Saturday, 7 May 2011

Blind faith : faith for the blind : articles by the blind


We are pleased to present our first guest blogger, Professor Whitestick.  This is a nom de plume, or pseudonym, but he does exist.  He doesn’t do Braille, doesn’t play football, but is otherwise a normal blind person who appreciates and shares some of his experiences with the outside world in the public sphere.  He will be making his own comments, though is used to my retelling of some of his stories which we can assure you are true, as one of them has even been reported in a well-known publication to the embarrassment of a university that should have known better. 

Our guest does not wish to promote his own blog, unlike some guest bloggers, but can be contacted via twitter on @profwhitestick.  He is also researching XYDO, which is said to be “twitter on steroids” ( 

We came across the Professor at an outreach programme for the disabled.  (  In fact, one of us got whacked by his white stick.  Thank you.

As a blind person with a white stick, one ought not to be invisible to parts of the public sphere.  Some parts of the public sphere have employees who are oblivious to the needs, wishes, feelings and communication ‘toolbox’ of blind people.  In future posts, I will be discussing the public sphere as it pertains to the arts, science, law, parliament, democracy, journalism, human rights, religion, discrimination, finance, commerce, travel, technology, etc.  Obreption has kindly asked me to discuss aspects of the experience of a blind person within the public sphere regarding religion, faith, theology, worship, and charitable giving.     

Obreption suggested some time ago that I ought to ‘test aspects of life in the public sphere to destruction’.  For starters, Obreption asked me to ‘road test’ the ‘sign posts’ in the Church of England, and suggested that I visit a few cathedrals, some parish churches and some variety of the Anglican spectrum from the Anglo-catholic extreme to Evangelical.  In other words, All Saints to All Souls with a bit of Alpha thrown in. 

One of the biggest problems for a blind person in visiting a strange parish is the ‘welcome’. Is the vicar or the PCC aware that blind people have problems with some aspects of worship?  For example, are you aware that the welcoming committee often stick a hymn book in the hand of a blind person without asking if they can see enough to read?  Believe it or not, I have been assaulted with more hymn books and bibles than I care to remember, even though my white stick is very visible. 

Also, do you use PowerPoint presentations, videos and high tech ‘material culture’?  If so, are you aware that some people in your congregation who cannot see may miss out on an important part of your ‘message’?  Without wishing to state that Jesus preached without the aid of PowerPoint and to people who couldn’t read, are you really offering discipleship to a congregation or is it all for show? 

An eminent neurologist has said that 50% of human information comes from vision.  In other words, those people who cannot see, cannot see ‘the Light’, do not really understand ‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night’.  I could go on and explain that candles and blind people are a recipe for disaster

(Note: Obreption can testify that our guest had a Brunhilde experience that is immolation at a fundraiser for a blind charity in a city wine bar lit by candles!).

On a more positive note, I was very pleased on one of my visitations (not Apostolic, but with the knowledge of an Archdeacon) to be greeted by the welcoming committee in a strange parish with a “We have large print copies of the service and hymns for today if that would be of any use to you.”  This is a nice ice-breaker and is much better than being ignored or having a wretched and useless book thrust in your hands. 

Communication with blind people can be very difficult, especially if your form of worship relies on visual prompts.  Smells and bells are quite sensual in Anglo-catholic churches though the statuary, furniture and huge fonts can be intimidating.  On the other hand, the spontaneous nature of Evangelical worship and preaching can leave the blind totally out of it – though the sermons are usually of much higher quality than some of the mystic five minute homilies that pass for a sermon in some Anglo-catholic churches. 

Having been asked by Obreption to road test two ‘high value’ churches today, I will make the following comments:

1)     St James, Piccadilly,  Rector Lucy Winkett (,

I wandered here off the street and walked around and was totally ignored. The church had a few tourists passing from the market to Jermyn Street. Some kind tourist asked me if I needed any help and I commented about the philosophy of the blind seeking the Holy Spirit in a church, which may have raised a smile, but I wouldn’t know, would I?

2)     St Martin in the Fields, Charing Cross

Believe it or not, I wandered in here today after a visit to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

St Martin in the Fields – National Gallery : compare and contrast

The National Gallery get 10/10 for greeting me, asking me what I wanted, not questioning the fact that I was blind and what was I doing in an art gallery and very courteously took me to a few paintings which I can just about make out and read the notes.  I was then guided to the bookshop, where I bought a couple of postcards and went to the café and enjoyed a coffee and a cake.

In contrast, St Martin in the Fields doesn’t get much.  I did get to listen to an organ being tuned (I don’t think it was a piece of modern music by Taverner or Macmillan!)  I did hear a discussion by two obviously eminent designer pedants concerning the ‘immovability’ of the font.  Bits of the church were chained off.  I was totally ignored, given that this church has produced the new Bishop of Salisbury and a much acclaimed outreach programme, it is a bit sad to wander in at about 2:30 pm and to get the same treatment as St James.   Maybe they thought I was homeless, sick, but could they see and did they care?

Obreption has asked me to outline some of my stories which are true and you might even be able to check them:

  • the eye clinic in a well-known hospital which has staff who point, stick up notices announcing a two hour delay and have opthalmologists who couldn’t give a toss!  
  • a well-known blind charity who gave a presentation to a blind group in – yes, you guessed it! – POWERPOINT! 
  • a high-society blind charity fundraiser held in a well known city wine bar lit by candle-light.  I caught fire and felt like a cross between Guido Fawkes, Joan of Arc and Brunhilde in the Immolation Scene from The Twilight of the Gods.
  • the university which provided a question on cassette as an alternative format in which the question began “Look at this picture and describe the following …” The university, however, was contrite.
  • a well-known supermarket: I had been guided there by security to the Help Point and the security guard was told: “Sit him down there on the chair.”  Not only did I have to say 20 Hail Marys, 20 Calm Down Dears – but I still went ballistic.  The supermarket has phoned up twice–so far–and are reviewing the video of the event.  It might be shown on YouTube … tell me if you see it.
  • British Transport Police (two of them) when asked for directions, both grunted and pointed in opposite directions.  I could discern this by the fluorescent arm bands.  The location: London Bridge, near Southwark Cathedral!

Obreption’s comments:

I know that Professor Whitestick will not object if we refer to his reports on blind faith as a leap into the dark.  When God said, Let there be Light, but the blind can’t see it.  Signposting is a meaningless term, like much of the psycho-babble which passeth all understanding. 

We would urge you to engage with a blind person, but remember they usually don’t get non-verbal communication, they don’t read handouts – though they might ask for one for a friend - and they can be very status and designer conscious.  So watch out or you might get whacked on the shins!  I have the marks to prove it!


  1. I think I might have been whacked by your friend, Prof Whitestick. I did try to move out of his way .... honest!

  2. Must have been an interesting experience. Surely your friend would have found an inspirational service sheet, prayer list or some material culture to be taken away? I'm sure you instructed him to find some.

  3. My friend did find something inspirational in St Martin in the Fields by a lectern which was blocking one of the aisles. He picked up a piece of paper. I did tell him to send me details of the visit plus receipts for postcards and coffee/cake at the National Gallery. These I will, of course, refund. You might be interested in knowing that the flyer he picked up was about a concert in St Martin of Mozart Requiem by candlelight. This was not planned because he couldn't read the leaflet he brought back. Perhaps this is an Anglican church doing what it does best. It certainly wasn't preaching the Gospel to someone who was genuinely 'seeking' but yet only picked up a reference if that can be dreadfully cynical. "XEXLUCE" And it wasn't even Lucy's church!

  4. I've heard that some taxi drivers don't allow guide dogs on the taxi. This may be for religious reasons as some religions regard dogs as unclean. Does Prof Whitestick have any experience of guide dogs?

  5. You were pretty hard on the 2 churches you described. Still, I get your point about sign posts. Now I understand how daft the locations are with help points. The blind too have to engage with the 'public sphere'. I suppose the middle classes think that that guy on Radio 4 is really cool for a blind person. Maybe you could tell us of older people who lose their sight in their later years? Aren't they more invisible?

  6. I haven't any experience of using a guide dog. The dogs are very well behaved and many people are attracted to the guide dog. I've been at meetings with dogs and masters and white sticks. Some sighted people prefer to talk to the dog and the white stick and make remarks such as: "Your stick needs a new ball." and "Is your owner feeding you good food?" The blind person is usually ignored and often referred to in the third person. The media has concentrated on some drivers refusing to accept passengers with dogs. What may go unreported is the attitude of some supermarkets to blind people with and without the dogs.

    By the way, I have road tested the obreption blog using JAWS 12, Vista and Internet Explorer. The photograph of Sir Francis Grant has some sort of tag which makes your blog speak in French! I think you must have left the screen on when you tried JAWS out!

  7. Thank you, Professor. How perceptive of you to recognise that help lines are often rather useless. There must have been an oversight or I had metaphorically covered the screen with a net curtain. But you are right and I am glad that your road testing of some internet sites is a public service. This illustrates the importance of inclusivity for all.This is something which the coalition government in the UK may like to take note of.

    Please let us know if you have any replies.

  8. We found your site on a search for the blind. Are you on the parade today regarding DLA? I know it's not one of the topics you seem to cover, but I think there's been a lot of deceit with our politicians. I heard Clegg say something about muscular liberalism at the National Liberal Club. I almost choked on my ice-cream!

  9. No, I wasn't on the march, but heard all about it from some disabled people in our circle. I manage to post a comment on the Guardian. Perhaps you ought to check out Prof. Whitestick's blog ( He's quite serious, more than we are, sometimes and we hope his own outreach programme within society is successful. We're keeping an eye on him (!) and checking who's following him in case they are malicious. Afterall, his computer can't read icons or pictures.