Me? I read fanfic. I write resource guides.
Covert Affairs is what got me into fanfic in the first place - to get me through the 9-month hiatus after the first summer season's 11 episodes. I still love the show and watch every episode as it airs. The blindness resource guide below, originally created for Covert Affairs fans, is for anyone who wants to write a blind character realistically.
These days my fanfic time is usually devoted to House, M.D. and assorted Marvel fandoms, among others.
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Blindness Resource Guide for Fanfic Writers
Christopher Gorham does an *excellent* job of portraying a blind person realistically. He and the Covert Affairs writers make Auggie Anderson easily the most authentic, capable, and multidimensional blind character ever on TV. In preparation for this role, Chris, who is sighted, received training from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in the same skills taught to blind people - and it shows!
This resource guide is aimed at helping your fanfic-Auggie (or other blind characters in your fics) be as capable as Chris' Auggie, at least in the arena of normal blind-guy skills.
I hope you find this info useful in your writing and/or in your interactions with blind people. Please let me know if there is any other information I can help you find, or if you have any questions or suggestions. Feedback of all kinds is definitely welcome!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Tips for Fanfic Writers: Myths and Pitfalls - When you write a blind character in your fic, know the myths and facts.
2. How Blind People Do Things differently than sighted people (using blind skills), Chris Gorham shows you how it's done.
3. And now, geek out! Blind Tech Info - Cool technology tools using braille, speech synthesizers, and touch screens.
4. Braille - Where braille came from, how to learn it, how it's written, and fun braille stuff.
5. Sports and Recreation - Adaptations, blind-only sports, athletic programs for blinded veterans like Auggie.
6. Blinded Veterans and Blind Rehab - How soldiers become blind, and learn blind skills writings by blinded vets.
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1. TIPS FOR FANFIC WRITERS: MYTHS & PITFALLS
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Top 3 Pitfalls to Avoid when Writing a Blind Character:
1. To walk with a sighted guide, the blind person takes the SIGHTED person's arm - not the other way around. Otherwise, the blind person would feel yanked around and shoved through space by someone, without being able to get their bearings. For details on proper technique, see the links below. (In some countries it's called 'sighted lead' but in the USA we tend to call it 'sighted guide.') If the blind person is using their cane to navigate and a sighed friend wants to tag along, fine; the sighted person ca n hold onto the blind person for companionship/intimacy reasons. But that's not guiding. That's just walking together, while the blind person navigates on his/her own in the usual way.
2. Blind people do NOT have super senses. For a sighted person, 80-90% of your sensory information comes through vision, and information from your other senses is usually not as prominent unless you shift your focus to it. (Think about how many times you've had to close your eyes to focus on retrieving mental info, or to listen closely to something.) Blind people just learn how to pay close attention to information available through their other senses, and with practice, get good at understanding and acting on the world around them.
3. There's no problem with using terms like "see," "look," or "watch." Blind people speak English, too! If I say to a totally blind friend, "hey, come look at this," he understands that I anticipate him to use his hands to do so - that's what "look at" means - examine/observe. He also watches TV (yes, he's mostly listening, but that's not what we call it in English). It's perfectly normal for him to say "I haven't seen you in a long time, what have you been up to?" when he arrives, and "see you later" when he leaves. The first one simply refers visiting in person, and the second one means 'bye for now.' No big deal. Neither sighted nor blind people need to go out of their way to phrase things any differently.
More Misconceptions About Blind People:
Blind Myths: Shedding Light on Common Misperceptions /2011/05/blind-myths-shedding-light-on-common-misperceptions
Several Twitter users who are blind shared some of the faulty assumptions that sighted often have about blind people, especially situations in which otherwise well-meaning sighted people try to help them with things they can do themselves without assistance.
Tips for writing a Blind Character:
Blind Characters: A Process of Awareness /past_issues/issue9/essays/green.html
Essay written by a blind/low vision woman - advice on how to write a blind character. She apparently also has a related 73-page ebook (pdf) called "33 Mistakes Writers Make About Blind Characters," available for $9 at /books/3888.html
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2. HOW BLIND PEOPLE DO THINGS
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Sighted Guide Training /sighted-guide-training
An illustrated description of how to lead a blind person, and how the blind person grasps the guide. Learn it, know it, incorporate it into your stories.
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) /media/SeniorSite/Orientation_Overview_cap_
O&M = how a blind person knows where she is (orientation), and how she gets where she's going (mobility). This is a short clip showing what sighted guide and cane travel look like. Bonus: it has open captions for the deaf and audio description for the blind.
Video Clips on Blindness Tips youtube.com/wastschblnd
Students and Teachers at the Washington State School for the Blind demonstrate and explain various blind-skills, including cane travel, sighted guide, using an oven, pouring liquids, matching clothes, and more. Quick and informative.
All kinds of great info for blinded adults and their friends/families - coping skills, tips and explanations of how to do daily living activities differently, etc. I especially like VisionAWARE's page about labeling and marking - you can see an example of tactile marking on Chris Gorham's photo of Auggie's stove top (below). See also the section below called "Blinded Veterans and Blind Rehab."
Chris Gorham Shows You How It's Done:
'Covert Affairs' star Christopher Gorham talks Auggie's Tweetcast, torso, and tricks of the trade /2011/06/13/covert-affairs-christopher-gorham
Goes into depth about the technical aspects of how Chris plays a blind character. Chris tweeted that this was one of his all-time favorite interviews/articles.
The 'All Auggie, All the Time' Playlist youtube.com/user/AbiNoelCarter#grid/user/B787A569252FEDFA
Every episode of Covert Affairs - but just the Auggie scenes! :) :) :) Chris Gorham got some intensive blind-skills training at Canadian National Institute for the Blind for this role, so pay attention to what his hands are doing. Chris/Auggie has great white cane skills and indoor/non-cane navigation skills. Auggie's laser cane is not something available today - some laser cane products exist but have not caught on, probably since a regular cane is so practical.
Follow Chris on Twitter and Facebook
Chris is a really nice, witty guy who often interacts directly with fans online. If you haven't already, check out @Chris_Gorham on Twitter. He also posts on his Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Christopher-Gorham-Fan-Page/144454995573887. Chris always lets folks know via Twitter when he has updated his Facebook page, so you won't miss anything. And yes, that really is Chris doing his own Twitter and Facebook posting, not some hired PR person. What a mensch! :)
Chris' Photos of Auggie's Apartment
This may inspire some details in your fanfic... Just after the season 1 finale aired, Chris posted these pictures from the set of Auggie's apartment:
- Braille wall art that says "love love" /s/44933221
- Auggie's sound system /s/44963223
- Hanging speaker /s/44964576
- Kitchen and light fixture /s/44978869
- Adapted cook top /s/44986318
- Auggie's nuts. What? /s/45009962
- Bedroom /s/45102918
- Toilet /s/45121941
- Bathroom sink and mirror /s/45131100
- Pull up bar /s/45137982
- Shower /s/45146100
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3. AND NOW, GEEK OUT! - BLIND TECH INFO
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Braille Output and Speech Output Technologies:
Auggie's line of braille output below his keyboard is not new technology. Blind people have been using portable braille devices (comparable in function to the PDAs and ebook readers that sighted people use today) for since the 1980s, because braille that is embossed on paper takes up so much space, and is unwieldy to carry around. For example, one issue of a print magazine is typically more than one volume in braille.
Refreshable Braille Display /wiki/Refreshable_Braille_display
Allows users to access everything on the regular computer monitor, but in braille format.
Auggie's Braille Display Devices /post/6171021300/auggies-braille-peripherals-a-comparison
Screencaps and descriptions of Auggie's devices, with links to the manufacturer's product pages that have more pictures and video clips. In season 1 he uses an Optelec ALVA Satellite Pro. It's the purple thing situated beneath his standard QWERTY keyboard on his desk at work. Based on a season 2 preview clip, it seems Auggie will use a braille display device called the Optelec ALVA BC640 Braille Controller, a hybrid between a desktop refreshable braille display and a braille notetaker/PDA.
Braille Notetakers (PDAs) /page/BrailleNotetakers
A portable, self-contained device with a Perkins Brailler-style braille keyboard or QWERTY keyboard, and refreshable braille and speech output. These devices have tons of functions, such as word processing, email/internet access, calculator, calendar, mp3 playback, and even GPS. They can connect to other devices such as printers, braille embossers, certain cell phones, etc. They can also serve as a refreshable braille display for your computer. Blind people have used this type of technology since the mid 1980s, well before PDAs for sighted people went mainstream. Braille embossed on paper is quite bulky, so portable braille data storage lets you carry vast amounts of info with you in braille.
Screen reader software /wiki/Screen_reader
When Auggie uses his headphones for "real-time feedback when typing," he's using his screen reader software to hear a synthesized voice like the one in the clip above. The user can choose the speed, pitch, gender, etc., of the voice, and though keyboard commands, have the computer voice each letter or word, jump to the next paragraph, etc. Screen reader software can also provide braille output if the computer is connected to a refreshable braille display. So when Auggie is typing, instead of watching the screen to check for typos, he can listen to the voice output and/or read it back over in braille.
Optical Scanners and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Software /dbs/assistive-technology/OCR.php
Blind people can even use technology to make hard-copy printed materials accessible. In the season 1 episode where Auggie is assigned to help soldiers from his old unit, he mentions to Joan that his computer setup has an embedded document reader. This means use of a scanner and optical character recognition software that converts a scanned image of printed words into a text format that is readable (aloud, or in braille) via screen reader.
Accessible timepieces /low_vision/clocks-and-watches.htm
Braille and speech output are also built into many types of clocks and watches. To read braille watches, you lift the lid to touch the time. On talking timepieces, you press a button to hear the time.
Accessible Touchscreen Devices:
Notice when Auggie leaves his cell phone behind to go off-grid with Tash, it is a touchscreen phone. Seems odd, since most blind-accessible technologies have physical buttons that are easy to find by touch. In season 2, Auggie uses and iphone.
Apple's touchscreen devices have become very popular with blind consumers. It's interesting that the first truly accessible smart phone is made by Apple, since traditionally, blind-accessible software and equipment has tended to run on a Windows/DOS/PC platform, which has historically been less graphics-based than Apple's OS.
Screen reader software that is built into the operating systems of all current Mac OS X laptops and iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). Blind users can use specific touch gestures to navigate the screen, open apps, and so on.
AccessWorld June 2011 Issue on Cell Phone Accessibility /afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw1206toc
"If you're looking for a cell phone that is completely accessible "out of the box," good luck. At this moment, AccessWorld is aware of two—that's right, two—cell phones that provide built-in speech output support for all the phones' features. Those two phones are the Haven, a clamshell-style feature phone offered by Verizon Wireless, and the iPhone, offered by Verizon Wireless and AT&T. In the rest of the cell phone market, many models do not offer the ability to adjust display font size or to use speech output at all. Others offer adjustable display fonts and partial speech output. However you look at it, real built-in cell phone accessibility is hard to come by."
How blind people use their iPhones:
My First Week with the iPhone /2010/06/12/my-first-week-with-the-iphone
In this blog entry, a blind man presents his initial review of the iPhone, and describes how the iPhone changed his life in 24 hours.
Refreshable Braille with iPhone 4 tutorial /wp/refreshable-braille-display-iphone-4g.html
In this video clip, Victor Tsaran of the Yahoo! Accessibility Lab demonstrates how to use a refreshable braille display to drive the iPhone.
Blind-Accessibe iPhone Features /accessibility/iphone/vision.html
Informative page that includes a video demonstrating how to use touch gestures (tap, double tap, swype, flick).
iPhone App Reviews on the "All with My iPhone" podcast
The iPhone has become very popular among blind consumers, because there are many iPhone/iPad apps that are designed to allow blind people to accomplish tasks and access environmental information without having to depend on a sighted person. For example, some apps let you use the phone's camera to identify colors, identify the value of paper currency ($1, $5, $10, $20, etc.; the USA is pretty much the only developed nation without tactile markings on its paper currency), or learn about the constellations in the sky above you.
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Why to drive-through ATM machines have braille on them? Because blind people who are passengers, or who walk up to the ATM machine, need to be able to use it independently. Would you trust a cab driver with your pin number? I think not. Many ATMs also have a headphone jack and audio output of what's on the screen.
History of Braille:
Helen Keller could read all of the tactile codes of her time, but she advocated for braille to become the standard. Today, braille is used in every country, and in practically every language in the world.
A Brief History of Tactile Writing Systems /seehear/spring06/history.htm
A detailed article, with photos of many forms of tactile writing.
2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar /mint_programs/commemoratives/index.cfm?action=2009louisbraille
How to Learn Braille:
All About Braille /all_about_braille
Basic overview, and info about how newly-blinded adults learn braille.
Braille Bug /braillebug
A fun site designed to teach sighted kids about braille, Louis Braille and Helen Keller. Teaches the braille alphabet through online games and riddles. Also available from this web site: "The Braille Trail," a very well-designed 44-page activity book, with a braille alphabet card, 2 sheets of embossed braille with secret messages, and stylus for writing real braille. The accompanying teacher's guide is excellent.
Become a braille transcriber /nfb/Braille_Certification.asp
Free courses that lead to braille transcriber certification. Use free Perky Duck software and email in your lessons, or you can use braille equipment to emboss your lessons ad mail them in. There are 3 courses on American braille systems: literary, math notation, music notation.
Modern Braille Codes:
World Braille Usage /images/0008/000872/087242EB.pdf
Shows the language-specific braille alphabets and lists braille-related organizations from countries around the world. Published by Unesco in 1990. Free pdf download.
Braille Authority of North America
Free downloads of the official code books and rules for literary, math/science, music, computer, refreshable linear, and International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) braille codes.
Pharmaceutical Braille /pharmaceutical-braille/index.htm
Package labeling in braille has been mandated by law in the European Union since 2005. (Even though the USA has had the Americans with Disabilities Act since 1990, we do not have this mandate!).
How Braille is Produced:
(listed in order from low tech to high tech)
A quick overview of manual and electronic braille production technologies. /braillebug/braille_technology.asp
Slate and Stylus /wiki/Slate_and_stylus
Simple equipment used for writing braille by hand, one dot at a time. Proficient users do this very quickly.
Perkins Brailler /museum/braillewriters/27.html
The most widely used manual braillewriter today, it has been the standard for many decades, all over the world.
- Video about the history of the Perkins Brailler (It's the first video in a series about how to repair the Perkins Brailler, but this part focuses on its history and use around the world.) youtube.com/watch?v=Ax6nFETiJxo
- Video of kids using Perkins Braillers to compete in the annual National Braille Challenge. youtube.com/watch?v=rYH8TWinrNQ
Computer Braille Embossers /store/page9.html
These are "braille printers" that print out your computer documents in tactile braille.
A web-based service that provides access to thousands of braille books, magazines, and music scores produced by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress. Web-Braille files may be read via a refreshable braille device or downloaded for embossing.
Fun Braille Stuff:
Braille and Tactile Accessible Games
Many popular card games and board games have been adapted into braille versions. Examples: regular playing cards, UNO, Skip-bo, bingo cards, Scrabble, Monopoly, and board-style adaptations of games like sudoku and crosswords. Some games are easily made tactile without needing braille, such as checkers, chess, Connect Four, dominoes, tic-tac-toe, Othello. You can even make a blind-accessible Rubik's Cube, with a different texture for each color, such as sand paper, hard or soft velcro, slick stickers, and so on.
Examples of accessible toys and games, mostly mass-market products. /categories/171/Recreational/Fun.html
More toys and games, including some nice wood-crafted items. /view.php?C=ToysandGames
Darediva Designs /shop/daredivadesigns
Specializing in hand-embossed braille jewelry and custom made pieces.
Nancy's Gift Corner /nancys_gift_corner
A list of suggested blind-friendly gift items, with photos, descriptions, and links to vendors.
Braille on Flickr /photos/tags/braille
Braille sightings from around the world! Turns out Flickr users love to photograph braille - fun with patterns, textures, light and shadow.
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5. SPORTS AND RECREATION
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Blind Sports and Athletes:
Clearly Auggie works out a lot and has a lot of combat/martial arts training. Blind people can do almost any type of sport, with some simple adaptations.
You name it, and there's probably a way for blind people to do it. Blind people even compete in official sporting events in Shooting /eng/deportes/shooting/presentacion.htm and Archery /index.php/sports/sports-adaptations/#Archery.
Some sports like swimming, martial arts, wrestling, and weightlifting can be done independently without having to adapt much. Other sporting activities, such as running, cycling, skiing and skydiving, can be done in tandem with a sighted person.
There are also some official blind sports that were designed (or adapted) by and for blind players. If sighted or partially sighted people want to play, they have to wear a blindfold.
Goalball is a highly competitive sport played three-against-three, indoors on a gym floor--primarily by blind and visually impaired athletes. It's played from the local school-gym level on up to the Paralympics, 'Team USA' level Internationally. The object is to roll a three-pound Goalball, which is sort of like a heavy basketball with bells in it sounding a bit like Christmas jingle bells, past the opposing team without them stopping it. It's their job to block that ball with their bodies. The players use cord or thin rope taped to the floor, or other similar tactile markings, to orient themselves as to where they are on the court.
- Video about how goalball is played youtube.com/watch?v=fZF787oSmV0
Showdown is a fast-moving sport originally designed for people with a visual impairment, but you don't have to be blind to play (you can wear a blindfold)! It's a table game a little like ping-pong, but without courts marked on the table. Therefore points are scored by hitting the ball into a goal pocket. It's fast-paced and looks like a really fun sport.
- Video of how showdown is played youtube.com/watch?v=jM5-jKdsVr4
Beep baseball is played on a grass field with 6 fielders and 1 or 2 "spotters" from one team, and the pitcher, catcher, and batter from the other team. Fielders and batter are blindfolded. There is also a D.H. and D.F. (designated fielder). They must also be legally blind in most cases. Catcher, pitcher, and spotters do not wear blindfolds and are usually sighted, although there have been a few who are partially blind. The ball beeps and is a modified, and oversized, softball. The bases are blue, nearly 5 feet tall, and have mostly foam interior with the electronics that cause it to buzz steadily when a switch is thrown.
- Video of how beep baseball is played youtube.com/watch?v=ZNXqN_QVmpk
Blind Cricket /wiki/Blind_cricket
Blind cricket, played in many British Commonwealth countries, is a version of the sport of cricket adapted for blind and partially sighted players. The ball is significantly larger than a standard cricket ball and filled with ball bearings. The size allows partially sighted players to see the ball and the contents allow blind players to hear it. The wicket (stumps) is also larger, to allow partially sighted players to see and blind players to touch it in order to correctly orient themselves when batting or bowling. Various other modifications to the rules apply. Verbal signals are widely used both by umpires and players: in particular, the bowler must shout 'Play!' as he releases the ball.
- Video of how blind cricket is played youtube.com/watch?v=B080ZE3EwR8
Carroll Center for the Blind - Recreation Programs /services/recreation
The Outdoor Enrichment Program and the SailBlind Program provide opportunities to experience the challenge and rewards available in the outdoor natural environment. Blind Sailing International (), headquartered at the Carroll Center, is the governing body for competitive blind sailing worldwide.
United States Association of Blind Athletes
USABA is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization that provides life-enriching sports opportunities for every individual with a visual impairment. A member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USABA provides athletic opportunities in various sports including, but not limited to track and field, nordic and alpine skiing, biathlon, judo, wrestling, swimming, tandem cycling, powerlifting and goalball.
International Blind Sports Federation /eng
A nonprofit organization, and member of the International Paralympic Committee. Promotes and regulates sports for the blind and visually impaired at international level, and organizes competitions and sporting events at the national, continental, and world levels.
Official Paralympic events that blind people compete in. /sports/sports-by-physical-disability-group
Sports programs for blinded veterans:
There are a number of sports programs designed to help blinded veterans like Auggie remain athletic and gain confidence as they adjust to blindness.
Operation Mission Vision /index.php/military-sport-program/mission-vision
The goal of Operation Mission Vision is simply to bring normalcy back into the lives of those Veterans and active duty Service members who are blind and visually impaired and to accelerate their rehabilitation process through sport, recreation and physical activity.
Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project /programs-wwdsp-about.html
Forty-one years of experience has shown early intervention with active sports results in successful rehabilitation, leading to employment. The “Wounded Warriors” and their family members are provided these opportunities free of charge, including transportation, lodging, adaptive equipment and individualized instruction in over a dozen different winter and summer sports.
USOC Paralympic Military Program /usoc-paralympic-military-program
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6. BLINDED VETERANS AND BLIND REHAB
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Injuries Causing Blindness:
What was the medical cause of Auggie's blindness? We know he was injured in an explosion while he was serving in Iraq, but the medical details have not been provided. There are a lot of variables here in terms of injury sites and etiologies.
Blast injuries (from an explosion), and complications such as swelling or clotting, can cause permanent physical damage to the visual system: eyeballs, retinas, optic nerves, optic chiasm and nerve pathways, and the occipital lobes at the back of the brain. /wiki/Visual_system
Different injury sites lead to damage to different parts of the visual field. For example, one cause total blindness in an eye is damage to that eye's optic nerve, before it reaches the optic chiasm. The vision of each eye can be impaired by differing types of damage, though certain types of injuries may affect vision in both eyes. Vision loss may be immediate, or might not start to occur until quite some time after the initial injury.
On the show, Auggie's only impairment appears to be blindness. He doesn't seem to have any residual cognitive problems that can come with some types of brain injury, nor any major scars that we have seen so far, although it's conceivable that he might have scars on his scalp from injuries and/or surgeries, plates in his skull, etc. Long, floppy hair is convenient that way.
Explosions and Effects on Vision:
Traumatic Optic Neuropathy /library/eye_health/optic_neuropathy
Optic nerve damage due to physical trauma.
Purtscher Retinopathy /article/1225431-overview
Retinal damage due to physical trauma, with a possible complication of optic nerve damage
Visual Field Deficits /books/NBK10912
Explains how the specific location of injury affects different parts of your vision (e.g. blindness on the left side of each eye, total vision loss in one eye, etc.).
Explosions and Blast Injuries: A Primer for Clinicians /masscasualties/explosions.asp
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) - Interactive Tutorial /medlineplus/tutorials/traumaticbraininjury/htm/index.htm
This is an easy to understand, audiovisual presentation about TBI. A TBI is a brain injury caused by physical trauma to the head, such as a blow or jolt to the head, or a an injury that penetrates the skull. A concussion is a mild TBI.
Link Between TBI and Blindness /benefits/health/military_tbi_040808w
Blast Concussions and Vision Loss /veterans/news/retina.cfm
How IEDs work - Impacts of IEDs /ied2.htm
IED stands for improvised explosive device, also known as a roadside bomb or homemade bomb.
Blind Skills Training for Veterans:
Veterans Affairs (VA) Blind Rehab /blindrehab
The VA's Central Blind Rehabilitation Center /services/blind
Located within the Hines VA Hospital in Hines, IL - not far from where Auggie grew up in Glencoe, IL.
Learning to Cope with Sight Loss: Six Weeks at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center /sightloss.html
Booklet, audio CD, and free pdf download - written by a vet with low vision.
Fanfic Stories about Auggie's Injury and Rehab:
"In the Beginning" by Patricia Louise fanfiction.net/s/6462401
A very detailed version of what Auggie's blind rehab experience was like.
"Collide" by mandy58 fanfiction.net/s/6413946
Another great story with glimpses into Auggie's blind rehab training.
Writings by soldiers blinded in Iraq:
A Blind Army Officer's Challenging Vision /stories/2010/09/05/sunday/main6837189.shtml
New York Times essays by Michael Jernigan /author/michael-jernigan/
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