12
$\begingroup$

Could a community of blind people sustain themselves?

What challenges would they face, and how would they overcome them?

I'm thinking of a small community of around 100 people in a rural environment, but I would be happy to hear of an extension of the idea to a whole planet.

I would be especially happy to hear of historical evidence to support the arguments.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Might be worth (re)reading The Day of the Triffids. IIRC each blind community mentioned in the book did have at least one sighted person, but a lot of the issues are discussed in depth. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Nov 10 '15 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking about people who have always been blind? Were they born into a blind community (so they had people to learn from) or did they have to figure things out on their own? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Aug 10 '16 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio While both situations are interesting, I suppose I am most curious about the extreme case, when all community members had been blind from birth. (Originally, my primary concern was how to judge the quality of foodstuffs, and knowing where to plant, which I do mostly visually, but I left the question more open because there are no doubt a lot of other things to consider in this topic.) $\endgroup$ – joeytwiddle Aug 10 '16 at 2:48
9
$\begingroup$

Yes, at least in some circumstances. What is required for a community to be sustainable?

Food fishing, grazing, beekeeping, gathering, farming and other methods are all possible.

Clothing Leather making, sewing, knitting, spinning and other methods are all possible.

Shelter Advanced construction is likely not possible, but beyond caves, simple structures are possible. Making brick and mortar, harvesting trees, simple carpentry, etc. all are be possible.

Defense Would be at a serious disadvantage against sighted opponents. But if they were the only society or if other societies were not belligerent, they should be able to defend themselves against many animal attacks by building walls and carrying weapons. Attacks by top-tier animal predators could be very hard on the community though, even enough to cause its collapse. Guard dogs, etc. would be a big help.

Education Clearly the blind can teach and learn, but the question of discovering mining, chemistry, medicine, etc. is much harder if not impossible if everyone is blind. If everyone is blind, it is much harder to bootstrap the process of making a society. Given the hardships in pre-communal living, a blind world may never develop the basics of society in the first place. E.g., Braille writing was not created until 1829 by Louis Braille that lost his sight in a childhood accident.

Some blind people accomplish a great deal that the sighted would otherwise consider impossible, becoming doctors, lawyers, physicists, mountain-climbers, etc. Though we have technology designed to assist blind people, it is clear that some of them have plenty of talent and determination.

There is a general problem in making any small community self sustaining. Where do you get all of the needed skills and resources that depend upon in a complex society. Plumbing depends upon pipes, pipes use metal, plastics or ceramics. Water supplies have multiple dependencies, and so on. Who makes the tools? Any self-sufficient small community is necessarily limited to a basic way of life.


So why no historical precedents? Why would people join together to form a blind community when it is so much more logical to simply live in the existing communities. Why leave friends and family to live in artificially harsher than necessary conditions? I could learn to grow, harvest and spin cotton (making my own spinning wheel), make a loom, weave cloth and make some low-quality shirt. Dyes are another hard step. Much easier to specialize and participate in a larger society and trade goods and services.


Blind people often were ostracized and still are to some degree. Congenital blindness in particular was often considered to be a result of some evil. People would take advantage of them, abuse them or simply ignore them. The Chinese even had a guild for the blind a kind of self-help society because of these kinds of problems. But the blind did not leave to form a separate community, they stayed with the rest of society and did the best they could. This is why I said there is no historical precedent (that I am aware of at least). Even if many in society ignore or abuse you, there are still advantages to integrating with the sighted to some degree. In marginal societies, e.g., subsistence farming, that would not support a blind person or hunt them, it is not likely that a blind community could be self-sustaining.

Even a separate community is not necessarily self-sustaining and a blind community would be even more likely to be dependent upon trade, etc. to acquire things that would be more difficult to produce by themselves.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You could write around the "why" by making them ostracised. Keeping with my John Wyndham mood (The Chrysalids this time), blind people could be Abominations. Leave to form your own community or be killed by the sighted. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Nov 10 '15 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ I agree the largest threat would be from animal or human attacks. Many forms of hunting will not be possible, such as spear fishing. $\endgroup$ – joeytwiddle Nov 13 '15 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ I did wonder how much sighted people use visual cues to judge the ripeness and quality of foodstuffs (when to harvest, which bits to cut off), but I guess there are tactile and olfactory alternatives available for that. $\endgroup$ – joeytwiddle Nov 13 '15 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ I like how you raised concerns about the possibilities of scientific progress and technological development. Scientific tools which we take for granted, such as graphs and charts, would also need alternative manifestations. On the other hand, partially sighted people may be less distracted by the visual world, and spend more time reflecting upon scientific topics. But that may be a false assumption on my part. No doubt I have much to learn on this subject, and could benefit from further research. nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm15/bm1509/bm150904.htm $\endgroup$ – joeytwiddle Nov 13 '15 at 2:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.