What is Blindness?

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By Dick Davis, Associate Director, BLIND, Inc. and
Chair, National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee

Lots of people think blindness is total loss of sight. That’s not completely true. Blindness begins with vision that is so bad that it interferes with an individual’s daily activities. If you can’t go out after dark, can’t see to drive safely, have trouble cooking and cleaning, can’t read regular print in books or on a computer screen, find it dangerous to use power tools, or are having trouble on your job, you may be legally blind or close to it.

What is Legal Blindness?

Vision is measured at a distance of 20 feet using a Snellen chart. If you’ve been to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist), you probably have seen a Snellen chart on the wall with large letters on the top tapering down to small letters on the bottom. If you can see only the top letter with the best eyeglass correction possible, you may be legally blind. 20/200 with best correction is one of the ways legal blindness is defined. It means you can see at 20 feet what everyone else can see at 200 feet. It’s approximately 10% of normal vision.

The other way legal blindness is defined is by visual field, which is how far you can see left, right, up, and down when you are staring straight ahead. It’s usually measured by a circular screen on which the tester flashes lights of various sizes, and you click a switch when you see one. The normal visual field is around 180 degrees. If your visual field is 20 degrees or less, you are considered legally blind.

Some people have blind spots in their vision, referred to as scotomas, which affect their ability to see. They may not even notice those spots until they’re pointed out. If you find yourself missing things that other people see, scotomas may be a problem. There are many other effects of blindness, such as extreme sensitivity to light, visual distortions, or inability to see at night. If you have problems with your vision, we recommend you visit an eye specialist, who may be able to help you.

Some people with usable vision may be able to benefit from low vision solutions like different types of magnifiers, or large type books which are available from your state library for the blind and other sources. The same libraries can provide you with digital audiobooks and a free player. But if these solutions don’t work as well as you’d like, or put your job or independence in jeopardy, you may want to consider learning nonvisual techniques.

What are Nonvisual Techniques?

Everyone has heard of Braille, the touch reading system invented by Louis Braille and used by blind people. You may also have heard of the long white cane, which allows blind people to travel safely using touch and sound. Less well known are speech and Braille output programs and devices that make computers and the internet accessible. And there are nonvisual techniques for cooking, cleaning, working with tools, and performing job functions. BLIND, Inc. can teach you those techniques, even if you still see some. After you complete your training, you’ll be able to use your nonvisual techniques along with your visual ones, a win-win solution.

But remember this: loss of eyesight, and even total blindness, does not mean you have to give up your job, your home and family, or the things you like to do. If that starts to happen, it’s time to contact us at 612-872-0100 or at info@blindinc.org. With the kind of training we provide, you’ll find that blindness is not as bad as most people think. Blind people are normal people who lack eyesight and use some different methods to get things done. With our help, you can live the kind of life you want.

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