Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Does Blind Mean?

I truly believe that most of the sighted world has a fixed notion as to the meaning of the word "blind." I say this based on a life-long experience, plus those of several of my fellow blind and visually-impaired friends and acquaintances. In a nutshell: the word "blind" is taken by the majority of society to mean that a person is unable to see anything. In addition, many mainstream persons would tell you that they have a very difficult time understanding what blindness really means.

As a kid growing up in a mainstream environment with two sighted parents and two sighted brothers, I never really gave much thought to this topic except to tell you that from the start I always knew that I was blind because I could not see what others saw. I had a bit of vision that enabled me to see things at a very close range but still things were extremely blurry. I was able to see colors, daylight, and I could distinguish light from dark and some objects. Then when I was in my teens I received a cornea transplant and the world really opened up for me. I was still classified as "blind" but now I could see much more. Then five years ago I lost most of it, and now I really know what it is to be blind.

To clarify the picture for you: The word "blind" is liberally used to describe a person who has difficulty seeing things. Someone who is unable to drive because they did not pass the eye test. Someone who either uses a cane or a guide dog to move around. Someone who uses specialized glasses to read and write. Someone who can only see light, shadows, but nothing more.

Someone who is totally blind means that they are unable to see anything.

So you see, there are varying levels or degrees of blindness and there are different terms to describe each common level. You may hear terms like: High partial, high functional vision, low vision, low functional vision, light perception, and totally blind. If this is all confusing to you, then there is the term legally blind.

As for me, I was born with low-functional vision, graduated to high-functional vision, and now I am back to light perception. All very confusing you say? Then try this on for size: Different countries apply these terms a bit differently.

Here are two websites to visit so that you can see for yourself:

www.nfb.org - In the United States.
www.rnib.org - across the pond in Britain.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and asking you to help educate the rest of the world about what the term "blind" really means.

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