During college, I had a confusing interaction with another student when I asked them if they had seen a bottle of shampoo that had gone missing from a shared space. Their response was to tell me that the word “see” was offensive for someone who was blind or visually impaired, and that I should be careful with how I speak, since these words can affect others.
The reason this interaction was confusing was because the other student was sighted, and I live with low vision and use a blindness cane- I have never once thought of “see” as an offensive term. Plus, they never actually answered my question, and so the bottle of shampoo remains missing to this day.
This experience taught me that many people do not know how to talk about low vision or vision loss, or that they may be worried about offending someone with a word choice that they fear could be in poor taste. Today, I will be sharing my own thoughts on language around vision loss, including my view on the word see, as a person living with low vision.
Is the word “see” offensive to blind people/people with low vision?
While I’m sure there are some people out there who dislike the word “see”, the word itself is not considered offensive to people living with vision loss, including those who are blind or that have low vision. In fact, many people with vision loss use words like see, look, watch, view, and other words that describe visual information, even if they are not necessarily getting information through sight alone. I’ve invited blind friends over to watch a movie, a friend with low vision has asked me to take a look at an article, and if someone asks me if I have seen something, I can give them an idea of where the last known location might be.
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What about the word blind?
Terms such as blind, partially sighted, visually impaired, vision impaired, low vision, and legally blind are also not generally considered offensive, as these terms are often used in a medical context as well as a social context. Some people may prefer to use the word blind, either with a lowercase or uppercase B, to describe their vision loss, even if they have some usable vision, or will use multiple terms interchangeably. Personally, I prefer to use the term “low vision” to describe my own eyesight, though I will also use other terms in various contexts. I use the term people with vision loss on my website as an all-inclusive way of referring to vision loss not corrected by glasses.
I’ve met several people with vision loss who are uncomfortable with the term visually impaired, as they believe it implies someone is ugly. I have no problem with this term, but have read many social media posts from people who dislike it and wanted to share that perspective.
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Is the word disabled offensive to people with vision loss?
Disabled and disability is not considered an offensive term, and I have no problem with the use of the word disabled or disability being used to describe me or my vision loss. I prefer this over terms like differently abled, as I feel those can be a bit patronizing.
Person first vs identity first
I use a mix of person first and identity first language when talking about my disability- I am fine with being a person with a visual impairment (person-first) or a visually impaired person (identity-first) and have no preference for what term people use when talking about disability. There is a growing movement to use identity-first language within the blind and low vision community, and many people have started using identity-first language exclusively, though many academic spaces continue to use person-first language.
One language request I do make is to avoid making disability sound miserable or tragic, so I avoid phrases like “suffers from low vision” or “plagued by blindness.”
What do you think of blind jokes?
Blind jokes can be funny, especially when told by other blind/low vision people, but I am cautious against making jokes about my own vision loss that are self-deprecating or that promote the idea that living with vision loss is miserable. Phrases like “that person must be blind” or “are you blind?” can be awkward, especially when blind is used as a synonym for lower intelligence.
Jokes about pretending to be blind to grope people or otherwise invade people’s personal space make me incredibly uncomfortable, and I will often distance myself from conversations where this is mentioned. I have never met a single blind person who feels people’s faces to figure out who they are, and this stereotype is weird to me.
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Summary of my thoughts on the word “see” and language about blindness/low vision
- The word “see” is not considered offensive for people with vision loss, and many people use the word see even if they don’t have any usable vision
- Blind, low vision, legally blind, and similar terms for vision loss are not considered offensive, though some people dislike the term visually impaired
- Disability and disabled are also not considered offensive terms
- I have no preference for using person first versus identity first language, but avoid language that makes disability sound miserable or tragic
- Blind jokes can be funny, but I avoid self-deprecating jokes and don’t appreciate jokes where people use blind as a synonym for lower intelligence, or talk about touching people without consent