Earlier this year I had the privilege of working on BBC Radio 4’s long-running series for visually impaired people, In Touch. Apart from a bit of ocular drift (necessitating specs), I have pretty good eyesight. So it was something of a culture shock to be working with not one but two blind colleagues – the presenter, Peter White, and producer, Lee Kumatat.
(Lee commissioned my feature idea of exploring visualisation in radio – that is, the proliferation of studio webcams, and visual accompaniments to radio shows on the web and in apps and so on. My piece is about 6½ minutes into this edition: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03w0j4n)
On one occasion during my time on the show I was struggling with a cable tie holding together a coiled headphone extension. There are two types of tie: the sort which let you release the tension on the cable and which are therefore reusable, and the single-use ties which don’t and aren’t.
Lee was with me and heard my struggle. She said kindly, ‘Are you seeing too much, Adrian? Let me have a go.’
I relinquished the plastic tie, and she very quickly established it was the single-use type. 1-0 to blind perspicacity.
Another time I was trying to find a flash disk extension which let me download a digital audio recording onto a PC. I’d be given special privileges by studio managers (BBC Radio’s trusty sound engineers-plus) to take this device away from their area because I had a track record of returning gear they lent me. So it was embarrassing to discover I’d mislaid it in the In Touch office at London’s Old Broadcasting House.
After doing the rounds of the desks for other shows in this shared space (Saturday Live? No. The Media Show? Nope…), I came back to Peter’s desk, tail between legs. I hadn’t wanted to bother him with my worries and thought (patronisingly?) he might not be best placed to help in any case.
When I told him what I was looking for he said, ‘Oh, that thing? I think it’s here’, and, feeling under a couple of his Braille script print-outs, produced the little electronic box with its cable. He clearly had a mental map of his desk that I with my supposed light perception lacked. 2-0.
I was reminded of that biblical quote from Mark’s gospel (chapter 8, verse 18), ‘Do you have eyes but fail to see?’
I mean no disrespect to my former colleagues – quite the reverse – when I say working with them was a real eye-opener.