contact or variations of typical eye contact in a given culture are another relevant thing. You are supposed to use the eye contact dance correctly; use a correct amount, when speaking to or listening to someone. Then look away a certain percentage of time, and if can’t comfortably look at the eyes, stare at some random spot on their face. While still applying the facial expression rules too, so if the person does some face, acknowledge and usually mirror it. Avoiding eye contact or the inability to do it, e.g. because blind or lack of central vision or having nystagmus, seems to make quite a few Americans uncomfortable. Sunglasses can add another layer of discomfort, if worn inside. Or sunglasses with mirror surface even worn outside. The other person usually expects to be able to see the eyes behind the shades, and some people can act quite weird or rude when they can’t see your eyes. Even if the usability to you of being able to look at anything is low to zero, or there is a huge eye discomfort thing from bright lights etc.

Being able to recognize people from looks is another thing usually taken for granted. When you can’t recognize people you meet frequently from their looks, unless you are a white cane or guide dog user, can bring a whole big set of problems. There is a fancy word for faceblindness: prosopagnosia. Meaning that everyone looks pretty much the same. A face is a face is a face. Just like when you read a book, a letter e is a letter e and you can’t tell what typeface or font they use in what you are reading. In people that means relying on other features to recognize the ones you meet frequently – like their hair or clothes. But people have haircuts and dye their hair, and change their dressing styles. Or wear or don’t wear makeup, or walk differently in high heels than running shoes. Body language and all the small things a person does to interact with the world around them can help in figuring out who is who. And you can then recognize your coworkers or neighbors when you meet in the grocery store. Sometimes.

Or some learn to rely on the voice. Recognize the people from their normal voice. Learning to recognize a person from voice will also take quite some time, unless the person has a very unique voice. In an event or location it’ll be easier as you only have to recognize five or twenty voices to tell who is who. But have someone like a neighbor who you have talked a few times only run into you in grocery store? Close to impossible, unless their voice use or accent is that different. Guess how embarrassing it can be when people frequently recognize you and you have no clue who they are? Warning people about the poor facial recognition or asking others if you’ve met can only go so far. “Have we met?” can be a very open possibility when two face or regular blind meet.

Those are the biggest interpersonal visual things.

Then there are plenty of others that are more of things than people.

The ability to read print is a huge one. When you buy food or cosmetics or read a menu to order something. Or have to fill in a paper for an order or questionnaire or medical consent forms etc. Or figure if that bottle is for sleeping pills or for something you need in the morning. Or if that carton is almond milk or egg whites. There’s print everywhere. For a reduced ability to read print there a lot of workarounds though, such as having a clue what something is supposed to look like. Maybe the almond milk comes in a light brown carton and the egg whites in a blue one. Or the sleeping pills might be small and white but the morning pills could be of a different color, size or shape. And on the same time the other senses learn to be used too. Have a smell to figure what is in that bottle before you pour it in the coffee. Taste a small amount of that white stuff to test if it’s salt or sugar and so on.

The ability to recognize places, things and where you are from visual cues. Crossing a road by foot without having to guess if it’s green for you without a wild guess and intense observation of contextual cues of traffic patterns and when cars are stopped in which direction. The lovely ease of not having to search for a door in glass building, or not having to feel like an idiot when you’re standing in the middle of the room because you thought you were by the wall “over there” where you were asked to go.

Not having to have a system for locations and organization systems for everything has to be nice. When there is less reliance of eye input there will have to be other methods. How can you tell which of the bottles in the shower is a shampoo, and which ones are the balsam and shower gel? The things will always be in the same order, and with either different shaped bottles or having additional cues like a thin or thick rubberband so you can tell which one is which. You won’t have to rememeber where everything is and in which order or how to walk there because you can just look at things. Must be nice.

Other things are much minor, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. They matter different amount to different people and situations, but to me less than to the average person I guess. Things like the ability to wear whichever shoes you want because you can easily see the ground. Or applying makeup. Or knowing what kind of things are fashionable this year, or if the colors and shades of your outfit will match.


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