Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
Respecting impairments.

Respecting impairments.

This tip is a short one, but it applies to a lot of people in the Fedora Project, since we all share responsibilities for writing stuff on the Fedora wiki.

I often see instructions or guidance on the wiki where the writer wants to provide a link. Often those instructions say something like this:

  • For more information, see this URL…

Yikes! Hold on a minute here — Fedora, like many other operating systems, has users and contributors who are blind or have severe visual impairments. They may not be able to “see” your link, and in their cases, you’re giving an instruction they can’t possibly follow. This usage is very common in English, so it can be a hard habit to break. I know it’s still an effort for me not to fall into this habit.

Fortunately solving the problem is easy. Use one of the following phrases instead:

  • For more information, visit this URL…
  • For more information, refer to this URL…

Ah, that’s much better, and now everyone can follow your instructions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking this issue is one of “political correctness” or social niceties, but I believe it’s simpler and less controversial. Fixing this particular usage makes the wiki more accurate. People don’t “see” a reference, they refer to it. In the case of a URL, they can refer to it by visiting it. This particular language fix doesn’t make the wording awkward or bloated, so it’s well worth using the more accurate version here.

Happy wiki-ing!


  1. hillu

    “I often see instructions or guidance on the wiki where the writer wants to provide a link.” — Is it really necessary to brag bout one’s good eyesight like this?

  2. ixs

    I think I’ll have to write a larger blog post myself about a few of the issues I see aggregated on the planet and why I am speechless from time to time…

    But in the meantime, a short comment on your article:

    I believe, you are overlooking the fact that the word see and many others have either lost their initial meaning or gained other meanings in addition to the original one.

    It is now serving as a phrase.

    To see something does not just mean seeing it with your eyes. “I see” also can mean “I understand” and that one has nothing to do with standing under something.
    In the same sense, “going to town” does not necessarily mean walking. Furthermore, the same phrase has another meaning about someone’s fitness to do work.

    Language is a very complicated concept. Even blind people use the words see. Implying that other people using the word “to see” are disrespecting impairments is not only a fallacy but considered outright offensive by others.

    Personally, I doubt we have reached the point in fedora where we can can talk about meanings of single words and changing words in order not to show more respect to impairments. Based on other posts aggregated on the planet, we have much more urgent problems closer to home.
    But what I wonder about: Where did the content for this blog post come from? Did anyone specifically complain about missing respect for impairments?

  3. *ixs: Yeah, my blog post title was misleading, because it was meant as, “With respect to impairments…” as a sort of double meaning or a pun. I wasn’t trying to imply that this was any sort of accidental or intentional disrespect. Rather, I think it’s a case where the language could be more precise. I think we (people in general, not Fedora) make many less trivial mistakes with language that can cause misunderstandings.

    And no, this wasn’t prompted by anyone or anything specifically. It’s something that occurred to me when I was reading and editing wiki pages earlier.

    You’re correct that language does shift and that it’s complicated. (Look above for proof that I’m not PC-policing my own speech, much less anyone else’s.) I’m approaching this purely as someone who at times enjoys technical writing.

  4. Hmmm, i never thought about fixing the wiki pages where i’ve read “see” as a valid synonym of “to read”, misused IMHO.

    Actually, since i’ve contributed to translation, i always changed the strings “Por favor, vea” (please read) to “Por favor, lea” (read [without asterisks]). It’s thought as the best practice in latin américa communities i work on about accessibility language.

    My 2 cents.

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