Not all vision problems can be corrected by wearing glasses or contacts.
When vision is so poor that corrective lenses aren’t enough, we call it visual impairment. It’s important for everyone to be aware of the vision problems that fall into this umbrella, because whether they affect us personally or not, we should be informed and ready to help those who do struggle with them.


What Causes Visual Impairment?
From birth defects to genetic disorders to eye diseases, visual impairment has many causes. Other common ones include old age and eye injuries. We can wear protective goggles to minimize our risk of injury and we can make healthy lifestyle choices to keep our eyes as strong as possible when we get older. In some cases, surgical procedures can correct eye problems. However, they can’t always be treated, corrected, or avoided.


Types of Visual Impairment
Visual impairment isn’t the same for everyone who experiences it, and some of that variety is tied to the specific cause. For instance, glaucoma attacks the peripheral vision first, but macular degeneration mainly impacts the central vision. There are also vision problems like light sensitivity (photophobia), double vision (diplopia), visual distortion, and difficulty with visual perception.


Defining Low Vision and Legally Blind
If a person has 20/70 vision or worse even with glasses or contact lenses, then they are considered to have low vision. This means they can only see as much detail at a distance of 20 feet as most people could at 70 feet. However, if their visual acuity is as bad as 20/200 with glasses on, they would be considered legally blind. There is no such thing as being legally blind in one eye. Legal blindness is based on the best corrected visual acuity of both eyes. For example, if one eye is 20/20 best corrected and the other eye is 20/400 best corrected, you can’t say that the 20/400 eye is legally blind.


Blindness Comes in Different Types Too
It would be easy to assume that blindness is simply the absence of vision, but it works differently for different people. Some are blind from birth while others lose their sight at some point later in life. Blindness can happen quickly or develop very gradually. Some blind people have no ability to perceive visual information at all, while others can tell the difference between light and darkness.


How Sighted People Can Help
One thing all visually impaired people deserve is to be treated with respect and dignity. It’s a simple courtesy to talk to them normally and not make a big deal about offering help. Politely greet them and introduce yourself, then ask if you can assist them. Be prepared to accept it if they decline. If they do want some help, here are a few tips to follow:


  • If they need help with mobility, ask where they want you, match their walking speed, and describe upcoming obstacles or changes to the slope of the ground.
  • When visiting the home of someone visually impaired, place items only where they want them.
  • If they have a guide dog, do not pet it! These specially trained canines are on the clock, and it’s hard to do their job if strangers distract them.
  • Finally, never forget that visual impairment doesn’t stop someone from leading a full life! Be helpful, not pitying.


Look Out for Your Own Eyesight
As we mentioned above, there are things we can do to avoid or minimize some causes of visual impairment, and hopefully advancements in medicine and technology will bring vision solutions to even more people in the near future. Until then, keep up with your eye exams, maintain healthy habits and good safety practices, and be helpful and kind to anyone struggling with lost vision.