The word “blind” is a very broad term. If you’re legally blind, you may be able to see reasonably well with a pair of corrective lenses.
“Legally blind” is more of a legal term than a functional description. In fact, the U.S. government uses the term legally blind to refer to a person who’s eligible to receive certain types of aid and services because of their vision impairment.
So, many people with a wide range of visual impairments could fall into that broad category of “blind” or even the slightly narrower category of “legally blind.” Yet, their experiences may be very different.
You can’t make assumptions that all blind people see — or don’t see — the same things.
What a blind person can see depends a great deal on how much vision they have. A person with total blindness won’t be able to see anything.
But a person with low vision may be able to see not only light, but colors and shapes too. However, they may have trouble reading street signs, recognizing faces, or matching colors to each other.
If you have low vision, your vision may be unclear or hazy. Some visual deficits cause part of your field of vision to be compromised.
You might have a blind spot or a blurry spot in the middle of your field of vision. Or your peripheral vision may be impaired on one or both sides. These issues can involve one or both eyes.
There are a few different types of visual impairment that fall into the overall category of blindness.
If you have permanently reduced vision but retain some amount of your sight, you have low vision.
The American Foundation for the Blind describes low vision as “permanently reduced vision that cannot be corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery.”
However, you may still be able to see well enough with those corrective measures or magnifying devices to carry out most of your normal activities of daily living. But you may have some difficulties.
Many conditions can lead to low vision, including:
- macular degeneration
- damage to the retina
Total blindness describes people with eye disorders who have no light perception (NLP). That is, a person who’s totally blind doesn’t see any light at all.
Total blindness can be the result of trauma, injury, or even conditions like end stage glaucoma or end stage diabetic retinopathy.
This description applies to people who are blind from birth. Some congenital eye conditions can develop during pregnancy and lead to blindness, while the causes of others are still unknown.
So, where does “legally blind” belong? Think of it more as a classification than a functional description of what a person can or can’t see or do.
Think 20/200. If you have to get within 20 feet of an object to see it clearly, when another person could easily see it from 200 feet away, you may fall into this category.
Research estimates that approximately
You may find it interesting to ponder how blind people see and perceive information from the world around them.
For example, some people without sight may be able to process certain information with cues other than visual ones, like sound or vibration.
Keep in mind this isn’t true for everyone. Many people who have impaired vision don’t have additional sensory abilities that help them compensate for their vision loss.
A small 2009 study found that some people who have severe vision impairment may use parts of their brain that sighted people use for processing vision. The visually impaired people may use these “vision” areas to process other tasks.
It may be harder for blind people to get a good night’s sleep, as their vision loss affects their ability to distinguish between day and night.
Another issue is that blind people may have more nightmares than sighted people, according to a 2013 study.
Researchers studied 25 blind people and 25 sighted people. They found that the blind participants experienced four times as many nightmares as the people without vision loss.
Circadian rhythm disorder
It’s very common for people with total blindness to experience a condition called non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. This is a rare type of circadian rhythm disorder.
The inability to sense light prevents a person’s body from being able to correctly reset their biological clock, which results in a disrupted sleep schedule. Research shows that certain medications can help, however.
A 2015 study published in Lancet showed positive results from a randomized, double-blind study that examined the use of a drug called tasimelteon, which is a melatonin receptor agonist. The medication can help these people avoid the exhausting cycle of daytime fatigue and nighttime insomnia.
There are a number of misconceptions that people have about blind people. If you’ve ever heard that blind people have better hearing than sighted people, you’ve encountered one of the most common ones.
Some blind people do have a very good sense of hearing, and blind people are able to glean a lot of useful information by listening.
But that doesn’t mean their actual sense of hearing is superior to someone who’s not blind — or that all blind people have great hearing.
Here are a few other misconceptions about blindness or blind people.
Eating carrots will save your vision
It’s true that carrots can be part of a diet that supports eye health. Carrots are high in the antioxidants beta carotene and lutein, which can fight against free radicals that might cause damage to your eyes.
Blindness is an ‘all or nothing’ condition
Most people with vision loss aren’t completely blind. They may have some sight, which means they have low vision. They may have some residual vision, which could allow them to see light or color or shapes.
According to the American Foundation for the Blind, only about 15 percent fall into the “totally blind” category.
Everyone with vision impairment needs corrective lenses
Your need for glasses, contact lenses, or surgery depends on your specific situation, including your diagnosis and how much vision you do have. People with total vision loss won’t benefit from visual aids, so they won’t need to use them.
If you sit too close to the TV, you’ll go blind
Generations of parents have uttered some version of that warning, but all for naught. It’s not actually true.
Experts say that family support for someone who’s losing their vision or adjusting to vision loss is critical to their adjustment process.
Sighted people can take on many other roles to offer their support. They can raise awareness about vision loss and the best ways to assist blind people or people with low vision. They can debunk myths and clear up any misconceptions about people who have vision loss.
You can also make a big difference in the lives of individuals who are blind. You can be thoughtful and courteous in how you approach a person with vision loss.
Experts suggest greeting the person first. Then ask if you can help them, rather than just jumping in and trying to help them. Listen to the person’s answer. If they ask for help in a certain way, respect their wishes and don’t try to do something else instead. If they decline your help, respect that choice as well.
If you live with a person with vision loss or regularly interact with someone who’s blind, you can talk to them about the best way to provide support to them on an ongoing basis.
Blind people are just like sighted people in most ways, but they may see the world differently.
If you interact with someone who has low vision or total blindness, ask them how you can best help them, and honor their choices.