What is Vision Impairment?

What is Vision Impairment?

Visually impaired woman crossing street with cane and guide dog.

Vision impairment is a term that is frequently used to describe a decrease in the ability to see to a certain degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses.[1] The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error. In this blog, we’ll discuss different types of vision impairment and solutions for those who are living with reduced vision.

Correctable Vision Impairment

Uncorrected refractive errors refers to vision problems that can be corrected with corrective lenses, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and presbyopia. As of 2015, uncorrected refractive errors were the leading cause of blindness, affecting 116 million people globally[2]. According to the CDC, refractive error can remain uncorrected due to the limited availability of practitioners, affordability of examinations and treatments, lack of awareness by the patient or family, and cultural stigmas against glasses[3].

Low Vision and Legal Blindness

Low vision occurs when a person has limited visual acuity, often 20/70 or worse in the better seeing eye, that cannot be corrected with corrective lenses, medicine, or surgery. This means that a person with low vision can see from 20 feet away what a person with 20/20 vision can see from 70 feet away.

Legal blindness occurs when a person has visual acuity of 20/200 or worse, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better-seeing eye that cannot be corrected with corrective lenses, medicine, or surgery. The visual field refers to a measure of a person’s entire scope of vision, including central and peripheral vision. An example of reduced visual field is tunnel vision, where only the central part of the vision is present.

These conditions may be characterised by blurry vision, loss of central vision, loss of peripheral vision, blind spots, or inability to see in low light. There are many causes of low vision and legal blindness, including disease, injury, and heredity.  According to The Vision Council, 1 in 28 Americans age 40 and above have low vision, and this trend will continue to increase over the next 20 years as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day[4]. There are many options available to help those with low vision or legal blindness. The best way to learn about these resources is by speaking with your eye doctor. They will evaluate your vision loss and recommend tools and tips to help make your daily activities easier.

Light Perception

Light perception refers to a situation in which a person has profound visual impairment but can still detect differences in lighting, such as when a light is turned on or off. Light perception is more likely to occur in a person who was born with the ability to see but lost their vision, rather than someone who was born blind.

Total Blindness

Total blindness refers to a complete lack of eyesight. People who are totally blind do not detect light, shapes, colors, or any other images. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, few people today are totally without sight. In fact, 85% of all individuals with eye disorders have some remaining sight; approximately 15% are totally blind[5].

Causes of Vision Loss

Vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older and one of the most prevalent disabling conditions among children[6]. In the US, leading causes of vision loss include:

  • Diabetes
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular Degeneration
  • Cataracts

While not all vision loss can be prevented, many of the leading causes have warning signs that can be treated early to preserve vision. The best way to keep your eyes healthy is by visiting your eye doctor for an annual eye exam. To schedule an exam, call or text (907) 328-2920. To learn more about eye health, read all of the blogs on our website at www.mountainvieweyes.com/blog.

Written By:

Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC


[1] https://ibvi.org/blog/blind-vs-visually-impaired-whats-the-difference/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6498922/

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/vehss/data/studies/uncorrected-refractive-error.html

[4] https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/VC_LowVision_Report2015.pdf

[5] https://www.afb.org/blindness-and-low-vision/eye-conditions/low-vision-and-legal-blindness-terms-and-descriptions

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm

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