“Blind Trust” – An Interview with Margit Kovács by Dora Lesch
When I was in high school our principal offered students a trip to Budapest to visit the Invisible Exhibition. I did not know what to expect but all I can say is, it had such a great impact on me that I decided to visit again this year. It was still an amazing and shocking experience, just like it was years ago. The life story of our tour guide, Margit who has been blind since birth, was really moving and at the same time inspirational. Lot of us thought being blind must be “terrible” yet there she was full of life, doing things that not even I would dare to! This is why I thought I should go back to her and interview her, so all of you can get to know this brave woman.
- What type of schools you went to and what sort of education you got while growing up?
First, at age 3 I went to an integrated kindergarten at a small village where I was learning with children with sight. After that I continued my studies at a primary school for the blind where I was studying for 10 years and finally I graduated at Kós Károly Secondary School.
- Would you talk about the language of the blind? How did you learn to read and write?
It is called Braille. I started to learn it when I was 6. It is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers. Our alphabet consists of 6 dots, we use these for both letters and numbers. At primary school we first learned the placement of these dots, however, I learnt the regular reading with the help of my mother and sister.
- I bet lot of people ask you, how a blind person imagines objects, especially colors?
A person that was born as blind cannot creature pictures in their brain. Meanwhile you learnt to see with your eyes, we learnt to see with our hands. For example, if you put down three different type of cutlery and you tell me; “Margit could you give me the spoon?” then what am I going to do? I am going to start to feel out the shape of the spoon with my hands. There are things, however, that I was confused about first. Such as when they taught us at kindergarten that the rubber ball is red with white dots. Then when we went down to the park with my children I told them to give me the red white dotted ball they started laughing, telling me; “Mom, that ball is blue and Winnie The Pooh is on it” which left me stunned! Then my friends explained me the ball can be any color as long as it’s round. I associate the other colors with objects and concepts, though. Like when I was learning about the color brown, they made me touch the tree bark and that was “brown” for me or with color green I had to touch and smell a piece of grass. Now, problems came up when I was told “the sky is blue” but I cannot touch the sky. Colors are lexical knowledge for us.
- Connected to colors still, how do you dress?
It is not as hard as you would think! I usually label my clothes and organize them in different stocks. I can dress up by myself but I also have two daughters that help me a lot. They tell me what is flattering and what is not, that which colors look better together. They are my personal stylists.
- Do you receive help with shopping as well? For example when you go grocery shopping?
Yes, people are quite helpful. When I go to the grocery store I ask an employee to give me a hand. When it is just a few things, I stay by the cashier and they bring me those items I need. When it is a big shopping spree, then they always let me know what aisle we are at right now. However, now we can shop online as well which is rather beneficial. I can use both my smartphone and computer to order the things I need. They both have a loud speaking software. It can read out loud anything for us except for pictures, of course.
- Are there any other phone applications that make your life even easier?
There are plenty. One of the most useful applications is the money recognizing application. In Hungary they put the dots on the new forints for the blind but they wear down quite fast and cannot be felt after a while. They usually last from 3 weeks to 3 months. That is when we need this money application. It takes a photo of the bank note and then it tells us how much it is. Besides that, GPS is also very helpful it tells us about directions that where we need to go just like for you, however we always have earphones in. This is how we get to other places.
- Do passersby also help you out?
First of all, we use the white stick. This is our extended arm. We can walk with this more easily so that we do not bump into objects. We usually hold it with our right hand, no one should grab that arm of ours. If we do ask for help then it is better if you let us hold onto you. It is also a lot of help if you tell us what bus is coming to the bus station and show us where we can get on it. From there we can get on the bus by ourselves with our white stick.
- How about guide-dogs? Have you ever had one?
I need to state first that a guide dog is not our GPS. We need to learn the directions first. The dog just helps us to dodge obstacles. It costs about 2 million forints to train a dog but we do not need to pay for this, only if the dog passes away or gets sick by our fault. The puppy at 8 weeks gets to a simple family then when it turns one it goes back to school where it becomes a guide dog within 6 months. When it is ready, it goes to a blind owner. They stay with the owner for 8-10 years and then finally the dog “retires” and it spends the rest of its life with relaxing. I personally never had one. I prefer the stick, I sadly have no time to take care of a dog.
- Now could you tell us a little more about the Invisible Exhibition? What does it include, what programs are there for the visitors?
The exhibition opened in 2007 here in Hungary and now it is available in 4 other locations as well: Prague, Warsaw and it opened last September in Stockholm. Lot of student groups visit us, they are our main target audience as it is the easiest to change their point of view. I think we give them a lot of valuable memories but they also give us a lot back. The exhibition has two parts: The visible and invisible part. At the visible part the visitors can learn about the Braille and they can also get to know how to write their name with this language. They can try several different toys as well. The “blind Rubik cube” is quite popular, as well as chess which we can play with the visitors. The light colored chess pieces have a flat head while the dark colored chess pieces have dots on their head. Then comes the invisible part. There are 6 different rooms where it is completely dark so you cannot use your sight, but test your other senses. One of our visually impaired employees will help you during the whole tour. The employees can be both blind since birth or they can be blind since just a certain age but usually all the tour guides are comfortable to talk about their life to the visitors. On top of all of this, we have new programs as well which aren’t a part of the tour such as the “Invisible Dinner” where you can eat several dishes in the dark or “Invisible Wine Tasting”. They are both incredible experiences and I highly recommend them.
- If you didn’t work here at the exhibition, where else could you imagine yourself working at?
That’s a tough question. We do not have a lot of opportunities unfortunately. Many of us have several college degrees yet it is still hard to find a decent job for us even though there are plenty of jobs where we could easily succeed at for example call center jobs, secretary, translating as well if someone can speak other languages. There are also visually impaired lawyers, mathematicians, and even masseurs. So there would be options but we are underestimated. When we do get a job, though then we never disappoint!
- Finally, I would like to ask you to tell us a bit more about your hobbies and also your plans for the future!
I love travelling a lot, also doing sports and even extreme sports! I drive my children crazy with that but I am definitely not a simple “blind person”. I’ve been riding the tandem bike for like 10 years now I took part in several competitions, too and I am even in the 2013 Guinness Record Book! Last September one of my biggest dreams came true when I was able to do the tandem jump, it was unforgettable. In addition, I got a Venice trip from my daughter for Christmas so my other dream came true: I finally got to touch the sea. I was very satisfied when I found out that no one lied to me about its water being salty. Now I started running with one of my coworkers. Our shoe laces are connected and I hold one side of it and she holds the other so we don’t leave each other behind. 5 kilometers is our record so far. I want to improve this in the future and I am really excited to try new extreme sports as well.