BBC World Service – Weekend Break Interview (19th April 2015). Red appears for the last 5 minutes of the episode.
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Last week I got all hopeful. I was watching Broadchurch and hurrah, there’s a major character who’s dealing with encroaching blindness in a credible way!
I was about to send ITV a letter of congratulation when the commercial break came and what should I hear but klaxons and “Oh no, he’s noseblind!” Cue remedial action to eliminate noxious odours from a smelly teenager’s room with equally pungent fabric refresher.
So it’s like that is it? After 20 years of disability discrimination laws, blindness is still shorthand for naïve or wilful ignorance!
The fact is, even without the pejorative nonsense, the B word comes with baggage. Most people think it means total and unalterable sightlessness which as Jocelyn in Broadchurch would advocate is not the case.
She reflects the 97% of those of us registered blind in the UK who still retain some vision – vision that fluctuates depending on factors such as how bright it is or how tired we are.
Like many I’m sure, I regularly find myself faced with the helpful observation “oh, so you’re not completely blind then’, as if this somehow makes the ordeal of sight loss so much better.
I wonder would a zombie feel happier knowing he wasn’t completely dead?
Even less welcome is the incredulity I’ve encountered as a blind person doing anything visual.
Notwithstanding my pebble-thick reading glasses and the array of light emitting electronics I carry, I’ve been left in no doubt that a blind man using his eyes is a fraud.
But until the on-screen percentages reflect the actual numbers of us with sight problems in the country how can we expect people to understand the nuances of different types of sight loss?
I think the problem lies in the vocabulary. Just look at the alternatives to “blind” on offer: “partially sighted” or the rather archaic “purblind” simply don’t cut the mustard.
Their more modern and politically correct counterpart “visually impaired” is a mealy-mouthed attempt to stick a label across a wide range of differing experiences and rings hollow with the embarrassment of whichever committee coined it.
To add bureaucratic insult to injury its two subsections – “sight impaired” and “severely sight impaired” reinforce the impression that sight loss needn’t be regarded as serious until it’s reached a certain level.
I’ll admit to smiling the first few times I heard myself referred to as a VIP (visually impaired person) but when this happy coincidence of dual meaning gets pointed out with the same regular monotony as my encouraging lack of complete blindness the time has come to act.
So I’m asking listeners to redefine sight loss and produce a new lexicon of meaningful words to describe how we wish to be seen.
To start the ball rolling here’s my suggestion.
Occluded: meaning blocked or obstructed, especially in terms of an aperture.
The first syllable has the ring of ‘ocular’ that makes you think of the eyes,
and the whole word sits somewhere between included and excluded, reflecting how many of us with sight loss feel.
In meteorology an occluded front is formed when a warm front is overtaken by a cold one, often producing unsettled weather.
Now that sounds familiar!