Visual Impairments

Brief Facts about Visual Impairments

Approximately 500,000 Americans have vision impairments to the extent that they are considered "legally blind." There are three degrees of vision loss:

  • Visual acuity of 20/200 - the legally blind person can see at 20 feet what the average sighted person can see at 200.
  • Low vision - limited or diminished vision that cannot be corrected with standard lenses.
  • Partial sight - the field of vision is impaired because of an illness, a degenerative syndrome, or trauma.

Only 2% of the people with vision impairments are totally blind; most people who are blind have some amount of usable vision.

Guidelines for Working With Students with Visual Impairments

Some students with vision loss use canes or guide dogs for mobility purposes; however, many navigate without them. Like anybody, students with vision impairments appreciate being asked if help is needed before it is given. 

  • Words and phrases that refer to sight, such as "I'll see you later" or "I see what you mean" are commonly used expressions even by individuals with vision loss and don't need to be avoided unless the student indicates offense was taken. 
  • When talking with or greeting a student with a vision impairment, speak in a normal voice; most people with vision impairments do not have a hearing loss. Speak to the student, not through a third party or companion, and use the student's name when directing the conversation to him or her.
  • When entering a room, identify yourself to the student. When giving directions, say "left" or "right," "step up" or "step down." Convert directions to the vision-impaired student's perspective.
  • If the student has indicated they would like your help navigating to a location, offer your arm and let them take it rather than pulling the student's sleeve.
  • If a student has a harnessed guide dog, it is working and should not be petted unless the student says it is all right.

For additional information, please see our recommendations for facilitating accommodations for students who are blind and have low vision (LINK).