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BLIND, Low Vision, and Legally Blind

Good morning! The topic for this page is legal blindness….oh, dear. Everyone take a deep, cleansing breath. Sigh it out. Again, please. Better? While it is a terrifying concept at first, legal blindness is not that scary once you get to “know” it.

I am legally blind

I am legally blind. I sometimes wonder if someone stretched the point a bit and other times I know they did not. The reason I wonder if they stretched things is this: I walk. I ride my bike. I ski, cross-country and downhill. I go to work four days a week and do my job passably well. I am writing this and reading it back to myself using about a 10 point font. In other words, my world is not all dark and black. I see...sort of.

When I first got the diagnosis, I was in tears. My local retinologist seemed nonplussed. He then said something akin to I was not going “really” BLIND. Huh?

What does being blind really mean?

Most people equate blindness with no light perception. That is my definition of BLIND, all caps. Very few people have no light perception.

There is also a category which is light perception only. These folks can tell you if it is night or day or if someone switched the lights on. This is also a small category.

What does low vision really mean?

Now comes the rest of us. We are the visually impaired aka low vision folks of the world.

According to Vision Aware’s Low Vision and Legal Blindness Terms and Descriptions, low vision is an acuity of 20/70 or poorer in the better eye. This acuity cannot be corrected or improved with corrective lenses. Low vision interferes with daily activities. It is a functional definition.

Eccentric viewing

Although I do a great deal in my everyday life there are some things I really should do that I no longer do. I cannot drive myself. My reading rate has slowed way down and I miss details. That is because I use eccentric viewing. We can do eccentric viewing next; ok?

What does legally blind mean?

Legal blindness is a legal, not a functional term. Legal blindness is defined as visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with best conventional correction.

Tunnel vision

The definition also has a second part. You can have better acuity if your visual field is 20 degrees or less in the better eye. That is tunnel vision. People with advanced glaucoma have tunnel vision.

I used to have a colleague who had glaucoma. Our joke was with his having no peripheral vision and my having no central vision, we had one good field of vision between us. They would send us to conferences together so we would get there safely.

Central vision loss

Which brings up another important point: dry age-related macular degeneration is almost always a disorder of your central vision. I had a devil of a time trying to figure out what that would mean for me. If my entire macula went to Hades, what would I see?

Imagining the worst case scenario

I finally put all sorts of information together and decided the worst possible scenario would be a loss of 60 degrees of arc. If your field of vision is approximately 170 degrees of arc, the worst possible scenario would be loss of just about the middle third.

Reality of the worst case scenario

At that time I was seeing possibly the premier retinologist on the east coast. Internationally known, I went to the top. (He has since pulled back geographically and is no longer serving that satellite office. Pooh.) When I ran that theory past him, he said I was hypothesizing more loss of function than he would have. Yippee!

Easing fears of blindness

Just about done here. Salient points are these: legal blindness is not a death sentence for your life. You will still be able to do plenty. Second point: I have it on really good authority we probably will not lose a third of our visual field. How much? No clue, but a third was ruled extreme. I found that comforting.

Feel better now?

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