Blindness and vision loss (2023)

In the UK, more than 2 million people are living with sight loss. Of these, around 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted.

Being toldyouhave a visual impairment that can't be treated can be difficult to come to terms with.

Somepeople go through a process similar to bereavement, where they experience a range of emotions including shock, anger, and denial, before eventually coming to accept their condition.

Specialist referral

If you're blind or partially sighted, you may be referred to a specialist low-vision clinic, which is often located within a hospital. Staff at the clinic can help you understand your condition and come to termswith your diagnosis.

They can also advise you about practical things, such as lighting and vision aids, and let you know about further sources of help and support.

Ask your local hospital if they have an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO), whose role involves providing support to people with vision loss in eye clinics.

Support groups

If you're blind or partially sighted, you may find it helpfulto contact a support group for people with visionloss.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

TheRNIBis the UK's leading charity for people with vision loss. The RNIB website offers useful information, such as coming to terms with sight loss.

The RNIB's helpline is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm and Saturday from 9am to 1pm. The number is 0303 123 9999, with calls costing no more than a standard rate call to an 01 or 02 number. You can alsoemail helpline staff (helpline@rnib.org.uk).

The RNIB's website is specially designed for people with sight loss and provides a wide range of useful information and resources, including an online community andRNIB online shop.

Other national charities

Other national charities that specialise in vision loss and you may find useful include:

Local organisations

There are also many local voluntary organisations around the country that help and support people with vision problems. You can find local support organisations on the RNIB's Sightline Directory.

Registeringas blind or partially sighted

If your vision has deteriorated to a certain level, you may choose to register as visually impaired. Depending on the severity of your vision loss you'll either be registered as sight impaired (previously"partially sighted") or severely sight impaired (previously "blind").

Your eye specialist (ophthalmologist) will measure your ability to see detail at a distance (visual acuity) and how much you can see from the side of your eye when looking straight ahead (your field of vision).

These measurements will help yourophthalmologist determine whether you're eligible to be certified as sight impairedor severely sight impaired. If you are,they will complete an official certificate with the results of your eye examination.

In England and Wales this certificate is called the Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI), in Scotland it's called the CVI (Scotland) form, and in Northern Ireland it's called an A655.

Your ophthalmologist will send a copyof the certificate to you, a copy to your GP and a copy toyour local social services department. Upon receiving the certificate,your local social services team will contact you to ask whether you want to be added toits register of visually impaired people. If you say "yes" then you become registered.

After you're registered, social services will contact you again toarrange for an assessment to be carried out. The aim is to assess your needs and find out what help you require to remain independent, such as help with cleaning and cooking, or help with mobility and transport.

Registering as visually impaired isn't compulsory, but it canhelp you to get a range of benefits, including:

Find out more:

Changesto your home

Most visually impaired people can continue to live at home. However, you'llprobably need to makesome changes to your home, particularly if you live on your own.

Below is a list of someimportant pieces of equipment you may find useful.

  • Big-button telephone – both landline and mobile phones are available from the RNIB online shop.
  • Computer, smartphone or tablet –the internet can provide a real sense of connection to friends and family as well as other people with a visual impairment. It's also a practical way of finding out information and obtaining goods and services. Big-button keyboards, screen display software and text readers are available from the RNIB.
  • Community alarm – this small, wearable device has an alarm button which, if pressed, sends an alarm signal to a response centre, which will alert a nominated friend or carer. Your local authority should be able to provide you with further information.
  • Bright lighting – bright light bulbs and adjustable lights are essential for your home, particularly in the kitchen and the stairs (areas where you're most likely to have an accident). Fluorescent bulbs are recommended because they produce the most light and tend to be cheaper in the long term than conventional bulbs. Lighting in and around the home: A guide to better lighting for people with visual impairment by the Thomas Pocklington Trust, contains more information on the importance of lighting.

The way your house is painted can also make it easier to find your way around. Using a two-tone contrast approach, such as black and white, can make it easier to tell the difference between nearby objects, such as a door and its handle or the stairs and its handrail.

Read more from the RNIB about adapting your home

Reading and writing

There are several options available if you're having problems reading standard text in books, newspapers and magazines.

One of the simplest options is to usea magnifying device that can make print appear bigger to help you read. These can be obtained from a number of places including hospital low-vision services, optometrists, local voluntary organisations, and the RNIB.

The RNIB also has a collection of large-print publications you can borrow, as do most libraries.

You could alsouse an e-reader to help you read.E-readers are handheld devices that allow you to download books and subscribe to newspapers and magazines on the internet. You can choose a setting that allows you to display text at a larger size. Or you can use text-to-speech software.

The RNIB has more information on text-to-speech in eBooks

If you're unable to read at all you could listen to audio recordings. You can sign up to the:

  • RNIB's Newsagent scheme, which providesmore than 200 magazine and newspaper titles in different formats, such as online or on CD.
  • RNIB Talking Books Service, where you can download audio books to listen to on your smartphone, tablet or computer or on a device known as a DAISY player. You can also get books on CD or USB stick, delivered to your door.

You can also install screen-reading software on your computer that will read out emails, documents and text on the internet.

The RNIB has more information about using screen-reading software

There are also voice recognition programmes where you speak into a microphone and the software translates what you say into writing. These programmes can also be usedto issue commands, such as closing down the internet and moving from one website to another.

Braille

Some people with severe sight loss, particularly those who've had the problem from a young age,choose to learn Braille. Braille is a writing system where raised dots are used as a substitute for written letters.

As well as Braille versions of books and magazines, you can buy Braille display units, which can be attached to computers that allow you to read the text displayed ona computer screen. Braille computer keyboards are also available.

The RNIB website has more information aboutreading and Braille

Getting around

There are several different methods you can use toget around independentlyif you have a problem with your vision.

Long cane

You may find a long cane useful when travelling. These canes are usually foldable andcan help you get around by detecting objects in your path. The cane will also make drivers and other pedestrians aware that you have sight loss.

To get the most from a longcane,it's a good ideato attend a training course that will teach you how to use it.

The charity Guide Dogshas more information about getting around safely with a long cane

Guide dogs

Guide Dogs has been providing guide dogsfor people with vision lossfor many years. Guide dogs can help you get around, and provide both a sense of independence and companionship.

If you apply for a guide dog, Guide Dogs provide all the essential equipment free of charge and can also offer financial assistance if needed for things like food or vet costs.

You don't need to have lost all your sight to benefit from a guide dog and you don't have to be officially registered as blind or partially sighted to apply for one.

Guide Dogs has more on applying for a guide dog

Guide Dogs alsooffer a number ofother servicesfor people with a visual impairment (even if you don't have a guide dog), such asHelp for children and familiesand mobility training.

The Guide Dogs' Sighted guiding serviceaims to reduce the isolation that many people with sight loss experience, helping to rebuild their confidence and regain their independence.

Global positioning system (GPS)

A global positioning system (GPS) is a navigational aid that uses signals from satellites to tell you where you are and help plan your journeys.

GPS devices are available as standalone units that can be programmed using a Braille keyboard, which tell you your current location and give you directions to where you want to go.

If you have a smartphone, there are a number of GPS apps you can download.

The RNIB website has more information about usingGPS

Driving

If you're diagnosed with a condition that affects your vision, you have a legal obligation to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Failure to do so is a crime and can result in a fine of up to £1,000.

GOV.UK has more ondriving with a disability or a health condition

If you're registered as having a sight impairment, the DVLA will assume your driving licence is no longer valid and you'll no longer be able to drive.

Exceptions are occasionally made for people with mildvision impairment. If you think this applies to you, then your doctor will need to fill in a DVLA medical information questionnaire.

You're only legally allowed to drive if you can read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres (65 feet), and an eyetest shows your visual acuity is at least 6/12. You're allowed to wear glasses or contact lenses when reading the plate or letter chart.

There are also standards relating to your visual field and driving. If you have a condition that mayreduce your visual field, the DVLA may ask you to completea visual field test to demonstrate you're safe to drive.

Technology

Technology to help you live well and safely with sight loss is developing all the time. You can read:

Employment

If you're currently employed and have recently been diagnosed with a visual impairment, you should contact theGOV.UK: Access to Work scheme.

Access to Work is a scheme run by Jobcentre Plus that provides advice and support about what equipment and adjustments may be required to enable you to do your job.

They also offer a grant to contribute towards the costs of any equipment or training you may need, such as voice recognition software, a Braille keyboard and display unit and a printer that can convert text into Braille (Braille embossers).

Depending on the size of the company you work for, the grant can pay for 80% to 100% of costs, up to £10,000.

Find out more:

You don't have to disclose that you have a visual impairment when applying for a job, but it'susually recommended that you do.

If you feel you've been turned down for a job because of your disability, and you were capable of doing the job, you can make a complaint under the Equality Act 2010.

Some people with a visual impairment decide to become self-employed, often because it allows them the flexibility to work at home for hours they choose.

The RNIB website hasmore information and advice aboutequality, rights and employment

Regular sight tests

If you havevision loss, it's still important to have regular sighttests so your optometrist (eye specialist) can check for further changes in your eyes and give you advice about how to make thebest use of your vision.

Find an optician or more about NHS eyes services.

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2021
Next review due: 22 December 2024

FAQs

What are the 4 losses of blindness? ›

Types of vision loss

central vision loss, or difficulty seeing things in the center of vision. peripheral vision loss, or difficulty seeing things out of the corner of the eyes. general vision loss, when a person may not be able to see anything at all. night blindness, when a person has trouble seeing in low light.

What causes blindness and loss of vision? ›

Globally, the leading causes of vision impairment and blindness are:
  • refractive errors.
  • cataract.
  • diabetic retinopathy.
  • glaucoma.
  • age-related macular degeneration.
6 days ago

How do you come to terms with vision loss? ›

Seek Therapeutic Counseling for Vision Loss

Doctors, state agencies, and non-profit organizations offer counseling services for those with vision loss and can provide referrals to other professionals based on individual needs. People with severe vision loss especially should be encouraged to consider these resources.

What is the difference between blindness and vision loss? ›

People with vision that is worse than 20/200, even with glasses or contact lenses, are considered legally blind in most states in the United States. Vision loss refers to the partial or complete loss of vision. This vision loss may happen suddenly or over a period of time.

What are the three levels of blindness? ›

Types of blindness
  • Partial blindness: You still have some vision. ...
  • Complete blindness: You can't see or detect light. ...
  • Congenital blindness: This refers to poor vision that you are born with.
Nov 14, 2022

Can loss of vision be restored? ›

Responding to the question about restoring loss vision; it is possible to restore vision loss with cutting-edge technologies depending on what caused the condition. While it is possible to restore lost vision, it should be mentioned that vision loss caused, especially glaucoma may be permanent.

Can you reverse blindness? ›

There's no current cure for blindness. But treatments can offer help for some people, depending on the cause and progression of their vision loss. New treatments in various phases of development also offer hope, including gene and stem cell therapies. For many causes of blindness, prevention is still the best option.

What is the common cause of sudden loss of vision? ›

Common causes of sudden vision loss include eye trauma, blockage of blood flow to or from the retina (retinal artery occlusion or retinal vein occlusion), and pulling of the retina away from its usual position at the back of the eye (retinal detachment).

What are the 5 stages of sight loss? ›

A counsellor's guide to the stages of grief associated with sight...
  • Stages of grief. Primarily, working with blind and partially sighted clients is rooted in supporting the issues connected to bereavement and its stages of grief. ...
  • Denial. ...
  • Anger. ...
  • Depression. ...
  • Acceptance.
May 17, 2020

How vision loss can affect the brain? ›

“When people have vision loss, they change the way they live their lives. They decrease their physical activity and they decrease their social activity, both of which are so important for maintaining a healthy brain,” Dr. Swenor said. “It puts them on a fast tack to cognitive decline.”

Is loss of vision serious? ›

If you lose vision suddenly, go to the emergency room immediately. If you suddenly lose your vision, you need to get immediate medical help. This is true if you lose vision in part of your field of vision, in one eye or both eyes. And you need to get help whether you have pain in your eye or not.

What are the 4 types of vision loss? ›

The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are primarily age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Other common eye disorders include amblyopia and strabismus.

How much vision loss is considered blind? ›

Visual acuity less than 20/200 is considered legally blind, but to actually fit the definition, the person must not be able to attain 20/200 vision even with prescription eyewear. Many people who would be legally blind without eyewear can function well in everyday life with appropriate glasses or contact lenses.

What does total blindness look like? ›

Levels of Blindness

Total Blindness: Total blindness refers to the complete absence of vision. Individuals who are totally blind have no light perception and are unable to differentiate between light and darkness.

What is the 4th leading cause of blindness? ›

The top causes of blindness and vision impairment worldwide are age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and uncorrected refractive errors.

What do blind people suffer from the most? ›

Having little to no opportunity to support oneself, blind or low vision individuals are incapacitated from their independence. Leisure: The lack of accessibility for the visually impaired is central to a number of the issues the blind or low visual individuals face. Leisure is another one on the list.

What happens to the other 4 senses of a blind or visually impaired person as they start to lose their vision? ›

Other senses sharpen after loss of vision

Following the loss of vision, other senses become gradually more sensitive: tactile and hearing acuity and one's sense of smell all improve, enabling a blind individual to use these senses to navigate accurately through the environment, despite a lack of visual input.

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