I have low vision. I’m not afraid to say it, because I do not know what life is like being able to see like so many others do, and I have to remind others of that. I am extremely open about my vision loss, and never get offended if a young child on the metro, a new friend on campus, or even a total stranger on the street wants to know how I use my blindness cane or my different assistive technologies- in fact, I explain to them how I do to the best of my ability (you can read my posts about how I explain my condition to children here, how I explain my glasses here, and how I answer general questions from strangers here). I refer to myself as being visually impaired, having low vision, or having vision not corrected by glasses. Never will you hear me refer to myself as being “vision empowered.”
I first heard that term use to describe someone while I was talking with someone in Washington, DC one day. I thought it was one of the craziest things I’d ever heard, as it discounted the fact I can’t see well. At first, I thought that this was a random person who made up a term, but I heard it mentioned in many conversations I had with people in the following weeks. It sounded like people were trying to deny my disability or modifying words to avoid hurting feelings.
I have a theory that this phrase was coined by parents that were upset their child couldn’t see and wanted to make them sound like they were better than other kids. It’s the same parents who dress their kids in shirts that say “I have insert disability here, what’s your superpower?” The ones who try to deny problems are as bad as they are. The ones who want the world to accommodate their child, and don’t tell the child what to do when the world isn’t the way they need it.
I could hear my mom roll her eyes over the phone when I told her about being referred to as vision empowered. She has never been one to tell me the world is an accommodating place, one where everything is large print and with light filters. Instead, she taught me how to make the world accessible for myself and to be a fierce advocate for myself and others. One thing I really appreciated is that she never told me I couldn’t do anything because I had low vision and let me do whatever my sighted brother and sighted friends were doing…with the exception of driving. She told me “I could see someone describing you as empowered, but not vision empowered. That just makes you sound stupid.”
I told a group of close friends who are sighted about the term as well, and they all couldn’t believe that the term existed. One friend told me it made me sound like I’m the type of person who demanded that there be Braille on a drive up ATM- which technically has to be there by law, but I digress. If someone introduced themselves or if someone was introduced as being vision empowered, they told me that they would wonder what that meant and it would create more questions about what the person’s level of vision was than it would create answers, while terms like blind, visually impaired, or low vision are self explanatory. To read more about sight words and disability language, read this post.
To say I am vision empowered is to talk down to me and say my accomplishments only happened because I have a disability. It is to discount my low vision and say that it’s not as bad as it actually is, or that life will always be easy. Even worse, it is to see me as my disability and permanently associate everything I do with how I see. I am okay with the terms low vision, visually impaired, vision loss, and many others, but not being told my vision loss makes me a more empowered or special person.
The only time I want to hear the words vision and empowered together in a sentence is if someone says “The inspirational life you live with low vision empowered others to follow in your footsteps and succeed as well.”