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November 03, 2005 | Read comments | Post a comment

The bad 'blind'

Working on our current CloserLook article about electronic voting and access, I put some terms into the Google News search engine to find stories on the issue. One of the things I was looking for were stories that had both the words "blind" and "voting" in them.

I was not surprised when half of what came back had nothing at all to do with blind people. No; "blind" was being used as a metaphor.

And not for anything good:

I found a press release discussing a candidate's blind and fearful ambition.

I found this, from Political Affairs magazine: We are just a blind killing presence in a country we are ignorant about. ...

From a Toronto Star column: "you are either purposely blind and stupid..."

So now I'm curious. How often is "blind" used like this?

Before folks jump all over me for being overly sensitive, let me say that yes there may be one or two instances in which "blind," used as an adjective, signifies something good. "Blind justice" might be one of those instances, although I have mixed feelings about that one.

But no one can deny that most of the time when "blind" is used as an adjective, it's there as a stand-in for "bad." And that's not good.

I went to Google News just now and typed in "blind." Yeah, I DID get a lot of stories about real blind people. I also got:

Is blind defense of Roe smart for Democrats? (The (VA) Free Lance-Star);

Exempting Council from sunshine law would blind public (a Honolulu Star editorial);

Flying Blind (a headline from the Oct. 29 issue of Newsweek).

Blind folks have never complained much about it that I've heard. Seems odd.

Plenty of people complain about the vicious use of "retarded" -- Michael Berube's blog has a great entry about that. And I can't tell you the number of times I've been yelled at by organizations for writing "disabled people" instead of "people with disabilities."

But the use of "blind" to mean "bad" seems to me to be really as bad as using "retarded" as an insult. No?

Posted by mjohnson on November 3, 2005 10:06 AM


You ask: "But the use of "blind" to mean "bad" seems to me to be really as bad as using "retarded" as an insult. No?"

Although the answer is "Yes!" and it's true that blind people don't care, that is largely because it comes from a huge bigotry/prejudice factor promulgated by the bible.

The title chapter of my online book "Blindless" addresses this at some length. I frankly don't believe anything will/can(?) be done about it because of the extremely widespread "if I went blind I'd kill myself" attitude. Even though blind people probably don't have any higher suicide rates than sighted people it typifies the "better dead than disabled" thing to a fare-thee-well. It may be an even bigger bugaboo than being imprisoned by a wheelchair.


Posted by: William Loughborough on November 3, 2005 12:00 PM

I've thought about this for a while, but haven't complained much. In a culture where sight is credited as the only means of perceiving anything, the use of "blind" as a substitute for "ignorant" seems to occur as a matter of course. Even "blind justice" and "blind faith" suggest carrying on despite the presence of the obvious. So yes, "blind" is used to mean "bad" -- because "oblivious" is bad. It suggests that those who are blind carry on willy-nilly without perceiving anything, in a bull-in-china-shop type manner. But then, Mary, what do you make of "black" as a substitute for "evil," "impure," etc.? People have noticed it and considered its implications, just as people have noticed the use of "blind" and its implications -- but my guess is that they've decided it would be gross oversensitivity to try and attack it. I was more roused by a recent editorial -- in National Geographic, no less -- about how your cat could make you "crazy". It described a study about a link between exposure to cat urine and schizophrenia, but not before drawing a parallel between the nutty, wacky, inexplicable "spaced-out" behaviors of cats and being "crazy". This seems somehow worse than the subtle perpetuation of a bull-china stereotype of the "blind". Why? I laughed heartily at myself recently when I stepped into a toilet trying to flush with my foot, because my vision was blurred. Was that not funny -- and a bit bullish? Maybe it was, because I had a moment of ungracefulness but am not inherently ungraceful, like the perpetuators of the "bad blind" would have me believe.

Posted by: Evonne on November 3, 2005 02:37 PM

I think that this has been discussed a lot in NFB circles. The idea is the blindness is synonomous with "unaware," "unknowing."

Since the public sees people who are blind as unaware of their surroundings and unknowing of what is going on, the first step is getting rid of that misconception. I think that not a lot of attention has been paid to it by the blind community because we are still trying to overcome the initial misconceptions of blindness. Right now, if you went up to a person and said, "I think the way you just said so-and-so was blind to Bush's incompetence (for example) is kind of a slur against people who are blind," they would look at you as confused. They still see blind people as unaware and unknowing. But, it has been complained about by the community.

Posted by: Lisa on November 3, 2005 11:24 PM

Lisa writes,

it has been complained about by the community.

I think they must be complaining among themselves and not publicly in the media, right? I think if there were a general uproar I'd've known about it.

Evonne wants to know what I think about the use of "black" as a substitute for "evil"? I think that back in the bad ol' Sixties I heard a lot of complaining about that word. Plus, I could argue that "black" actually is a color and was applied metaphorically to African-Americans (who are no more 'black' than Caucasians are 'white') -- but that "blind" really is a type of "impairment" -- it's been extended the other way metaphorically to mean ignorant or maliiciously unknowing...

Posted by: Mary Johnson on November 4, 2005 06:21 AM

Hi Mary,

I noted with interest your musings about trying to google information using the term "blind". Being a person who is blind himself I've noted the same frustrations in conducting google and other searches using that term. I've had a bit more sucess using terms like visually impaired.

Political correctness to the side on this issue it all shows a dirth of media coverage on issues facing people who are blind.
But ditto goes for even trying to search on terms like disabilities as more often "handicapped" draws more hits.

And of course we can always search for the term "wheelchair bound" (as loathful as the term is) and get a better response than using the term "person who uses a wheelchair" or even "wheelchair user".

Aain its most troubling to me that our issues (those concerning PWD) generally aren't covered much at all in the mainstream media. And when they are they usually are charitable based or botched attacks upon the ADA or other civil rights laws.

Regardless though I thank yu as always for your thoughts and for all of your work to ameliorate media failures in general and in specific.

Peace and Hope,

Joe Harcz

Posted by: joe harcz on November 7, 2005 06:05 PM

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