Why I Won’t Be Taking the Bird Box Challenge

We finally watched Bird Box, the new Netflix mega hit, because our son talked us into it, and Sandra Bullock has never disappointed us. It gave me the willies.

Not a Spoiler Alert! Anyone who has even heard of this movie, or seen photographs and trailers filling up social media, knows that Sandra Bullock’s standout article of clothing is a blindfold, worn for much of the film. Sandra and her two movie children become so good at functioning-while-blindfolded that they are able to stumble through a forest, launch a rowboat and row down a raging river. To do this they depend on their wits and their sense of hearing which tells them if they’re in, say, an open space or how far away they are from anything, such as a scary thing.

And the truly scary part in all of that, for me, is the “sense of hearing” bit.  I’ll tell you what would be really terrifying – blindfold a sighted person with hearing loss and push them out the door saying, “Have a nice day and good luck!” I have profound hearing loss and if I were blindfolded, even with my powerful cochlear implant/hearing aid combo, I’d have trouble navigating my way out of bed, let alone run through the woods without being taken down by a tree. Being able to effectively interpret the subtleties of sound, using pitch, volume and localization to act as a radar, would be almost impossible without practice. If I close my eyes, I might be able to place my husband’s voice, because I know it well, but a stranger’s voice would be harder to place. I would have trouble differentiating between environmental noises such as wind blowing through the trees and rushing water. Think about that: I’d be walking towards the trees – and then find myself face down in pool of water. That’s scary.

Everyone in the movie appears to have excellent hearing, although that would be statistically improbable, as at least one in four people today has some degree of hearing loss. But even so, the characters in Bird Box had to practice and practice and practice with the blindfolds before they could run those river rapids. It takes time to learn how to use alternative senses effectively. It’s a myth that when a person loses their sight, their hearing automatically becomes better or, conversely, if you lose your hearing, your vision becomes better than 20/20. If it did, I wouldn’t need to wear corrective lenses.

For peeps with hearing loss, we use our vision to tell us what our sense of hearing cannot. I need to see what I can’t hear. But that skill takes some time to develop and I’ve had a lifetime of experience. Also, practice doesn’t always make perfect. For example, I am constantly losing gloves. When I get out of the car, they fall on the ground and I don’t see it or hear it. On the plus side, I’m so skilled at using closed captioning that I can enjoy movies without any sound. I can watch the action and read captions at the same time, almost imagining the sound. This helps on flights where I can’t use headphones; I watch films that are captioned or subtitled in my spoken language, English. People with hearing loss tend to become skilled at speechreading, watching people’s faces and body language to fill in the information that we cannot hear.

But for people don’t have the experience of hearing loss or loss of vision, it’s difficult to understand the necessary coping and adjustment processes that must take place. That doesn’t seem to bother the thousands of people who’ve taken up the Bird Box Challenge, because they want to do what Sandra does in the movie. Thousands of people whose nerves are made either of steel or silly putty, who have nothing else to do, and/or are ignorant of the severe potential consequences of  blindfolding themselves and trying to go about their typical day.

 People have fallen down deep flights of concrete stairs, crashed into walls and imperiled others by driving their cars or walking into busy urban streets, all in the name of trendy activity. The Guardian newspaper in the UK used this headline: Why blindfolding yourself and walking into walls is even more stupid than it sounds.  Netflix itself has issued a warning to against the dangers of the challenge.

So, no, I won’t be taking the Bird Box challenge. My people have our own challenges every time someone repeatedly forgets to face us while speaking and other rules of good communication. It’s a challenge to understand when TV shows or movies aren’t captioned. This is the special kind of stupid we deal with every day – we don’t need a blindfold.


Image of Bird Box from Netflix

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Have you ever noticed some singers on TV almost shove their microphones down their throats thinking that will increase the volume but it also prevents understanding the words of the song. I always remind speakers who use a microphone to hold it just below their chin so I am able to read their lips. This accommodation along with captioning improves my ability to hear.

  2. I always get the willies watching anything like where I absolutely need what little hearing I have. The Walking Dead makes me always think that I’d be done in a day because I would either run out of batteries for my hearing aids or lose them or break them. Yikes.

    And your point about not differentiating environmental sounds – I’m not sure I would be able to differentiate them from the “sounds” of my tinnitus much less from each other :)

    Great article.

  3. Spot on! Our adult loss of hearing organization in Tucson (ALOHA) passes out badges you can clip on the front of your shirt or blouse that says: PLEASE FACE ME, I LIP READ. Now you don’t have to really lip read for everything in order for this to work. my wife and I both HOH and we both where the badge. It helps.

  4. Your description of severe hearing loss was bang on and all the things we do to make up for it which can be pretty tiring at times. My cochlear implant was a blessing and closed captioning but still have trouble on the phone.

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