A still shot from the movie with one seeing woman leading a train of blind people behind her

A still shot from the movie with one blond, seeing woman leading a train of about 7 blind people behind her through cars parked haphazardly on a street. The people she leads seem to be walking with a hand on each others shoulder, or else by holding hands. One child has his eyes shut but the others have open, unfocused eyes. The image is overexposed, making colours look pale and washed out.

What happens when an epidemic makes people turn blind suddenly in the middle of their everyday lives? Well, you lock them up in an abandoned mental institution, tell them to distribute rations as they see fit, and a “Lord of the Flies” situation ensues (because blindness makes you lose your sense of humanity, perhaps) until, of course, the one person who can see infiltrates the blind exiles and saves them!

The promo page has a video and written synopsis. The video is audio-visual, no captions, but the synopsis below it roughly explicates what happens in the images. The official website (called Blindness- this fall, our vision of the world will change forever) is rife with bad jokes- you can choose to “see more” to go on to other pages, or “spread blindness”(!) to email it to your friends. The images are harsh and white, fogging in and out with overexposed photographs. The Guardian offers some more written review. I get that it’s supposed to be a horror movie, and no doubt widespread, sudden blindness would be horrible. But I wonder about how people feel about the fact that they require a seeing person to save them.


9 thoughts on “Blindness

  1. My immediate response to the question, “But I wonder about how people feel about the fact that they require a seeing person to save them” is a reformulation of an old adage. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man isn’t king; he’s a freak. While I it is true that I have to have a sighted person read your blog and then post my response, this speaks more to societal discrimination – societal constructs that impede certain groups of people’s ability to act – than it does my ability to do anything.

    Like this website, society chooses to exclude more people than it includes (Blind people just being one group in a whole host of “the unwanted”). This site’s designers could have, for example, chosen to make the text you see on your screen actual text code (instead of an image) and this would allow screen readers (the software some Blind people use to navigate around the internet and various software) to negotiate the site. They didn’t. Publishers could choose to provide all books, magazines, etc. available for sale in electronic format (the format that these texts are already in BEFORE they go to press) rather than just a handful of selected popular novels in, usually, abridged form. Society could insist that all children are literate rather just those that are sighted and/or are fortunate enough to go to schools with teachers who teach and have well equipped facilities. Society chooses otherwise. These are just a few examples of the host of ways that I and others are excluded from society and, therefore, impaired by something outside of ourselves, our bodies, our abilities. To put it another way, in the land of the blind, me and mine wouldn’t need “saving” but you might.

  2. Hi there, ctyjewski- thanks for your response! I think what you picked up on here, that the seeing person would be “a freak” is picked up on by the movie, in that the sighted person hides the fact that she can see in her attempt to “save” the others.
    As far as the technical designers of this websites choices go (hi that’s me *smiles*) we’ve been interested from day one in making this site as accessible/ useful/ interesting as possible. Since we’ve had people with a variety of physical impairments on the team since early on, we’ve been working with them to balance their accessibility needs. We’ve not been told of problems with screen readers (although I think we have people who have managed to use them without trouble) but we currently have the resourceful Shelley Tremain working on finding out more. Please contact me if you’re interested in giving guidance as to how to make this site more inclusive at I really hope to hear from you! Thanks for your feedback.

  3. Carolyn,
    hi, this is Shelley. I’m glad you posted here and offered these suggestions. Perhaps you could offer some of the information about screenreaders that you sent this morning to the Disability Studies in the Humanities discussion list in response to my query there.

    I hope you will accept Virtualjess’s request that you contact her in order to give some advice and guidance about how to make this blog more accessible for you and other blind theorists and activists.

  4. Just to follow up on Jess’s comment: I have had several reports from blind users that the blog is “surprisingly accessible” and that blogging itself here has proven to be “much easier” than was anticipated. True, we didn’t sit down and run tests with a range of people who are variously dis/abled, but we work with what we have to get to where we want to be. If there are magic bullet solutions, or just further suggestions to increase accessibility, pass them on. Flagging a problem is a start, but more detailed direction will help take us beyond that. Knowing what other than pictures on the site pose a problem would be good.

    And I’d be curious to know how one would do the calculation to justify the claim that Carolyn makes that “Like this website, society chooses to exclude more people than it includes”. Ouch.

  5. I’m going to offer some information that I have culled from a couple of responses to a query on this matter that I received from members of the Disability Studies in the Humanities discussion list. I encourage anyone interested and informed about screenreaders to supplement this information and/or correct me if I have misunderstood it.

    First, all screenreaders do not work in the same way. This could explain why Spirit of the Time has received good feedback about the blog from some users of screenreaders, while Carolyn finds the accessibility of the blog rather dismal. As I understand it, the “basics” are the same for all screenreaders, but some have capabilities that others do not, which has to do with the software operates. In short, there is no uniform code used by the software industry.

    Second (maybe everyone else who uses the internet already knows this, I didn’t) what looks like “text” to a sighted person is not “text” on the internet (it’s coded as a picture to put it in straightforward terms) and sometimes cannot be read by a screenreader because of this.

    In response to a question I posed with regard to Virtualjess’s attempts thus far to provide accompanying textual description … it would seem that these have not been done in a way that is useful to screenreaders because the text that provided has been made part of the image frame itself. One member of the list suggested that titles of books should be provided in the form of an “alt text” tag.


  6. I won’t comment on the accessibility of this blog because I did that already in response to Shelley’s earlier post, but I would like to say a few things about “Blindness”.

    I heard about this movie a year or so ago, and when I learned that it was based on a book by a Nobel-prize-winning author, Jose Saramago, I began looking for an accessible copy of the book. I found one and read it a few months back. My comments are based on the book rather than the movie, which I understand did not do very well at the Cannes Film Festival.

    While reading the book, I felt very conflicted as a blind person. The depictions of blind people are quite horrendous. The blind people are often said to resemble animals, blindness is said to be a fate worse than death, and the blind people are described as utterly incapable of managing even the simplest of tasks like shaving and washing clothes.

    At the same time, I think that Saramago isn’t describing blind people; he is talking about sighted people who have suddenly lost their sight. There is a great deal of training that is required to live successfully as a blind person. This is training that none of the characters receive. So I think there may be some truth to the suggestion that very simple tasks would be difficult for someone suddenly blinded. I fear, however, that those who watch the movie or read the book will not attribute the incompetence to a lack of training, but a lack of sight. This will only perpetuate stereotypes of blind people as incapable of functioning independently, as exemplified by the tremendous reliance on the sole sighted character.

    The last point I want to make concerns the loss of a sense of humanity referenced by Virtual Jess in her original post. I suspect the point Saramago is trying to make is not that losing your sight causes a loss of your humanity, but that the inability for anyone around you to see what you are doing makes you feel free to act in ways that you otherwise would not. I think we all act differently when we are alone, or when we think we’re alone, then we do when we are in the company of others. Saramago seems to suggest that our maintaining certain standards of decency rests on our disciplining ourselves under the gaze of others. Personally, I’m less concerned with table manners when eating alone, and I know that people are less inhibited about picking their noses and teeth in my presence then they would be in front of others, to cite some rather trivial examples of what I mean.

    “Blindness” was difficult for me to read, and I think any blind person who reads it has to have a pretty thick skin, but if you can get passed the animal analogies, the associations of blindness with death, and the depictions of blind people as helpless, Saramago does tell an interesting story and makes some interesting claims about the fragility of our codes of decency.

  7. Virtualjess,
    There are several websites that explain in great detail not only how screen readers work but how to make one’s website accessible. Of course, none are 100% effective because, as I noted on DS-HUM and Shelley (hi Shelley) reiterated here, screen readers are designed with specific software in mind. Because the industry does not enforce a standard coding system, every program is designed differently. This creates a problem when designing software to read the software (as it were) because, if Screen Reader A is designed with MS Word, Adobe and Excel in mind and the user is working with Word Perfect, Access and Power Point, the screen reader may work ineffectively or not at all. Same thing goes for website design – just because JAWS works does not mean Window Eyes will (or any of the other less popular products).
    Having said that, here are two sites you should look at:
    This is the CAST –Centre for Applied Special Technology – website. They are best known for “Bobby approval” ratings and are a good first stop to begin making your site accessible. But as anyone who knows anything about this stuff will tell you, “Bobby” isn’t W3C (close but not quite). After you’ve run Bobby, I would go to the following website and clean up what Bobby tends to miss.
    This is the W3C Markup Validation Service. Again, it is a non-profit site designed to help web designers meet World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards.
    Doing this should change those “surprisingly accessible” comments – which aren’t a commentary on how accessible the site is but rather how inaccessible other blog sites are (the difference between running behind the proverbial bus and getting to sit in the back of it).

  8. Caroyln,
    thanks very much for taking the time to supply this information. I’m sure that VirtualJess and the others who administer the blog will find it quite helpful.

    I hope you’ll stick around and comment on posts here from time to time.

  9. Shelley,

    Not a problem — a minute to yahoo searching “screen reader, web design and accessibility” was all it took.

    Anyhooo, back to dissertating….

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