One time, I managed to lose my bottle of shampoo in the bathroom I shared with my suitemate. I called out to them, asking if they had seen my bottle of shampoo recently. Their response to my question came as a bit of a surprise:
“Don’t use the word see, that’s offensive to the blind and visually impaired!”
I was very surprised they had said that. I’d never heard of the term being offensive before, and I would never be offended if someone used the term towards me. So here’s how I responded:
“I am the blind and visually impaired, that word isn’t viewed as offensive. Can you help me look for the bottle?”
To which the person then replied:
“Hey, the words view and look are offensive too!”
I just decided to put up this poster in the bathroom and resume my search later.
Is there anything wrong with the word see?
There is nothing wrong with using the word see around people with vision impairments. A common misconception from sighted people is that using a term like see, watch, view, or look is offensive to someone with blindness or low vision. The truth is, people with vision impairment use those terms themselves. My friend with low vision will ask if I “saw” the new assignments for class, a totally blind person will say they “watched” a video, I “view” materials online, and those of us with low vision or blindness frequently need help “looking” for things. These words are not exclusive to the sighted community, and frequently do not refer to the literal appearance of something, or the act of seeing them.
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What about the word blind?
The terms blindness, blind, and low vision are also not offensive- these are actually diagnostic terms used by doctors. The term visually impaired is not offensive either. Some people use low vision and blindness interchangeably, as many “blind” people still have at least some degree of sight. Typically, I use low vision to describe my own eyesight, and identify myself as visually impaired or as having low vision. While some disability communities insist on using person first language instead of identity first language (i.e the student with a vision impairment as opposed to the visually impaired student), people in the low vision community use both.
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Can these words be used negatively?
Of course, these words can be used in a negative context, such as when people get annoyed when you can’t see something. There are also plenty of mean names that people with blindness or low vision get called. However, a lot of the words by themselves are not offensive. There are some people that don’t mind these mean names though and will “reclaim” these names for themselves. For example, my blog title comes from a slang term in America for people who wear glasses. People who wear glasses are sometimes referred to as having “four eyes”, and I stylized my name as Veroniiiica since I am Veronica with four eyes/Is.
Everyone has unique responses to certain words, so if you are ever doubtful, ask the person you are talking to if they find the term offensive. But don’t refrain from using see, watch, view, or look, just because the person you are talking to doesn’t have perfect eyesight.