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What Are the Degrees of Visual Impairment?

Vision problems can’t all be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

When even the strongest corrective lenses aren’t enough to produce clear vision, that’s visual impairment. Even for those of us who don’t live with visual impairments of our own, it’s good to understand them so that we can help those who do struggle with them every day.

What Are the Causes of Visual Impairment

Visual impairments have many causes, ranging from birth defects to genetic disorders to eye diseases. Old age and eye injuries are other common causes. We can minimize our risk of eye injury by using protective eyewear, and we can strive for healthy habits (such as eating nutritious foods, avoiding smoking, and staying active) to keep our eyes strong as we get older. Surgery can correct some eye problems, but not all of them can be avoided, treated, or avoided.

Forms of Visual Impairment

Not everyone who is visually impaired experiences it the same way, and some of the variety is tied to the cause. Glaucoma will attack the peripheral vision first, while macular degeneration mainly affects the central vision. Other problems include photophobia (light sensitivity), diplopia (double vision), visual distortion, and visual perception difficulties.

What Do “Low Vision” and “Legally Blind” Mean?

If glasses or contacts can only get a person’s vision up to 20/70 acuity or worse (meaning they can only see as much detail at 20 feet as most people could see from 70 feet away), then they are considered to have low vision. If they can only achieve 20/200 vision with glasses or contacts on, then they are considered legally blind.

There Are Even Different Types of Blindness

Blindness isn’t as simple as the absence of vision. Some people lose their sight while others are born blind. Blindness can come on rapidly or develop very gradually, and some blind people are unable to perceive any visual stimulation whatsoever while others can tell the difference between light and darkness.

What Can Sighted People Do to Help?

All visually impaired people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s generally not very polite to make a big deal about their disability, but you can politely greet them and introduce yourself, then ask if they would like any assistance. Be prepared to accept if they say no, but here are a few tips to follow if they accept:

  • If they want help with mobility, ask them where they want you to stand, try to match their walking speed, and be very descriptive about upcoming obstacles or changes to the slope of the ground.
  • When you are a guest in a visually impaired person’s home, make sure to only place objects where they want them so that they can still find them later.
  • Do not pet a guide dog! These highly trained dogs are doing a very important job for their owners. No matter how cute they are, we should not distract them from their work.
  • Always remember that visual impairment doesn’t stop people from leading full lives, so maintain a helpful attitude rather than a pitying one.

Take Care of Your Eyesight

The more medicine, technology, and our understanding of the human eye improve, the more types of visual impairment may become treatable in the future, but we don’t recommend relying on that as an excuse to neglect your vision health. Keep up with your regular eye exams, build healthy habits and good safety practices, and be kind and helpful to anyone living with vision loss.

Happy Blindness Awareness Month!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.