How do you *see* in that thing?! - fursuiting while visually impaired
In a couple of weeks Tealeaf will be six months old, and while in that short time I appear to have dedicated my life to making Twitter-based raccoon propaganda, I’ve also come to some realizations about fursuiting as someone with a visual impairment. I thought I’d jot some of these ideas down here since a) they might be of interest to other visually impaired furries unsure about suiting; b) some of this is hopefully useful to anyone who interacts with suiters; and c) a few people have expressed surprise that I’m able to fursuit at all, and being able to link someone to a blog post instead of having an actual conversation is so mid-2000s #aesthetic it hurts.
First of all, an important disclaimer: I should stress up front that all of what follows is based entirely on my personal experience, and should in no way be considered representative of the experiences of other visually impaired people. Disability affects everyone in different ways, and I’d hate anyone to think this is more than my own individual ramblings :)
With that said, time for some boring personal history to ~set the scene~! Like actual raccoons, my eyesight isn’t too great, although precisely what that means can be hard to quantify. To give you a (very) rough idea: I can see well enough to navigate by myself in daylight (although I usually get a bit lost the first couple of times I visit a new place), but not well enough to ever get a driver’s licence. On a day-to-day basis the main impact is that I’m really bad at recognizing people by appearance, and I probably wouldn’t recognize my own mother from more than a few metres away (I once hugged a complete stranger in a supermarket because of this; I was a tiny child at the time, honest!).
You bought what?!
When I first started thinking about getting a fursuit, an obvious concern was how practical it would be given my eyesight. After all, if I can’t see very well out of suit, things are only going to get worse when I put on a raccoon-shaped blindfold. I therefore made a mental note to at least try on a friend’s suit before considering getting my own but, with Tealeaf’s appearance in an auction coming completely out of the blue, I didn’t really have time to consider such practicalities. Luckily, and to my continued surprise, I’ve found that fursuiting while visually impaired isn’t that much more difficult than being visually impaired in everyday life. There are even aspects that are better in suit than out of it, thanks to how society typically perceives disability in general, and visual impairment in particular.
“Welcome to my world!”
The first thing to consider is the math. If you take an ably-sighted individual and put them - hopefully with their consent - in a fursuit head, they’re going to be more handicapped (relative to where they started from) than someone like me. For example, think about what proportion of your peripheral vision you’d expect to lose in that context; if you’ve ever tried on a head you’ll know it’s pretty substantial. Now obviously I lose that peripheral vision as well, but I’m already blind in one eye (and don’t have great vision in the other) so percentage-wise it’s nowhere near as substantial.
This ties in to a second factor of fursuit-induced sight loss: I’m much more used to it! When you’ve lived your entire life with a visual impairment, having your vision made worse isn’t really that big a deal. I’ve had to operate completely blind at various times in my life due to surgeries, and my regular eyesight means I operate in a reduced-vision environment on a daily basis. Not only does this remove (or at least reduce) the psychological impact of experiencing poor vision, it also means I have a variety of well-practiced techniques at my disposal for such a scenario. Many fully-sighted fursuiters, for example, are familiar with the ‘staircase shuffle’: navigating down Steps of Doom using your footpaws to ‘see’. If you’re used to interacting with the world with poor vision, this sort of thing - oversized raccoon beans notwithstanding - is second nature.
The advantage of experience also extends to my handler. They’ve been my partner for several years, so have become very accustomed to helping a visually impaired person get around. This means watching out for trip hazards, or helping me through tricky environments, are standard operating procedure, and incredibly useful when wearing a costume!
A final aspect, and the one I find most interesting, is how being in suit changes the way other people interact with me. A common problem for visually impaired people is that it can often be ‘invisible’ (I’ve had friends know me for several years before realizing I can’t see out of one eye). There are countless advantages to not being ‘obviously’ disabled, but it can also create very awkward scenarios when interacting with others. For instance, people often assume - entirely reasonably - that I must recognize them because we’ve met several times before, or don’t realize that approaching me from my blind side when I’m holding a cup of tea is a very bad idea. As Tealeaf, it’s much more common for people - even good friends - to explicitly tell me who they are, signal my attention in much clearer ways, or be more sympathetic if I bump into them. It may seem very obvious when written out, but when I’m in suit everyone knows I can’t see anything and many adjust their behaviour accordingly, something that is much less likely in everyday life.
There is one slightly fun corollary to this last point, which is that fursuiters themselves are some of the easiest characters for me to recognize. This even ties into one of the reasons why, I suspect, I’m a furry in the first place. Given my difficulty in recognizing (human) faces, I’ve always had a predilection for cartoons, and especially cartoon animals. Almost all of us grew up on these kinds of shows, with their bright, vibrant colours, and high-contrast environments both aesthetically and functionally appealing to younger brains. One of the reasons I never ‘grew out’ of them is, at least in part, due to the difficulties I have following anything involving real-life humans. For example, if Bradley Cooper and Michael Rooker are both in the same film and both wearing hats, I’m probably going to get their characters mixed up at some point and lose track of the plot. On the other hand, if one of them is a gun-toting raccoon and the other some blue dude with a magical space arrow, I should be ok. Ultimately, this means when I interact with fursonas online, or fursuiters in real life, I can much more easily keep track of who is who (something I imagine most of us have experienced to some extent!).
Those, then, are some of my thoughts about fursuiting while visually impaired. If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me, and I hope at least some of it’s been interesting :) If you have any comments about your own thoughts or experiences, or questions to ask, the easiest thing is to Tweet me @TealeafRaccoon (ideally on the original Tweet, but a general @ also works!). If you don’t do Twitter, or would rather chat in private, my email address is under the About tab up the page somewhere points vaguely. Otherwise, I’ll get back to my regularly-scheduled raccoon antics, hoping, at least, that you’ve found this *dons (prescription) sunglasses* insightful 8)