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“…Positive Vision is a quick read, about two and half hours in the audio format, and a really refreshing approach to the subject of low vision. Brandt's positive outlook throughout the telling of his adventures is a bit infectious and leaves the reader feeling as though there is another side of vision loss than the dread so often associated with it…” Link to the AFB. AFB's blue, white, and yellow logo.

Positive Vision by Ken Brandt.

Book Review by Steve Kelley in the American Foundation for the Blind's AccessWorld Feb. 2022.

"See the bright side. Everyone with poor eyesight must be a bit adventurous to do the same things routinely done by people with normal eyesight. If you are not there yet, you might be in the future. Many people's eyesight deteriorates as they age, pushing them into this adventure zone. Clearly good eyesight is better than bed sight, however, in my experience, there are some positives to having poor vision." Ken Brandt

The adventure zone? It may not be fair to begin a book review with a quote from the last chapter, "Final Thoughts," but this quote sums up Brandt's perspective throughout his book, Positive Vision, as he shares one vignette after another with readers, and introduces his own positive look on the life he lives with low vision.

Brandt's book is autobiographical. He incorporates many of his own experiences, as a young elementary school student who sat close to the blackboard and played sports, a college student working at a summer camp and learning to sky dive, an accomplished businessman working in New York City and traveling internationally, a musician, and a person with low vision that fluctuated over his life. His narratives always point to the open window he discovered when the proverbial door closed.

Anyone approaching partial sight or blindness with unbridled positivism runs the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna. This is particularly true for readers who might have acquired vision loss later in life, after living with relatively good sight for decades. Brandt avoids this trap by acknowledging the benefits of good sight and the importance of managing conditions that contribute to vision loss, while maintaining a positive attitude.

In our interview, Brandt reported that the book started out recounting some of the adventures he'd had over the years, such as parachuting, scuba diving, traveling, and in business. The draft began to take a turn toward how his vision played a role in these adventures—finding out he'd not seen some rocks in a parachute he'd packed when they showered him as the chute opened, chasing a thief on foot and tripping over a mattress left on the sidewalk and landing in a pile of garbage cans, reaching out to take his wife's hand during an outing, only to discover it was another woman's, and so on. As these adventures come to life in the book,  the author always shares something he learned during the experience or an unforeseen silver lining. In "Curiosity and Suggestions," he recounts the many ways other people, upon learning of your vision loss, may suggest a new pair of glasses, or ask if you can see the number of fingers they're holding up. To this, Brandt writes:

When people with good vision figure out you can't see very well…a few of them ask a bunch of ridiculous, intrusive or impolite questions. None of your answers will help them in their lives, they just don't know any better, so they ask…Thanks to these questions, suggestions, and sometimes accusations, you eventually develop a greater degree of tolerance and better social skills. After all, they are almost always based on bone-headed curiosity and misplaced sympathy, or a genuine desire to be helpful, rather than meanness. Dealing with these questions isn't fun or easy but it does have an advantage, it forces you to develop a socially acceptable, polite, or humorous way to answer, change the subject, or walk away.

In our interview, Brandt elaborated on the possibility of maintaining a positive approach to poor vision, or to a loss of vision later in life. He mentioned research that demonstrated that when individuals experienced either a positive event, such as winning the lottery, or a negative event, such as a disabling health condition, these circumstances are shown to alter a person's attitude for about six months, after which, he reported, they return to their attitude before the incident—seeing the glass as half empty, or half full. He explained that he didn't think his book was going to change people's minds if they saw their circumstances in a negative way, but it may offer some humor or levity.

To that end, each of the 10 chapters in Positive Vision opens with a quote such as this one, by Mark Twain, that opens Chapter 5: "You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." In the Audible version of the book, this quote is read by a female narrator, Joyce Agee. The author himself reads the body of the chapter, and at the end of each chapter, another male narrator, Gil Tucker, who has an Australian accent, finishes the chapter with one or more jokes, related to vision. For example, "What do you call a vegetable optometrist? A sea cucumber," of course! While some readers may find the addition of jokes a bit corny, they keep the focus of the book light-hearted. Unlike many other books on the subject, this one is written plainly and doesn't contain a lot of professional or medical jargon. One of the great sections of the book is found in the Appendix, "Understanding the Eye Chart." The term "legally blind" is used in several places in the book, and Brandt does a terrific job of explaining what the numbers on the doctor's eye chart really mean, and how the term "legally blind" is understood internationally.

As the author explains in the book, his vision at times exceeded legal blindness, and has always prevented him from driving. He's never used a white cane to travel, and for the most part was able to work without obvious accommodations beyond glasses or contacts. In fact, he writes that only in retirement has he felt comfortable writing about his low vision. While employed, he avoided the subject for fear it might have a negative consequence on how others perceived his abilities or job performance. Indeed, Brandt shares this advice from Soledad O'Brien, which opens Chapter 2:

I've learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what might be just a few steps down the road from you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom, how great is that?

Brandt says he already has several ideas for his next book "floating around in the background." Readers of Positive Vision will see the author's request to hear from readers who have a story to share about their own adventures with low vision. Brandt suggested that if he receives enough of these, he'd be interested in compiling them into another book. In addition, he is also considering how Positive Vision might translate into a book for children, that he describes this way: "[It would be for children] ages 5 to 7. A big book, the kind of book parents read to their children. The kind of book you read when you're just learning to read."

Positive Vision is a quick read, about two and half hours in the audio format, and a really refreshing approach to the subject of low vision. Brandt's positive outlook throughout the telling of his adventures is a bit infectious and leaves the reader feeling as though there is another side of vision loss than the dread so often associated with it. This may not be a good selection to cheer up someone with recent vision loss, or to dismiss the very real challenges created by vision loss later in life. It is, however, a recounting of some of the author's challenges as someone with low vision, in a way that really normalizes these experiences.

Positive Vision is available at Amazon as a paperback or hardcover, Kindle download, or on Audible. The author is donating 10% of the book royalties to both the Mass Eye and Ear for research and the Fred Hollow Foundation for Fighting Avoidable Blindness (5% each). For more information about Brandt, links to interviews and reviews, or to share your own adventure, check out Ken Brandt's website.

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