Seeing the world with spoken words
Volunteers not only strengthen communities, but they can also learn a lot about themselves in unexpected ways.
For Yumi Takano, a third year student at Waseda University’s School of Sport Sciences, volunteering as a guide runner for the blind became an eye-opening experience. As part of the club’s requirement, Takano and a few of the members from her football club attended a guide run event, which takes place about three times a month at Yoyogi Park, and participated as guide runners on April 30.
“At first, I was not so enthusiastic about it,” Takano reflects, “and also worried that the visually impaired runners would not accept a group of students who were there involuntarily.”
However, her initial thoughts changed quickly when the students introduced themselves. The runners were excited to hear that their guide runners were from Waseda and gave them a warm welcome. Even before they started running, everyone naturally hit it off.
What Takano remembers most from this experience was a conversation she had with Masako, an elderly woman whom she ran together with.
“When I told her that I was a third year student, she said, ‘Oh, then you must have attended the Coming-of-Age Ceremony! Can I see pictures of you from the ceremony?’ I was quite surprised because I didn’t expect someone with visual impairment to ask me if they could see a picture of me. As I showed her a picture of myself in the traditional furisode costume, she listened to my story with a big smile on her face.”
After this experience, Takano realized that people with visual impairments are able to see the world through their imaginations, based on details they hear about.
“My parents are nurses working in the psychiatric department, and they listen to patients with all kinds of disabilities all the time. Because of this, I’d thought I had a comparatively better understanding for people with disabilities and had no prejudice, but I discovered that even I had biases.”
Noticing that something changed inside her after this mind-sweeping discovery held very significant meaning for Takano. Aside from Masako, Takano also spoke with Wanchan (nickname). Though they did not run together, Wanchan was someone who was also able to see through imagination.
“Wanchan-san loves baseball and is a huge Yomiuri Giants fan. She talked about how this player is good looking or how that player makes fine plays. Even though she is unable to see physically, she can visualize the baseball games in her mind based on what she hears from the radio.”
Though not every person with visual impairment may share this way of thinking, learning that some people are able to see things through their imaginations was enlightening for Takano.
“The way I will interact with someone who is blind has definitely changed. Instead of thinking, ‘I don’t know what to talk about,’ I will talk about the scenery, baseball, and things I usually talk about with my friends in daily life because now I know that they are interested in seeing the world I see through their imaginations. Also, this is only a guess, but visually impaired people who actively participate in volunteer activities such as guide running are people who can visualize the world from what they hear.”