A descent into darkness: 10 rules of engagement

Simon Mahoney is a totally blind military veteran, who completely lost his sight over three years.
He has written three books about life with sight loss. In his book A Descent into Darkness, he talks through his ’10 rules of engagement’, his top tips for anybody else coming to terms with sight loss.
Simon talks through each rule of engagement below.

Simon sitting in his home looking off screen, talking about his 10 rules of engagement

Principle 1: Accept your sight loss

Unless you accept your sight loss, you are not going to be able to do anything to get ready to deal with it. At the end of the day, dealing with sight loss is a full-time occupation (certainly to begin with), and if you don’t accept it, and don’t try to deal with it, you are going to find yourself literally disabled.

Principle 2: Obstacles are an opportunity to improvise, adapt and overcome

Try not to get upset about the fact something went wrong. Instead, analyse why it went wrong, and what you can do to improve things and make it better next time.

Instead of regarding something as an obstacle, regard it as a learning opportunity.

Principle 3: Learn or improve a skill everyday

Dealing with sight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Sight loss is for life and if you learn something new every day, you are keeping up the momentum.

This is important because if you sit back and decide you don’t need to worry anymore, that is when you start to slide back. You need to be learning all the time, and learning what is possible and challenging what is possible.

Principle 4: Listen carefully, judge slowly

People with sight loss deal with 90% less information. Sighted people pick up on how people walk and stand, and what they wear and gestures they use.

If you live with sight loss, you may not be able to access all of that information so it is important to listen really carefully, and analyse what is happening through picking up on tone of voice, pitch of voice and how people emphasise words. Reading someone’s face can be difficult, or impossible, so you might go off sound alone. It is important to listen carefully and not jump to any conclusions.

Principle 5: Sight loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Do not get embarrassed.

Because of how society sees disability of any description, disabled people may be lead to believe that they are inferior. People are often compelled to feel guilty about being disabled, as if they have done something to deserve it.

Sight loss just happens and you shouldn’t overthink it or feel ashamed of it – it is something you should get on with.

Principle 6: Get organised and have a place for everything

Living with sight loss can be complicated and if you don’t know where things are, it can make it even harder. It is important to have some order in your life and get organised.

Principle 7: Apply the broken glass principle

The broken glass principle states that if you were to notice a broken glass on a beach, you would pick it up immediately to ensure that nobody else got injured.

When applied to daily life, sighted people may not follow this principle in that they have complete reinforcement so that they may know they need to do something, but decide to deal with it later.

However, if you live with sight loss, you may not have that visual reinforcement so if you come across something, it is best to deal with it there and then.

Principle 8: Ask for help, and remember who has the problem

Remember you are the one asking for help so you own the problem. When asking for help, use a ‘I’ message instead of a ‘you’ message. If you use an ‘I’ message, you make it clear that you have the problem, and you are inviting the person you are requesting help from to help you, rather than demanding their help.

Principle 9: Check everything and go at your own pace. Rushing + blindness = chaos

If you have sight loss, when you do things, you need to check everything is as it should be. Having sight loss can make it more difficult to look ahead so people with sight loss often operate in real-time which can slow people down.

The minute you start to rush, you will make a mistake. The minute you make a mistake, you reinforce other people’s view that you cannot do something. Go at your own pace and do not allow yourself to be rushed.

Principle 10: Do not be offended by references to sight; these are an integral part of language and people cannot help using them

Because sight is our main sense and people only focus on their other senses if they lose it, our daily language is littered with references to sight. This language is not intended to be offensive or upsetting. Accept that that is how people talk and it is nothing personal.

Bonus principle: Be patient!

To apply all these principles, patience is key. Without patience, none of these rules work. Without patience, you learn nothing. Without patience, you achieve nothing. Without patience, you can’t communicate.

Find out more

If you want to know more about Simon’s 10 rules of engagement, watch our video below as Simon talks to Mark about each rule.

To learn more about Simon, watch the video below, filmed as part of our InSights series.

If you are visually impaired, or know someone who is, and want to know about how Henshaws can support somebody living with sight loss, give us a call on 0300 222 5555 or email info@henshaws.org.uk.

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