Saturday, December 9, 2023


One reviewer of my award-winning book Time for PsyQ challenged my use of the word 'blind' in relation to my character Kate, who appears with her guide dog Goldie and is extremely capable of managing her total absence of vision (even in the absence of her PsyQ gift). The reviewer said I should say 'visually challenged', and of course this was supported by some 'politically correct' (PC) up votes.

The USA's National Centre on Disability and Journalism quotes amongst other sources the Associated Press guidelines: 'Included in its “Disabled/Handicapped” entry, the stylebook describes 'blind' as “a person with complete loss of sight” and suggests using the terms “visually impaired” or “person with low vision” for those who have some sight', but it notes in relation to 'visually impaired' that 'some may object to it because it describes the condition in terms of a deficiency'.

In fact 'legally blind' covers this dimension of visual impairment comparative to normal vision. Typically it means you have to be ten times or more nearer to see what a person with normal vision can see (with specific distances specified that can vary across jurisdictions, although in metric metres it is usually 6/60 vs 6/6 and in imperial feet it is often 20/200 vs 20/20). The term 'visually impaired' refers to this loss of visual acuity or peripheral awareness rather than total blindness. 

Of course such legal definition is also to deny the PC offence at the word 'normal', without which it is impossible to characterize any ability, disability or normative distribution (substitutes like 'neurotypical' deny the central limit theorem pertaining to the normal distribution and confidence intervals of empirical measurements that relate to multiple underlying diagnostics and causes, and indeed other factors: technically nobody is exactly normal, that is precisely average in all respects).

The term 'visually challenged' itself is inaccurate and an offensive attempt at a euphemism: it is not recommended by any of the sources/standards/advisories I managed to find. The etymonline entry for challenged is

challenged (adj.)

1570s, "having been called to a contest," past-participle adjective from challenge (v.). As a euphemism for "disabled," 1985.

And the core meaning of challenge is:

challenge (n.)

early 14c., chalenge, "something one can be accused of, a fault, blemish;" mid-14c., "false accusation, malicious charge; accusation of wrong-doing," also "act of laying claim" (to something), from Anglo-French chalenge, Old French chalonge "calumny, slander; demand, opposition," in legal use, "accusation, claim, dispute," from Anglo-French chalengier, Old French chalongier "to accuse, to dispute" (see challenge (v.)). The accusatory connotations faded 17c. The meanings "an objection" in law, etc.; "a calling to fight" are from mid-15c. The sense of "difficult task" is by 1954.

challenge (v.)

c. 1200, "to rebuke," from Old French chalongier "complain, protest; haggle, quibble," from Vulgar Latin *calumniare "to accuse falsely," from Latin calumniari "to accuse falsely, misrepresent, slander," from calumnia "trickery" (see calumny).

From late 13c. as "to object to, take exception to;" c. 1300 as "to accuse," especially "to accuse falsely," also "to call to account;" late 14c. as "to call to fight." Also used in Middle English with a sense of "claim, take to oneself." Related: Challenged; challenging.


The older meanings related to the word 'calumny' (lie/falsehood) are clearly inappropriate, as is the traditional usage of being called to a 'fight' or 'contest'. The broader modern sense of a difficult task or test, typically imposed by someone else, is also problematic. Indeed, to say someone is 'challenged' is to say that they have not managed to meet the challenge, and is thus derogatory.

Furthermore, this 'politically correct' usage tends to be extended in a 'humorous' way to anything else that may be true but would be impolite to call attention to. So when one does so, rather than being 'polite' (avoiding undue focus on the 'challenge' but offering to help without any deprecatory comment), a pseudo 'politically correct' insult is used instead (e.g. 'height-challenged').

As for the term 'politically correct' itself, the Wikipedia article on this oxymoron [viewed 9 Dec 2023] notes that it was first used to describe dogmatic adherence to and policing of ideology in relation to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. As leftwing gender ideology started to rise in the 1970s it was used as a deliberately facetious irony, both by those traditionalists who objected to the pressure to change their language/grammar as well as as a self-deprecatory "in-joke among leftists used to satirise those who were too rigid in their adherence to political orthodoxy" (Wikipedia citing Hall, Stuart (1994): "Some 'Politically Incorrect' Pathways Through PC". S. Dunant (ed.) The War of the Words: The Political Correctness Debate. pp. 164–84.) 

So, in fact, the PC label was used as a deliberate oxymoron, knowing that it was 'political' rather than 'correct' and that the individual words were self-contradictory in this usage. However, it seems that the oxymoronic inconsistency of the term is not understood by the crowds of would-be 'do-gooders' who unthinkingly, one is tempted to say [oxy]moronically (which would not be PC), follow the path of PC ideology and attack those who don't. As in George Orwell's 1984, the 'thought police' win when you don't actually think about how they are controlling your thinking but just follow the other lemmings.

My characters Kate and Libby may be 'blind' and 'deaf', but hopefully my writing reveals truths rather than hiding them, an echo of Jesus' messsage to the 'woke' PC crowd of his day 2000 years ago: "This is why I tell stories: to create awareness, to nudge people awake... You have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear and understand." 

It is not 'doing good' or being 'sensitive and honest' to break away from reality and science, denying the truth of being blind for euphemistic labels like 'visually impaired' or the blatant imprecation of being 'visually challenged'. In general, 'rebels without a cause' have their own personal agenda of self-aggrandisment, seeking to be seen as better than others, champions of the causes of others, policing all in the name of protecting those who don't want their protection. I'm reminded of the boy scout who explained that he had done his three good deeds already that day – despite the frenetic objections of the old woman he dragged across the road three times against her will.

It is worth taking a look at a 2009 National Foundation for the Blind reprint (and editorial) of an article concerning their 1993 resolution (Jernigan, 1993) to deplore such "euphemistic" alternatives to the adjective and/or noun "blind", calling the PC practice "a plague of awkward circumlocutions" with those who object or fail to obey "subject to sanction". The editorial also points (next) to a reprint of another contemporaneous article complaining about this "unholy crusade" (Vaughan, 1993), concluding: "But isn't it pretentious to make such convolutions the preferred or even the only acceptable constructions? Is this not rather the effort of some misguided professionals who, without listening, are trying to change the world of those they purport to serve?"

Living with disability is not about advertizing the disability, and calling it by new and supposedly euphonious terms, it is about accepting the person, supportively acknowledging what they can do, and humbly helping them with what they cannot. People with a disability know about their limitations, but they don't want their faces rubbed in it wantonly – which is precisely what we are doing when we try replacing correct accurate terminology, like 'blind', by confrontational, awkward and unwieldy, bad-taste, insulting and incorrect, malapropisms, like 'person who is visually challenged'. 


Availability of Time for PsyQ

Time for PsyQ is available from your favourite bookseller:

Awards for Time for PsyQ

Time for PsyQ won the Silver medal for Teen and Young Adult Sci-Fi Action & Adventure in the 2023 Global Book Awards. 

Reviews of Time for PsyQ

4.7/5 Amazon
5.0/5 Emerald
4.8/5 Goodreads 
4.0/5 OnlineBookClub
5.0/5 Reedsy