As someone who relies on sight to narrate visual stories, I have become interested in the lives of people with visual impairment and how they engage with other people.
In 2014, I volunteered for Gina Badenoch, founder of Mexican non-profit organization Ojos que Sienten A.C. (Sight of Emotion), who organized a photography therapy workshop for students with visual disability at the Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind (Yangon). The idea of people with blindness using photography to express themselves changed my whole perspective on photography. Photography became more than what is visible in a picture. It is a form of language that helps to express invisible abstracts—emotions, thoughts, existence and identity. This realization was what motivated me to start this project.
12-year-old Ei Thandar Po lost her sight at birth. She lives in a very remote village called “Yengan” in Letpadan Township, together with her mother. It takes her more than five hours to travel from the village to her Yangon school. She stays at school from June to mid-February every year as a resident student for her studies. She will be in the 5th grade this year. There is currently only one government inclusive school for disabled students in the township where the Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind is located but it’s only for disabled students from 6th grade to 11th grade.
Thus, her life revolves around her fellow resident students, school teachers, her mother and those from the village—who understand and empathize with her blindness. She has never been exposed to outside communities and challenges of physical and social environments that impede the development of the lives of persons with visual disabilities. Currently, 4.6% of Myanmar’s population lives with a form of disability and over half of this group – 54.35% – is made up of people with visual impairment.
As someone who relies on sight to narrate visual stories, I have become interested in the lives of people with visual impairment and how they engage with other people. This story about Ei Thandar Po is my first attempt at learning to understand visual disability. The project will continue with other people of different age and social background. My goal is to eventually make a photobook featuring their stories that both sighted people and those with vision loss can read through their fingertips. It is everybody’s responsibility to help create a more inclusive society, and I hope that my visual interpretations of their blindness would play a tiny role in shaping it.
PHOTOGRAPHS & TEXT: TIN HTET PAING, MYANMAR. WEBSITE: instagram.com/tinhtetpaing
The IPA Mentorship Program is a photography mentorship initiative by Invisible Photographer Asia for those who wish to further their personal photographic vision and goals.