What is Visual Impairment?

Visual impairment is the term used to describe a loss of sight that cannot be corrected using glasses or contact lenses. Registered partially sighted means the level of sight impairment is moderate. Registered blind means a severe sight impairment where activities that rely on eyesight become impossible.

A consultant ophthalmologist is responsible for registering an individual as blind or partially sighted. Students with visual impairments will experience varying degrees of sight loss. The majority will have some sight which may be useful for different things for each individual.

For many, the visual impairment will not be obvious to others, even when someone is registered blind. Almost 2 million people in the UK live with some form of sight loss. About 360,000 people are registered as sight impaired or severely sight impaired.

Most people with blindness and visual impairment are older adults aged 50 and above, but people of any age can experience sight loss.

Being told that you or someone you care for has a vision impairment can be a worrying time. It can help to know the difference between blindness and visual impairment. Most people with vision loss are not completely blind.

They may have some useful sight, but with cloudy vision, poor night vision, tunnel vision, or other issues. A small proportion of people with sight loss are severely sight impaired, which means they are completely unable to see. It is possible to have vision loss without being completely blind.

You may have some useful vision but have a visual impairment that can not be corrected by wearing glasses or other treatments. If your vision deteriorates to a certain level, you can be registered as sight impaired. Having a visual impairment will likely affect your everyday tasks and activities.

You might benefit from aids and adjustments to help you make the most of the vision you do have.

Magnifying lenses to help view or read nearby objects. Bright lighting around the home and for specific tasks. Contrasting colours on everyday household items and features, such as light switches and handles. Technology such as tablets, audiobooks, and features on digital devices like smartphones that magnify text or read messages aloud.

Total blindness means being unable to see anything, for example, not telling light from dark or having severely limited vision or field of vision. If you have this degree of visual impairment, you can register as severely sight impaired because you can not rely on your eyesight for everyday activities. Children with severe sight impairment will benefit from having support from a very young age.

This will help them learn the skills they will need for everyday life. The right support at nursery, school, and beyond, can help them achieve their full potential and be ready for an independent, happy adulthood. It takes time to adjust to sight loss for the first time as an adult.

You are likely to feel worried and uncertain about how you will cope.

There will be new skills to learn and changes to adapt to, such as learning braille. Your optician or ophthalmologist may refer you to a specialist low-vision clinic for assessment and practical advice about equipment and other support services. Social services should assess the support you need to stay independent at home, such as help with cleaning, cooking, mobility, and getting out and about.

There is a wide range of assistive technology to help with everyday tasks – screen reading software, voice recognition programmes, apps, and accessibility features on digital devices like smartphones. You might wonder how you will get out and about. No one wants to lose independence or miss social events and activities we enjoy.

Get our help for support with your mobility, for example, using a cane, having a sighted guide, or applying for a guide dog. Visual impairment is not the same as blindness, and many people who are visually impaired due to common eye conditions can have treatment. If you have vision loss that can not be corrected by treatment or wearing prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, you might need help making the most of your vision.

The kind of support you need will depend on the degree of your impairment.

If your sight is significantly affected, your ophthalmologist may issue a certificate of visual impairment. Many eye conditions that lead to sight loss can be managed with early diagnosis and prompt treatment, which is why regular eye exams are important. Treatment depends on the underlying condition responsible for vision loss.

Prescription glasses or contact lenses can correct your eyesight, often used in the early stages of cataracts. Medication, for example, eye drops can lower pressure in the eye in the case of glaucoma. Eye surgery can repair physical problems with the structure of the eye, for example, cataract surgery or retinal detachment surgery.

Where there is no treatment or the options have been exhausted, there are still many ways to make the most of the vision you have and adjust to living with blindness or visual impairment. If you are living with blindness or a visual impairment, you are likely to need some additional support to manage life at home, work, and getting around. This could be help to make your home safer, training in skills for daily living, and guidance on getting around safely. There are lots of services and charities that can play a role.