What Is Low Vision Disability? Questions and Answers

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When we talk about poor vision that glasses, contacts, or medical treatments can’t fully correct, we’re delving into the realm of what is known as low vision disability. This condition goes beyond the usual vision problems that can be fixed with a simple prescription change. Low vision disability encompasses a range of decreased vision abilities that significantly impact a person’s daily life, making ordinary tasks more challenging. In this article, we will explore the nuances of low vision disability, shedding light on how it differs from other vision impairments and what it means for those who live with this condition every day.

What Is Low Vision?

According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH), low vision definition is such: a lasting visual impairment that might come from a disease, an injury, or aging. It’s not as severe as total blindness, but it can still make it hard to do everyday tasks like reading, writing, shopping, driving, or working. What is considered low vision? Here are the symptoms:

  • Trouble recognizing faces or people;
  • Difficulty with reading, cooking, watching TV, or doing chores at home;
  • Struggling to pick out clothes that match;
  • Feeling like it’s too dark or the lights are dim, even when they’re not;
  • Having a hard time seeing traffic lights, street names, or store signs.

For those with low vision, regular glasses, contacts, medicines, or surgeries like Lasik often don’t help much. The vision loss can also get worse over time. It’s crucial to see a doctor or optometrist as soon as you notice any of these signs. If you wait too long, you might lose your sight completely.

Is low vision a disability?

Yes, low vision is considered a disability. It refers to a level of vision loss that cannot be fully corrected with standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery, and significantly affects daily activities. Because it limits a person’s ability to perform tasks that require good vision, such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces, low vision is recognized as a form of visual impairment under disability standards and guidelines. This recognition helps ensure that individuals with low vision have access to resources, support, and accommodations to assist them in their daily lives and activities.

What Is Low Vision?

Visually impaired vs blind

The terms “visually impaired” and “blind” are often used to describe different levels of vision loss.

Visually Impaired: This is a general term that refers to all levels of vision loss, from mild to severe. It includes anyone who has trouble seeing, even with glasses or contact lenses. People who are visually impaired might still have some useful vision. For example, they might be able to see shapes, colors, or some details, but not clearly enough to perform tasks without assistance or adaptive tools.

Blind: This term usually refers to a complete lack of vision or a very limited perception of light. People who are considered blind cannot see well enough to perform any visual tasks, even with the help of glasses or contact lenses, and they rely on non-visual skills and tools to navigate their environment and perform daily tasks.

In summary, “visually impaired” can include a wide range of vision problems, including those that are not severe enough to be considered blindness. “Blind” refers to a more severe level of vision loss, where there is little to no useful sight.

Causes of low vision

Common causes of low vision include:

  1. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): AMD damages the central part of the retina called the macula, which is crucial for sharp, straight-ahead vision. This can lead to blurriness or a blind spot in the center of your field of vision, making it hard to see details, read, or recognize faces.
  2. Glaucoma: Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, which sends visual information from your eye to your brain. It often reduces peripheral (side) vision first, creating a tunnel vision effect. If untreated, it can lead to total vision loss.
  3. Diabetes: High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy. This can cause dark spots, blurriness, and patches in your vision, and can eventually lead to significant vision loss.
  4. Inherited Retinal Diseases: These genetic conditions, such as retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt disease, affect the retina’s ability to detect light and send images to the brain. They can lead to a range of vision problems, including night blindness, loss of peripheral vision, and difficulty seeing in low light.

What does low vision look like

Low vision can manifest in various ways, depending on the underlying condition and how it affects the eye. Some common experiences of what low vision “looks like” to the person affected include:

  1. Blurred Vision: Objects both near and far may appear out of focus or smeared, making it difficult to recognize faces, read, or see details.
  1. Tunnel Vision: Peripheral (side) vision is lost, giving the sensation of looking through a narrow tube. This can make navigating spaces difficult and increase the risk of bumping into objects or tripping.
  1. Central Vision Loss: There may be a dark or blurred spot in the center of the field of vision, with the peripheral vision remaining intact. This makes tasks like reading, driving, and recognizing faces challenging.
  1. Patchy Vision: Vision may be missing or blurred in certain areas, as if patches of the visual field are gone. This can create a Swiss cheese effect, where some parts of the visual field are clear and others are not.
  1. Night Blindness: Difficulty seeing in low light or darkness, making it hard to move around in dimly lit environments.
  1. Light Sensitivity: Bright lights may be overwhelming or painful, causing discomfort in well-lit areas or on sunny days.
  1. Reduced Contrast Sensitivity: Difficulty distinguishing between shades of the same color or seeing in low-contrast situations. This can make steps, curbs, and other obstacles harder to navigate.

It’s important to note that low vision is a personal experience, and how it “looks” can vary widely from one person to another. For more detailed examples visit our guide on vision impairment simulators.

Low vision treatments

Some vision problems, like those caused by diabetes in the eyes, can be treated to get back or keep vision. But when that’s not possible, the vision loss stays. Still, many people with limited vision find tools that help them see better very useful. Some common tools include glasses with special telescopes, lenses that make light easier on the eyes, different kinds of magnifying glasses, video magnifiers, and prisms for reading.

For people with a condition called retinitis pigmentosa who can’t see at all, there’s a special device called the Argus® II that can bring back some sight. This can help them do things like walk through doors or along sidewalks, tell apart light and dark clothes, or even read big letters.

There are also non-glass tools that are great for people with limited vision. These include programs that read text out loud, tools to help write checks, clocks and watches with big contrasts or that talk, and things like books and phones with big letters and numbers.

These tools can really help improve sight and make life better. It’s a good idea to talk to your eye doctor about where to find these tools.

low vision

Diagnosing Low Vision

Diagnosing low vision involves a series of steps and the expertise of eye care professionals. The process usually starts when a person notices changes in their vision that affect their daily activities, leading them to seek professional advice.

The first step is often a visit to an optometrist, a primary eye care provider who can conduct a comprehensive eye exam. They assess visual acuity, or how well a person can see, and perform various tests to check the health of the eyes.

If the optometrist finds signs of significant vision impairment that can’t be corrected with standard glasses or contact lenses, they may refer the patient to an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye and vision care, and they can provide a more detailed diagnosis, including identifying the underlying causes of the vision loss.

The ophthalmologist may use advanced diagnostic tools to examine the structure and function of the eyes. This can include imaging tests like OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) to get detailed pictures of the retina, visual field tests to assess peripheral vision, and other specialized tests. Based on these assessments, the ophthalmologist can diagnose the type and extent of vision impairment and determine whether it falls into the category of low vision.

In some cases, patients might be referred to a low vision specialist, who can provide a more in-depth evaluation of how the vision impairment affects daily life and recommend specific aids and strategies to maximize remaining vision.

Comprehensive eye exams are crucial in this process because they not only help in diagnosing low vision but also in identifying other potential eye diseases early on. Regular exams allow for timely intervention, which can sometimes prevent or slow down further vision loss. It’s important for individuals, especially those at higher risk due to factors like age, diabetes, or family history of eye diseases, to have regular eye exams to maintain optimal eye health.

Understanding the Low Vision

In exploring the depths of low vision meaning, we’ve seen that it occupies a unique space between typical vision impairments and complete blindness. This condition, often referred to as low vision blindness, reveals a spectrum where individuals are neither fully sighted nor entirely blind. The term “low vision” encapsulates a range of visual challenges where individuals might not be considered blind but face significant obstacles that impact their daily lives. Understanding what low vision means helps in recognizing the crucial distinctions between being blind, low vision, or somewhere in between. This knowledge is vital for fostering empathy and providing appropriate support for those navigating the world with blindness or low vision. As we’ve uncovered, the journey of those with low vision and blindness is marked by resilience and adaptation, highlighting the importance of awareness and accessibility in creating an inclusive society for all.


Is It Possible to Lead a Normal Life with Low Vision?

With a wide array of support systems, devices, and technological advancements available, individuals with low vision can indeed maintain their everyday lifestyles. Engaging with your eye care team through meaningful questions is crucial for navigating this condition effectively.

Is Visual Impairment Considered a Disability?

Identifying as disabled is a personal choice for those with visual impairments. However, according to the Equality Act 2010, being officially recognized as sight impaired or severely sight impaired by your local authority qualifies you as disabled under the legislation.

What Does Low Vision Look Like?

Individuals with low vision may experience difficulty seeing distant objects, such as those on whiteboards or blackboards, struggle with reading or classroom participation, have trouble focusing on or tracking objects, and might frequently squint or rub their eyes, often showing signs of chronic eye redness or sensitivity to light.

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