blind / low visionLast updated
Blindness is medically defined as the complete or nearly complete loss of sight. The term “legally blind” is used to describe the state of having 20/200 visual acuity, meaning that a person can only see the top line of a Snellen Eye Chart from 20 feet away when using the strongest possible glasses or contact lenses. Therefore, it’s accurate to use the term “blind” when writing about a person with complete loss of sight and “legally blind” when writing about a person whose level of vision meets the legal criteria. For a person with significant loss of vision who is not legally blind, the term “low vision” can be used.
There can be a wide range of experiences among people with blindness or vision loss. Someone with total blindness can’t see anything; someone who has a degree of vision loss may, for example, be able to distinguish between light and dark, or see shapes and colors but not details of faces or street signs.
Terms like “vision impairment” or “visually impaired” can be read as portraying blindness negatively. Similarly, terms like “corrective lenses,” or “vision correction” can suggest a deficiency; using terms like “glasses” or “contact lenses” is straightforward. Person-first language when discussing blindness can also be used, such as the “person who is blind” or “person with low vision,” though following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.
People who are blind may use braille to read and write printed materials. Unlike American Sign Language, which is a language distinct from English, braille is not a language but a system. As a system, braille can be used to read and write in many languages. In English, it consists of 26 letters and contractions, as well as standard punctuation. Be aware that not every person who is blind will use braille; many use devices or software such as screen readers for digital materials or electronic readers for print materials. Note that when writing about braille, it is not capitalized unless writing about Louis Braille, the inventor of the system.
When writing about a person who is both blind and d/Deaf, several terms are commonly used including “deaf-blind” and “deafblind.” The National Center on Deaf-Blindness uses the hyphenated term, though “deafblind” may be more commonly used in federal writing. Some may also capitalize DeafBlind to connote a cultural identification. Whenever possible, it’s best to confirm the preferred term with the person you’re writing about, including the spelling (for instance: “To refer to yourself, do you use the term ‘deaf-blind’ hyphenated or unhyphenated? Capitalized or lowercase?”)
- Resources for Reporters Writing About Blindness and Vision Loss (American Foundation for the Blind)
- American Council of the Blind: Resources (American Council of the Blind)
- National Center on Deaf-Blindness: Overview (National Center on Deaf-Blindness)
- Braille Authority of North America: Position Statements and Fact Sheets (Braille Authority)
There can be a wide range of experiences among people with blindness or vision loss. Total blindness is the complete loss of sight, while low vision is significant loss of sight; legal blindness is specifically defined as having 20/200 visual acuity. Terms like “vision impairment” or “visually impaired” can be read as portraying blindness negatively. Person-first language when discussing blindness can also be used, such as the “person who is blind” or “person with low vision,” though taking into account the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.