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A primer to visual impairment

Visual impairment is a condition that limits the visual capability of an individual to such a degree that additional support is needed.

It is the result of trauma, disease, congenital, or degenerative conditions that cannot be corrected by medication, surgery or refractive correction. 90% of the world's visually impaired live in developing countries and 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured by conventional means.

According to the National Federation for the Blind, 7,297,100 people over the age of 16 were reported to have some level of visual impairment, as of a 2015 American Community Survey interpreted by Cornell University's Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).

There are 3 levels of visual impairment:

  1. Moderate visual impairment
  2. Severe visual impairment
  3. Blindness

According to The United States Bureau of the Census:

The question about “significant vision loss” encompasses both total or near-total blindness and “trouble seeing, even > when wearing glasses or contact lenses.” and [...] There are no generally accepted definitions for “visually impaired,” “low > vision,” or “vision loss.”

Who is at risk?

65% of visually impaired people are over 50 years old. With an ever increasing elderly population in many countries, more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment.

An estimated 19,000,000 children under 15 years are visually impaired with 12,000,000 due to refractive errors that have not yet been diagnosed or corrected, while 1,400,000 are irreversibly blind.

The causes

Disorders of the eye that lead to visual impairments can include:

Refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism) are typically the result of nature with 43% of visually impaired born with refractive errors that can be corrected with medication, surgery, glasses or contact lenses.

The challenges

Equality is the most important challenge that faces those with visual impairments. However, thanks to improved assistive technology, braille, and other specialized tools, the rest of the world is beginning to understand that the visually impaired population are capable of the same things as those with near-perfect vision.

A greater dependence on what we might take for granted is also very important. Electricity is a huge factor when it comes to content. Without it, a person who relies solely on a screen reader cannot simply browse a book, magazine or newspaper. This, in turn, puts greater demand on media that originated in print to be made available through computers where screen readers can assist.

The future is bright

Louis Braille invented the Braille system for reading and writing in 1824, giving access to previously inaccessible literature. Helen Keller overcame the institutionalized education system of the 19th century, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Bob Stepp developed the first Braille editing program in 1980, and in the modern era we hold the key to accessibility for this generation and many more to come.

The challenges of yesterday are the opportunities of today.

This post was last updated by Emily Lane.