3. Language and Terminology

Back to table of contents

3.1. Respecting Individual Choice.
3.2. Disability, Disabled, and Disablist.
3.3. Language and Terminology Related to Visual Impairment.

3.1. Respecting Individual Choice.

VVI recognises the right of any individual to use whatever language they themselves prefer to describe themselves, and ask that their wishes be respected on a personal basis in any given situation.

However, to avoid confusion, VVI sets out definitions which it recommends to be used in all general mentions by official authors such as public bodies, and other institutions.

3.2. Disability, Disabled, and Disablist.

3.2A. Disabled People.
3.2B. Disablism and Disablist.

3.2A. Disabled People.

In keeping with the disabled people’s movement, VVI is rooted as much in the social model of disability as it is in the complementary Human Rights model of disability. The social model of disability sees disability as being a negative social construct – i.e., that disability (or disablement), is something done to us by society, rather than being intrinsic to us because of our visual impairment.

As such, when we say we are ‘disabled people’, “disabled” here is not an adjective of an identity-group, but rather, “disabled” is used in the verbal sense: we are continually being disabled by prejudice and prevailing attitudes, by negligent planning and design, by bad policy, and by a disability industry that reinforces the medical/charity rather than the Human Rights model of disability.

The term ‘disabled people’ can be contrasted with terms such as ‘people with disabilities’, which suggests that disability is, instead, an intrinsic personal limitation due to a person’s impairment or diverse condition. So, while people can have, or be with, conditions, impairments, phenotypes, and illnesses; they cannot be said to have or be with something that is a social construct. For example, we do not speak of somebody being ‘with sexism, or ‘having racism’.

3.2B. Disablism and Disablist.

Just as other negative social constructs use the suffix –ism for the noun, and –ist for the adjective, it makes sense for analogues in disability to be treated similarly.

Hence, any attitude, policy, law, plan, etc., that disables people with impairments and diverse conditions – i.e., which disables us in relation to our ‘normal’ comparitors, are ‘disablist’. The prevailing institutionalisation of disablist attitudes and opinions that lead to institutionalised disablist practices (in language, social structure, laws, etc.), are, logically enough, collectively known as disablism.

3.3. Language and Terminology Related to Visual Impairment.

3.3A. Visually Impaired = blind and/or partially sighted.
3.3B. Medical and Legal Classification of Subtypes.
3.3C. Classification in Blind Sports.
3.3D. Coming Back to Personal Choice (3.1).

3.3A. Visually Impaired = blind and/or partially sighted.

As our name – ‘Voice of Vision Impairment’ – suggests, VVI sees ‘visual impairment’, or ‘vision impairment’, as being the preferred generic term for people who are blind or partially sighted. In other words, “Blind” and “partially sighted” are subsets of “visually impaired”.

As such, we speak of ‘visually impaired people’, ‘vision-impaired people’, ‘people with a visual impairment’, people with visual impairments’, or ‘people with a vision impairment’ etc. As subsets we speak of blind people and partially sighted people.

The important principle here is that as long as blind people wish to identify as ‘visually impaired’ people (which we are, of course), we should not be excluded from making this identification, for example, by others who make a false distinction between blindness and visual impairment. As such, referring to “blind and visually impaired” can be as meaningless, and even as insulting, as referring to “women and people”.

Our view that blindness and partial sight are the subsets is shared by the World Blind Union, the European Blind Union, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (in the UK), among others.

3.3B. Medical and Legal Classification of Subtypes.

3.3B1. Visual Acuity (VA).
3.3B2. Vision Field (VF).

3.3B1. Visual Acuity (VA).

Since 1862, technical definitions of blindness and partial sight have been measured using the Snellen Test. This test measures visual acuity (VA) by finding out how far down a chart of letters (of ever-decreasing size) a person can read from a distance of 6 meters with the use of the best corrective lense for the best eye.

In recent years, a LogMAR VA test has begun to replace the Snellen test, but in effect, the criteria for classifications remain the same, albeit expressed in a different way, and in some respects enabling more refined measurements. ‘Normal’ vision in LogMAR is 0.0, and as sight decreases, the number increases to just beyond 2.60 (i.e., up to total blindness, which).

On the outer, or more sighted limit of the spectrum – for example, in terms of eligibility for drivers’ licenses – there is general agreement that a VA of 6/18 (LogMAR 0.48)is the default (without taking field of vision into account).

However, somewhat at the other end of the spectrum, there is some overlapping, but no technical unity on what constitutes blindness. Whereas the Republic of Ireland, India, and the USA classify a person as being legally blind if they have 6/60 VA or less in the Snellen test (LogMAR 1.0); the UK, France and the UN (ICD 11, 2018), see blindness (also known as “severe sight impairment” in the UK) as being less than 3/60 (LogMAR 1.3)..

Note that there is no register of people who are blind, legally or otherwise, in the Republic of Ireland, despite what the Dept. of Social Protection and Citizens Information etc., continue to claim. Instead, blind people have to obtain a letter, usually from an optometrist, or else an ophthalmological consultant, and present this letter as proof, when required, in applications.

Subcategories of blindness agreed by all are:

  • total blindness, also known as no light perception (Nlp).
  • only light perception (LP).
  • being able to see hand movement at 1 meter (HM). This approximates to a LogMAR equivalent of 2.6).
  • being able to count fingers at 1 meter (CF).
  • not being able to see an N6 letter at 40 cm.
  • not being able to see the first letter on the Snellen chart at 3 meters.

What is universal in the measurements, though, is that blindness is invariably classified as a subset of the visual impairment spectrum, and not separate to it.

Internationally, terms like “low vision” have meanings so different as to be unhelpful in terms of classification, although British Blind Sports classifies “low vision” as being anything less than 0.5 on the LogMAR chart, equivalent to 6/19 on the Snellen chart – although it is probable that 0.5 was rounded up from 0.48, and that 6/18 is the cut-off.

Similarly, ‘Useful’, ‘functional’, or ‘residual’ vision are also not agreed in terms of meaning, and would appear to be intrinsically subjective. Furthermore, the term “People with sight-loss” intrinsically excludes, in particular, those who are born totally blind, or who have had the same level of visual impairment all of their lives.

3.3B2. Vision Field (VF).

A second variable to be factored into technical measurement is that of visual field (VF). There are several ways of measuring field of vision, but compared to visual acuity, in terms of vision field there is even less agreement on how much restriction of VF, and even the position of these restrictions, should count when attempting to measure visual impairment subcategories or visual impairment itself. For example, in the US, the full aperture angle is said to be 120 degrees, and 75% restriction of this (to 30 degrees) is said to have impact enough to contribute to visual impairment. There are too many divergences from this to mention, but for example, in Australia, the aperture is said to be 108 degrees, and in the UK, particular significance is given to the lower field of vision being absent.

3.3C. Classification in Blind Sports.

Most national and international sports movements, including the Paralympics, use subcategories based on optometrist or opthalmological measurements (see 3.3B, above). This categorisation is of particular interest because it is based on the immediate and practical amount of useful vision of participants, so that, in theory, none are at a disadvantage by competing against someone with better useful vision than themselves.

Generally, three categories are used throughout the world of sport:

B1. No light perception, (NLP) or only light perception (LP). In LogMAR, the equivlanet is 2.60> (i.e., worse sight than 2.60).
B2. Limited vision (2/60 or less) but at least being able to count fingers at 15cm. The LogMAR equivalent is Better sight than 2.60, up to and including 1.50 etc. This category also includes people who have a visual field of under 10 degrees.
B3. Includes those with visual acuity of between 2/60 and 6/60. The LogMAR equivalent is sight Better than 1.50, up to and including 1.0. This category also includes those who have a visual field of 40 degrees or less (vf 10><40).

British Blind Sport Recreational Classification System has two wider categories:

B4. Visual acuity of better than 6/60, up to and including 6/24). The LogMAR equivalent is 1.0><0.6. B5. Visual acuity of better than 6/24, and up to and including 6/18. The LogMAR equivalent is 0.6><0.48.

Better than 0.48 (6/18) is unclassified, i.e., not considered to be visually impaired.

For more information see Understanding Classifications – British Blind Sport

British Blind Sport acknowledges that the above system is not perfect, since performances in some sports are differently affected by different visual acuity and field. We would add to this that different eye conditions also alter visual perception differently, and measuring the border between B1 and B2 can be difficult or imprecise unless there is total uniformity of the test conditions, including lighting and background contrast to fingers on a hand, skin-colour or colour-tone of hand etc.


3.3D. Coming Back to Personal Choice (2.1.1).

While all or any policies, regulations or legislation etc., must prioritise the views and opinions of visually impaired people, through their DPO, on what language should be used, and as to what purpose or meaning the subcategories have; ultimately, each person gets to say how they prefer to be identified, personally, in any particular context and at any particular time.

For example, the same person may prefer to be known as partially sighted in one context (for example in an art class), and as ‘blind’ in another, (for example, a fire emergency drill or any situation where ambiguity is unhelpful).

Also, a person’s ability to see can change according to many variables:

  • vision may be very much affected by light conditions, so that even something as subtle as a cloud temporarily covering the sun can mean that a visually impaired person, temporarily, cannot see something beside them or in the near distance.
  • sometimes, anxiety or lack of confidence can distract from the concentration or mental focus required for a visually impaired person to use their vision to its fullest. Sometimes, just a distraction, whether by another person or something else, can be enough to knock this focus.
  • for whatever physiological or other psychological reason, a visually impaired person may just be having one of those days that their usual visual ability is not performing to par. One VVI member has described this experience as “having bad days”, and “having a bad day”.
  • a visually impaired person may have perfect (6/6) vision, but have tunnel vision. As such, in terms of reading newspapers etc., they might prefer to self-define as partially sighted, but in terms of getting about, they may prefer to identify as being blind.
  • conversely, someone with only peripheral vision, even if such vision is perfect, may prefer to identify as partially sighted for the purposes of getting about, but as blind in contexts where reading is a core activity.
  • in some settings, especially where there are a lot of visually impaired people congregated, those present might find it useful, depending on a particular task, to define themselves in terms of those with useful vision and those with no useful vision. In such situations, even if all present there are technically blind, they may self-declare as blind and partially sighted, respectively. Sometimes, a term is relative.

< 2. Basic Principles   4. Real World Engagement >

Back to table of contents