In recent times, I have seen a new social media trend flooding my timeline called the Bird Box Challenge (#BirdBoxChallenge). The concept of the challenge is that a person is supposed to blindfold themselves and then complete everyday activities such as walking, doing chores, and navigating their community, amongst other tasks. The challenge gets its name from the movie Bird Box, which is about a group of people who wear blindfolds to avoid being killed by a monster of some sort- if they see it, they die.
Needless to say, the Bird Box Challenge can be very dangerous for people that do not have proper orientation and mobility skills. While there have been no reported injuries that I know of, Netflix has issued a warning to people about the challenge, encouraging them to avoid hurting themselves. Many people within the vision impairment community have condemned the challenge, saying it perpetuates harmful stereotypes about life with blindness and low vision.
People do not need to fall down a flight of stairs or run into a wall in order to understand what life would be like without vision. However, there are still alternatives to the Bird Box Challenge that allow for people to learn more about vision impairment without injuring themselves. Here are 12 safe Bird Box Challenge alternatives that simulate life with blindness and vision impairment.
These challenges require a blindfold or another way to cover your eyes for best results.
Use a screen reader to navigate your phone, tablet, or computer
How do blind people use a phone or computer? They use a screen reader or text-to-speech software that reads all of the information on their device’s screen. Information is read out loud and in real time so that a blind or low vision user can interact with their device.
For people wondering how they would use their computer or phone with the Bird Box Challenge, they can try turning on the screen reader for their phone, tablet, or computer. To enable the built-in screen reader for your device, follow these instructions:
- Go to your device settings
- Go to the general settings section and click on accessibility
- Set Voiceover to “on”
- Go to your device settings
- Go to the accessibility menu
- Choose either Select-to-Speak or TalkBack. Select-to-speak will read information when activated, while TalkBack is constantly on
- Press the control key, windows key, and the N key all at once
- Turn on Narrator
- Press the command key and the F5 key
- Turn VoiceOver on
- iPad accessibility settings for low vision
- VoiceOver for beginners
- Android accessibility settings for low vision
- Android Pie for vision impairment
- Windows 10 accessibility for low vision
Learn the basics of Braille
Braille is a code that transcribes letters into tactile dots for over 100 different languages. People who are curious about how blind people read can practice by learning the basics of Braille. There are several online resources for learning more about Braille, but the best way to practice is by blindfolding yourself and learning to read different written materials. This prevents people from learning to read Braille with their eyes. You can find Braille books at most local libraries or look for Braille signs in your community.
- Fun facts about Braille for World Braille Day 2019
- How To Be An Ally For Braille Users: World Braille Day 2021
Walk with a human guide the correct way
I know it’s tempting to walk down the stairs blindfolded without assistance, but this can very easily lead to injury. Instead, practice navigating familiar areas with a human guide that can act as your eyes. Hold onto their arm and listen to your surroundings as you try to navigate different areas. Learn more about being a human guide in a later section of this post.
Have a blindfolded dinner party
Since there are lots of risks involved with cooking while blindfolded, I can’t recommend engaging in that activity. However, having a blindfolded dinner party can be an interesting way to learn more about eating with vision impairment. Put your favorite foods on a plate and then close your eyes to eat, noting all of the different flavors and textures. There are lots of positive videos about blind taste tests on YouTube, which I will link below for inspiration.
- Best tastes for a blind person- Tommy Edison
- Blind taste test- Christine Ha
- Going to dinner in total darkness- Molly Burke
Watch a movie or TV show with audio description
How do blind people watch movies? They use audio description, of course. Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description may be provided live by a narrator or pre-recorded ahead of time. There are lots of different audio described movies and TV shows available on streaming media services- even Bird Box has audio description!
To find movies and TV shows with audio description, search for titles that have audio description in English (or your preferred language). Once the video begins, go to the “audio and subtitles” section and check the option for audio description under audio settings. A narrated track will describe visual information between natural pauses in dialog.
- Fast facts about audio description
- Tips for Going To Movie Theaters With Low Vision
- Watching audio described movies on planes
- GalaPro audio description for Broadway plays
Put together outfits without looking
Another entertaining Bird Box Challenge alternative would be to put together outfits without looking. Find out if you can figure out what a garment looks like based on touch, and arrange different outfits. This would be a really fun group activity.
How do blind people get dressed in real life though? Many people use assistive technology such as color readers and tactile labels in order to identify clothing. While there are some people with vision impairments that purposely buy monochromatic clothing, there are many people who embrace wearing color and creating beautiful outfits with interesting fabrics, textures, and jewelry.
These Bird Box Challenge alternatives do not require a blindfold and focus more on vision impairment education.
Learn about the colors and tips of blindness canes
Did you know that not all blindness canes look alike? It’s true. Most people assume that all blind people use the NFB straight white cane with a metal tip. I use an Ambutech cane that collapses into four segments and rolls on the ground. There are special canes for people that are deafblind, for walking in the snow, and for learning to use a cane. An interesting way to connect back to the movie would be to ask yourself which canes would work best for the characters.
Create images that simulate vision impairment
Did you know that many people who identify as blind or vision impaired have some usable vision? A great way to simulate vision impairment is to edit images that show what a person with a vision impairment sees. I created a tutorial for how to simulate several common vision impairments with the free PicsArt app.
Help people with vision impairments using Be My Eyes
Ever wonder how blind people actually complete everyday tasks? Sign up to be a volunteer for Be My Eyes, an app that connects blind and low vision users with sighted volunteers. This is a great way to give back to the community and learn more about the lives of people living with sight loss.
That being said, the service is anonymous and is based on the assumption that volunteers will be honest and respectful. Don’t ask people what their vision is like or other prodding questions. Just help them with what they ask you to do.
Use Seeing AI as a virtual assistant
Remember how I mentioned that many blind people use a color reader? Seeing AI is a free iOS app from Microsoft that has many functions to assist people with vision loss, including a color reader, short text reader, and scene description technology. Seeing AI uses machine learning to help people with every day tasks, and it’s a great introduction to the amazing world of assistive technology.
Learn to act as a human guide
As mentioned previously, it’s important to know how to guide someone without hurting them. This includes being able to identify obstacles, using specific language when describing location, and allowing them to hold onto their arm. Never grab onto a person’s arm without their permission, especially when you’re in public.
Create your own audio descriptions
For more creative minds, another Bird Box Challenge alternative can be creating your own audio descriptions for YouTube videos. This allows users to practice describing people, places, and things, as well as reading text. YouDescribe is a free website from the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute that gives users all the tools they need to start describing videos and to receive feedback on their descriptions
Many disability simulations, including the Bird Box Challenge, fail to capture the actual needs of the disability community and the problems that they face. By participating in any of these 12 Bird Box Challenge alternatives, people can learn more about how those with vision impairments actually navigate through life in a safe and respectful way.