Legal blindness – What does it mean?

Recently, after telling a young patient of mine that she needed glasses, she asked “Does that mean I’m blind?” Fortunately, she was nowhere close to being blind. Her vision, with correction, was 20/20 in each eye.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for all of my patients. Some of my patients have lost sight permanently due to macular degeneration, amblyopia, glaucoma, stroke or injuries that have left them with vision much worse than 20/20, even with the best pair of glasses or contacts available to them.

Picture courtesy of musescore on Flickr

Picture courtesy of musescore on Flickr

Although definitions can vary, the term “legally blind” commonly refers to a person who’s vision in their better eye cannot be corrected to 20/200 with correction or who’s visual field is limited to 20 degrees or less.

It is important to delineate the difference between blindness and legal blindness. A person who is blind is unable to see at all; they have no sight. A person who is legally blind is far from being blind. They can see light, and potentially shapes, colors, or even large type. They can still gain visual information of the world around them.

However, people who are legally blind due to vision or visual field do require more assistance than a person with vision that is better than 20/200 or with a visual field larger than 20 degrees. People who have been found to be legally blind can qualify for government assistance programs.

A summary of major federal disability programs can be found here, and the the Department of Human Services list of services for people who are blind or visually impaired can be found here. Californians who would like more information on services available to them will find them in the California Department of Social Services Handbook of Resources and Services For Persons Who Are Visually Impaired. And if you need any additional information, you can always contact your local California Optometric Association optometrist for additional services that may be found in your area.

~Ranjeet Bajwa, OD
California Optometric Association

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