Blind Bargains

Editorial: Learning Ally: What's in a Name?

As we previously reported, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic recently changed their name to Learning Ally, prompting much discussion in the blind community. As a follow-up, we present an editorial from Bill Meeker, who gives some insight on the change. His comments are printed below with his permission.

This month in the non-profit organizations serving the blind name change conga line comes Learning Ally, formerly Reading for the Blind and Dislexic. My screen reader pronounces the final word in its new last name as if it was spelled "alley," and occasionally "a lie." Maybe a software program can have a sense of humor after all. But Learning Ally is not unique. It is only one in a spate of recent non-profit organizations serving the blind who have, with the aid of marketing experts and focus groups, changed their names.

All these changes depict a pattern. In all but two of the name changes I am familiar with, the new names do not contain any reference to the customers they serve or describe their function. That is, the words "blind" or "visually impaired" have been excised and sometimes replaced with the word "vision." This euphemization by use of an opposite reminds me of my mother, who had Alzheimers, being housed in an area insultingly named " The Reminiscence Room."

This is no accident. Years ago our library embarked on its name change quest because potential users; most elderly and newly blind, said that they did not want to be labelled as blind. After lengthy discussion with current blind patrons, not marketing pros, it did eventually change its name. Its new name, The Talking Book and Braille Library, while not containing the word "blind," satisfied blind patrons because it does tell what the organization is, and indirectly, whom it serves.

Other organizations have not fared so well with their new names. While avoiding the words "blind" or "visually impaired" their new bland and vague names convey nothing about their purpose. If I were a donor seeking to give money to an organization benefiting the blind, I would have no inkling that these newly named organizations serve blind people.

This is not a trivial dilemma for non-profit executives. On the one hand, they must placate their current and potential customers, and donors. It seems that shunning names containing words bearing negative connotations are seen as the solution. On the other hand, to attract donors, it would seem that a name should be specific enough to describe the organization. Those organization names I am familiar with have, with few exceptions, missed the mark. They evoke no interest, pique no curiosity, and convey nothing of their purpose. And all because most people still think that it is not respectable to be blind, or dislexic, for that matter. What's in a name? Apparently not so much anymore. Certainly not the word "blind."

Category: Articles
Displaying 2 comments.
allseed Thursday, 21-Apr-2011 3:21 PM ET:

This is actually a good change. as they said when they made it, their services now encompass more than the blind and dislexyc.

Kelly Friday, 22-Apr-2011 3:36 PM ET:

I understand that only about 30 percent of RFB&D members currently are blind or have a vision-related disability. Also, organizations serving specific kinds of disability may wish to serve a broader group in the future. This could be many different kinds of disability or vend services to non-disabled people.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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