Ottawa·Point of View

How a legally blind man sees the 'Bird Box challenge'

The "Bird Box challenge," named after a recently released Netflix film, is a social media trend where people film themselves trying to do things while blindfolded. Dave Brown, who is legally blind, says it's insensitive, but only natural.

Dave Brown says the social media craze is insensitive, but only natural

Dave Brown, who is legally blind, hosts a radio show on AMI Audio, a non-profit information service for Canadians who are blind or have low vision. (Accesible Media)

The Netflix film Bird Box has set social media ablaze since its release over the holidays. There have already been about a million memes and a whole mess of comments across many social media spheres. 

If you haven't seen it, the film is about monsters that make you want to kill yourself if you see them. So, protagonists in the film blindfold themselves whenever they go outside. 

That premise has spawned something called the "Bird Box challenge," where people are blindfolding themselves and trying to do a series of random tasks without their sight. And of course, because it's 2019, they need to film themselves doing it, and it needs to be posted on social media so everyone can see their #EpicFail.

This file image released by Netflix shows Sandra Bullock in a scene from the film Bird Box. (Merrick Morton/Netflix via Associated Press)

Some folks in the blind/low vision community have posted their thoughts, saying it's offensive and that it needs to stop.  Some organizations have also shared their trepidation with the Bird Box challenge. And of course, some members of the community don't really care.

I'm an albino. I was born legally blind and have extreme light sensitivity. I have been learning to adapt to my disability my entire life.

I don't see the Bird Box challenge as a black and white issue. In fact, it's a bit tricky. I empathize with people wanting to try something they see on TV or wanting to test themselves. I've tried writing with my right hand, because I'm curious. After watching The Walking Dead, I ponder how I'd do in a zombie apocalypse. Spoiler alert: probably not well. 

Youtuber Jake Paul took the 'Bird Box challenge.' During the 24 hours he spent blindfolded, he went to a mall, wandered into traffic and accidentally walked into a lake. (Jake Paul/Youtube)

I believe that the reason this challenge took off has to do with a natural curiosity we have as humans. We want to experience what it's like to live differently. And oftentimes we encourage people to walk a mile in our shoes to develop empathy. I don't believe the challenge is mean or offensive in its nature.

That said, it is insensitive. It doesn't take into account that orientation and mobility is something that blind/low vision folks work on from birth or from the onset of vision loss. It can be rife with challenges and failures. Those moments are not funny. Those moments are indeed extremely difficult emotionally. They are not fodder for comedy and clicks. 

It can take years to develop certain proficiencies. So for example, if a person with vision tries hiking blindfolded for the first time, it is going to be a challenge. But they have the option to take that blindfold off and move on with their life.

Dave Brown says it took time for him to learn the orientation and mobility skills he needed to hike Mount Baker, Wash. (Dave Brown)

For a person with low vision, they have to keep going, working on their orientation and mobility, until they get it right. It's not a video or sketch; it's how we live.

At least no one was eating Tide pods. I'd say this social media craze is an improvement on that front.

Dave Brown hosts The Pulse, heard weekdays at noon on AMI Audio, an accessible TV and streaming service for Canadians with low vision. He was born legally blind. You may remember him as CBC Radio's former traffic reporter.