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What is Visual Impairment?

By Ken Black
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Visual impairment is a condition that occurs when an individual's eyesight cannot be corrected to a degree that is considered normal. Often, these individuals may wear corrective lenses, but in some cases the lenses may not help. Those who experience vision impairment may be considered legally blind or totally blind, depending on the level of the problem. Even those with legal blindness may be able to see to a certain extent and perform many day-to-day functions adequately.

Causes of visual impairment vary greatly. They can be related to injury around the eye, a genetic problem, or a variety of medical conditions. Some of these conditions may have symptoms early in life, but others may wait years before showing up as individuals age. Some, such as diabetes, may develop in individuals only later in life. The earlier the underlying cause of possible visual impairment is detected - the better the chance of successfully treating the condition.

Treatment of visual impairment is often dependent upon the circumstances, but in the case where the underlying cause cannot be treated, the strategy is simply to improve sight as much as possible. To do this, generally corrective lenses are used. Some individuals may benefit from medication, surgery, or a combination of surgery and corrective lenses. In most cases, medical or health insurance may pay for treatment, especially if the problem is considered serious enough.

Although the definition of visual impairment is somewhat subjective, the definition of legal blindness is not. Being legally blind means that an individual's vision cannot be corrected to at least a 20/200 level. Perfect vision is considered to be 20/20. Whether or not a person is considered visually impaired if their vision is better than 20/200 is dependent upon the definition being used in that particular case.

Visual impairment may not only be applied to severe cases of near sightedness and far sightedness, but also limited peripheral vision and other vision problems. Some individuals may have a very narrow field of vision or others may see objects or spots that are not supposed to be there. If doctors cannot correct these problems, then those individuals suffering from them may also be considered visually impaired.

In some cases, those with visual impairment may not have any problems with the eyes at all. Rather, the connection between the eyes and the brain could be damaged. Only an eye doctor, along with perhaps a neurologist, may be able to tell for sure what the root problem is. Individuals thinking they have a problem should consult a physician or ophthalmologist.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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