In a world where we often discuss the beauty of our surroundings in visual terms, it is easy to forget the richness other senses bring to our experiences. For us divers, the visual splendor beneath the ocean usually draws us in the most. But have you ever wondered what scuba diving would be like if you can’t see? What other senses come alive when visual cues are taken out of the equation? This question brings us to the remarkable tale of PADI AmbassaDiver Jessica Pita, a legally blind diver, who sees the underwater world without sight but with a heart full of adventurous spirit.

Jessica Pita smiling to the camera wearing a beautiful gown
Courtesy of Jessica Pita
Jessica Pita with her dog both wearing sunglasses
Courtesy of Jessica Pita

Meet Jessica Pita

Jessica was eleven years old when she found out she had a brain tumor that had been silently impacting her health since age three. “[I experienced] issues like headaches and migraines, getting reading glasses, and hundreds of other medical tests, but it was never really assumed to be a brain tumor at the time of the tests. Once we found out, I was told I had six to twelve months to live; thus, I was immediately booked in for surgery,” recalls Jessica. The pressure of the tumor on her optic nerves led to optic atrophy, meaning Jessica is now legally blind. She explains, “My central vision is black with little pinpricks of light. My peripheral vision is extremely blurred, resulting in me being color blind and having depth perception issues.” However, this did not stop her from pursuing many adventures, including scuba diving.

Group photo of divers on the beach sitting on a diving boat. They pose excitedly for the camera after a scuba dive.
Courtesy of Jessica Pita

Sensory Experiences Underwater

“The living sound of the reef always blows my mind whenever I’m underwater. The crackle of coral makes me smile each time I go down. Yet, there is no sign that those sounds could ever become dull,” Jessica shares when I ask her about her sensory experiences underwater. Despite her limited vision, she can sometimes make out bright fish because their coloring contrasts starkly with the sand or blue water. Over the reefs, however, “Everything just appears as a single color, separated only by lighter breaks in the sand,” she says and adds, ” I love going onto sand patches and feeling different textures of the sand. It gives me a chance to give myself an idea of the terrain.” 

Live Unfiltered

Jessica never imagined scuba diving would be her thing. “To me, it was something you would do because of all there is to see under the blue water. I considered it a seen sport and didn’t see an appeal in participating in it,” she shares. But everything changed when she found an adaptive diving program in South Africa. The experience wasn’t about what she could see but diving into a world where her other senses took the lead. “My day-to-day lifestyle revolves around the high reliance on all my senses to navigate my world. I constantly pay a high level of attention to my hearing and sense of touch as well as smell when doing certain daily activities just to maintain independence,” remarks Jessica.

Scuba diving lets her relax and enjoy a moment when she doesn’t have to be constantly alert. In the ocean, she enjoys the freedom of not having to pay close attention to everything around her. In her words, “I can truly let go and just listen for the fun of it, to the amazing sound of the reef, not needing to pay attention to any specific sound indicating where I am or where I should go. Having the chance to take up scuba diving on a more permanent basis lets me experience the ‘Live Unfiltered’ campaign to the fullest.”

Jessica shares her unique appreciation to the ocean’s beauty, experienced through (responsible) touch and sound rather than sight. “It makes the ocean so much more mysterious and appealing as there are so many new ways we can look at the underwater world,” she adds.

Jessica Pita smiling to the camera with her dog in front of a swimming pool
Courtesy of Jessica Pita

Vision Without Sight

Through her projects FlyingBlind and Mission with aVision, Jessica believes vision goes beyond seeing – it’s about understanding and experiencing the world’s wonders. “Scuba diving proved my theory, as I can experience the ocean’s beauty and wonder without needing to see it. I would tell anyone with or without a visual disability to jump right in when it comes to diving. There is a world of opportunities out there that might never appear to you as it seems unrealistic because of certain situations that are out of your control, but if I didn’t take up diving, I don’t know where I would be now,” says Jessica.

Jessica, South Africa’s first adaptive diver, helped create sign language for blind divers, making underwater communication easy and stress-free for all. “I made sure that all communication was clear to avoid confusion. It helped that I could be part of the process from the start, as I got to be comfortable with the pace we worked. There was no reason to stress; keep it that way in terms of your own diving. A comfortable diver will have the best dive,” Jessica affirms.

Jessica’s inspirational story reminds us to look beyond our perceived limitations, embrace sensing beauty in different ways, and dive into new adventures. Living unfiltered can have different meanings for each one of us. Discover yours and change your life now.

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