A Conversation About Blindness

It’s the first week of Blindness Awareness Month and we are kicking off our month’s worth of content with a version of a conversation that could very well be happening somewhere right now as you read this.

A conversation.

Person 1:
October is Blindness Awareness month. Surely, people know what blind is, so why do we need such a month? Blind means you can’t see right?

Person 2:
Not always. Most people who are legally blind can see something, anywhere from light perception up to 10 percent of their vision.

Person 1:
Wait, you said legally blind, what does that mean?

Person 2:
To be classified as legally blind, your vision must be 10 percent or less. Perfect vision is referred to as 20/20. a person with 10 percent vision will be 20/200. What a person with perfect vision can see at 200 feet, a person with 10 percent vision will need to be 20 feet from that object to identify it. You can also be classified as legally blind if you have 20 degrees or less of your field of vision. 20 degrees is like looking through a toilet paper roll.

Person 1:
That is confusing. If a person has 10 percent of their vision, are they blind or not?

Person 2:
Well, they are legally blind, but they often refer to themselves as visually impaired or partially sighted.

Person 1:
Groan: What is the difference between visually impaired and partially sighted?

Person 2:
Nothing, just a preference of terms. Some prefer partially sighted because it focuses on the bit of sight you have rather than the impaired vision.

Person 1:
I’ve also heard people use the term low vision. What does that mean?

Person 2:
It means the same thing as visually impaired or partially sighted.

Person 1:
OK, I think I’ve got this. So if a person has 10 percent vision, I should not refer to them as blind?

Person 2:
Oh no, some people with 10 percent vision do refer to themselves as blind, because remember, they are still considered legally blind.

Person 1:
So how do I know which term to use?

Person 2:
Well, you don’t, so you can ask, or just pay attention to what term the person uses to describe themselves, and then use that.

Person 1:
I’ve heard that person first language is really important though. I should always refer to a person who is blind or a person who is partially sighted right?

Person 2:
Well, some people feel strongly about that, but others prefer identity language and might refer to themselves as a “blind person”, and that is fine too.

Person 1:
Wow, this is really confusing. I guess we do need a Blindness Awareness month after all.