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Basic Facts about Blindness and Visual Impairments

It is rare for someone to be completely blind. Their ability to see may exist anywhere along a continuum from partially sighted to totally blind. Additionally, the amount of usable sight varies from person to person and visual acuity may change under different lighting conditions.

  • Vision is measured in terms of how MUCH can be seen (peripheral field of vision) and how CLEARLY it can be seen (visual acuity).
  • LEGAL BLINDNESS means having between zero and 10% of normal visual acuity in both eyes (20/200 vision or less) and/or 20% or less of normal peripheral vision in both eyes. In other words, the person, while wearing glasses, can see less at 20 feet than a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet.
  • LOW VISION or PARTIALLY SIGHTED means having visual acuity and/or field of vision that is less than normal or having a visual limitation in only one eye. Vision that is limited to a narrow angle in the center of the field of vision is sometimes called TUNNEL VISION.

A major challenge facing people who are blind or visually impaired is the mass of printed material they encounter on a daily basis. By the time a person who is blind or visually impaired has reached employment status (unless newly blinded), they have probably already developed various methods for dealing with the volumes of visual material they encounter every day.

Accessible Materials

There are four simple options that make written materials available to employees with visual impairments, depending upon personal choice and visual acuity:

  • Written materials are recorded onto AUDIO-CASSETTES.
  • Regular print is converted into LARGE PRINT by selecting a larger font size (16-18 point) or read using magnification technology like a closed circuit TV.
  • Written materials are transcribed into BRAILLE.
  • A VOICE SYNTHESIZER is used with computers, calculators, typewriters, and clocks to read the information aloud.

A person with low vision is confronted with two basic difficulties that a blind person is not. First, a person who has low vision is sometimes viewed by employers and co-workers as not having a visual impairment. Since most people who have low vision do not use white canes for travel and are able to get around without much difficulty, sighted people often have difficulty believing that they need to use adaptive methods when reading printed materials.

Another difficulty that partially sighted people must deal with is the reaction they sometimes get from others towards their handwritten communications. Often, letters must be written large for the person to see their own handwriting. And frequently the writing is not neat but almost child-like in appearance. It is important to be aware of and sensitive to these judgments and how they can affect the employee with the disability, as well as their co-workers.

How to Interact with Blind and Visually Impaired Persons

Announce your presence and who you are in a normal tone of voice. When you leave a person's presence, say so. Offer assistance in filling out forms and be prepared, if requested, to read aloud any printed information. But keep in mind that many people with visual impairments can fill out forms and sign their own names if the appropriate spaces are indicated to them. When in doubt, ask the person what kind of assistance they require.

It is not necessary to speak more loudly when conversing with someone who has a visual impairment. However, you should not stop talking when a blind person is approaching you because they rely on the sound of your voice for orientation. When giving directions, use descriptive words like straight, forward, and left. Be specific. Avoid the use of vague terms like "over there." And don't hesitate or feel embarrassed to use the words "see" and "look" when speaking to a blind person. They use those words too, just like you!

If you are walking with an individual who is blind, let them take YOUR arm from behind, just above the elbow, and walk in a relaxed manner. In this position, the person can usually follow the motion of your body. If you take their arm, the person does not have the advantage of following your movements. Be sure to tell them about stairs and other obstacles in their path. If others are in a room that you enter, the blind person may not be aware of this. Introduce each person by name and indicate where he or she is in the room relative to where the blind person is located.

Guide dogs are working animals. There is a special relationship between the person who is blind and their dog. It can be hazardous for the visually impaired person if their dog is distracted when working. NEVER pet or touch a guide dog without obtaining permission.

Please contact a local Division of Blind Services office to learn more about opportunities available to your organization.