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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.