Words Matter…

 In AcessiBe, Michael Hingson Articles

In January 2021 I joined the Israeli company, accessiBe, as its Chief Vision Officer. Among my responsibilities, I was asked to create a podcast which began operations in August 2021 with the title “Unstoppable Mindset: where Inclusion, Diversity and the unexpected meet”. The intent of the podcast was and is to be inspirational. I have had the pleasure of interviewing over 150 guests who come from a wide variety of jobs and life experiences many of which have no relationship to the world of persons with disabilities. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk with a number of people who work in the “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DIA), arena. Many of our discussions have been quite lively and all have been constructive and informative.

When talking with DI people, unless they have some specific relation to persons with disabilities, when I ask guests to define the term “diversity” they mention a number of topics including race, gender, sexual orientation and other things, but rarely if ever mention “disabilities” as part of their definitions of diversity. When the topic of blindness comes up in our discussions, I and others who happen to be blind are usually referred to as “visually impaired”.

Since beginning the podcast, I have thought a lot about this term “visually impaired”. I have listened to many people talk about it and I have also listened to other terminologies that people have used to describe me and the rest of us. I thought it was high time to write an article about this in order to discuss why we need to move away from the term “visually impaired” to a different descriptor that is not only more accurate but better promotes who and what we are. Let me explain.

Language plays a crucial role in shaping perceptions and understanding of various aspects of life. When discussing individuals with sight loss, it is essential to use accurate and inclusive terminology that respects our experiences. By addressing the inaccuracies and misconceptions surrounding the term “visually impaired,” we can foster a more inclusive and respectful society including helping to raise our own personal expectations and self respect.

The term “visually impaired” is widely used to describe individuals with sight loss. However, this term is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, the word “visually” suggests that the person’s appearance is affected by their sight loss, which is ridiculous by any standard. People with sight loss may have different visual acuity levels, but our physical appearance remains unaffected. We are not visually different simply because we may not see or we may not see well.

Secondly, the term “impaired” implies a sense of deficiency or inferiority. This terminology perpetuates the notion that individuals with sight loss are less capable or limited in some way, which is both incorrect and unfair. Instead, it is crucial to recognize that people with sight loss can lead independent and fulfilling lives with the right support and accommodations.

To address these inaccuracies, an alternative term that is gaining recognition and acceptance in some quarters is “blind or low vision.” This phrase accurately acknowledges the potential range of sight loss without implying any physical changes or deficits in the individual’s capabilities.

The term “blind” typically refers to individuals with complete or nearly complete vision loss. However, it is important to note that blindness is not an all-encompassing term. People who are blind often have some residual vision, and the degree of vision loss can vary greatly among individuals. We all know that people who are blind can utilize a wide variety of tools to accomplish the same tasks that non-blind people perform. By the way, those same nonblind people also use tools and tech to accomplish the same tasks.

On the other hand, “low vision” encompasses those persons with varying degrees of vision who typically have some eyesight and who often choose to not view themselves as “blind”. Like totally blind people, these individuals also benefit from assistive technologies, magnification tools, or other aids to enhance, to one degree or another, their remaining vision.

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