Similar to people with hearing impairments, it is less common for someone to be completely blind, but rather their ability to see may exist anywhere along a continuum from sighted to blind. In addition, amount of usable sight varies from person to person, and visual acuity may change under differing light conditions.
1. Vision is measured in terms of how MUCH can be seen (peripheral field of vision), and how CLEARLY it can be seen (visual acuity).
2. LEGAL BLINDNESS means having between zero and 10% of normal visual acuity in both eyes (20/200 vision or less), and/or 20% or less of normal peripheral vision in both eyes. In other words, this person, while wearing glasses, can see less at 20 feet than a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet.
3. LOW VISION or PARTIALLY SIGHTED means having visual acuity and/or field of vision that is less than normal, or having a visual limitation in only one eye. Vision that is limited to a narrow angle in the center of the field of vision sometimes is called TUNNEL VISION.
4. OTHER VISION IMPAIRMENTS include Learning Disabilities which interfere with the perception of visual or written information.
As stated, only a small minority of people are actually totally blind. The term blindness should be reserved for a complete loss of functional sight. A major challenge facing people who are blind is the mass of printed material they encounter on a daily basis. By the time that a person who is blind reaches employment (unless newly blinded), they have probably developed various methods for dealing with the volumes of visual materials. Employers are often quite surprised with the degree of independence many people who are blind exhibit.
There are four simple options that make written materials available to employees with vision impairments depending upon personal choice and amount of residual sight:
1. Written materials are recorded onto AUDIO-CASSETTES.
2. Regular print is converted into LARGE PRINT via enlarged copies or closed circuit TV.
3. Written materials are transcribed into BRAILLE.
4. A VOICE SYNTHESIZER is used with computers, calculators, typewriters, and clocks to read the information aloud.
There are two basic difficulties that a person with low vision is confronted with that the person who is blind is not. First, the person who has low vision is sometimes viewed by employers and co-workers as "faking it." Because most people who have low vision do not use white canes for travel and because most are able to get around without much difficulty, sighted people have trouble believing that the person needs to use adaptive methods when reading printed materials.
Another difficulty that someone who is partially sighted must deal with is the reaction from others toward their handwritten communications. Often letters must be written large for the person to see their own writing, and frequently the writing is not neat, almost child-like in appearance. It is important to be aware of and sensitive to these judgments and their affect on the employee with the disability and their co-workers.
Announce your presence and who you are in a normal tone of voice. When you leave a person's presence, say so. Offer assistance in filling out forms, and be prepared to read aloud any information that is written, if requested. Many people with vision impairments can fill out forms and sign their names if the appropriate spaces are indicated to them.
It is not necessary to speak more loudly when conversing with someone with a vision impairment. However, you should not stop talking when a blind person is approaching you because they rely on the sound of your voice for orientation. When giving directions, use descriptive words such as straight, forward, left. Be specific and avoid use of vague terms such as "over there." Feel free to use words like "see" or "look" when speaking to a blind person.
If you are walking with a blind person, let them take your arm from behind just above the elbow and walk in a relaxed manner. In this position, the person can usually follow the motion of your body. When you take their arm, the person does not have the advantage of following your movements. Be sure to provide visual cues such as stairs and other obstacles in their path. If there are others in a room that you enter, the blind person may not be aware of this. Introduce each person by name and indicate where they are in the room relative to where the blind person is located.
Guide dogs are working animals. There is a special relationship between the person who is blind and their dog. When working, it can be hazardous for the vision impaired person if the dog is distracted. NEVER pet or touch the dog without obtaining permission.