Blind vs. Vision Loss: What’s in a Name?

By William H. Grignon

Recently, peers discussed how we at PCB should refer to ourselves. Is it “the blind” or is it “people with vision loss?” Peers who are congenitally blind (blind from birth) seem to prefer “the blind,” while peers who are adventitiously blind (losing their sight at some point after birth) seem to prefer “vision loss.”

Peers who are congenitally blind argue that the term “vision loss” does not apply to them since they never had vision to lose. They further argue that the use of the term “vision loss” tends to focus on and privilege peers who have lost vision and ignore those who never had vision. They further suggest that there is a functional, if not overtly acknowledged, hierarchy based on how much sight a person had and still has – a hierarchy that either does not include “the blind” or places “the blind” at a disadvantaged position.

Peers who are adventitiously blind argue that the congenitally blind lost their vision before birth and have, therefore undergone vision loss. They also point out that the vast majority of PCB and ACB peers qualify as adventitiously blind, but they also acknowledge that there is a well-entrenched hierarchy among all people with diminished sight, ranging from the deaf-blind to the totally blind to the low partial to the high-partial. Moreover, they argue that the term “the blind” lumps all people with diminished sight into a monolithic mass that fails to recognize members as individuals with distinct personalities, discrete skill sets, and unique lives. Finally, they report that those undergoing vision loss tend to recoil from and disavow the term “blind” (as if doing so would constitute a final surrender to an encroaching condition.

Who is right? Maybe this is the wrong question. Maybe the better question is: How can PCB best serve all its peers who are either congenitally or adventitiously blind. We are the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind and we are “a peer network for all impacted by vision loss.” Hence, our name and slogan embrace both “blind” and “vision loss.”

Beyond name and slogan, perhaps PCB should engage in a meaningful self-examination to uncover any inherent biases and address any inequalities in principles, policies, and procedures. After all, PCB exists for all its peers and can only prosper if all peers feel welcome, acknowledged, and valued. Maybe a good first step is to recognize that differences exist and that these differences affect how peers perceive and interact with PCB.

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