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Living With a Visual Impairment

December 17, 2018

Two people in the produce section of the grocery store, once of whom is visually impaired, using a cane and carrying a basket of groceries.

There are over 25 million people in the U.S. that experience some kind of vision loss. Many people believe that going blind leads to a complete loss of independence.

People with some kind of visual impairment do lose the ability to do some everyday tasks, such as drive a car, but many individuals with vision loss still lead full independent lives. Many still go to work every day, have families, and participate in different recreational activities in their community.

There are many adjustments that people with visual impairments can make on a daily basis to make their life easier. For instance, if they still have some vision left, there are tools to help them see better. Magnifiers come in many different forms and can be used in different ways. There are eyeglass-mounted magnifiers and telescopes that can be placed directly on glasses. These are handy because they leaves the individual’s hands free to do other things.

Magnifiers are for close-up tasks, and telescopes are for seeing things farther away (like a ball game, for example). In addition, there are hand-held and tabletop magnifiers that are good for on-the-go activities. Hand-held magnifiers help people read price tags, restaurant menus, or recipes, for instance. While the tabletop version is great for working on crafts at home or reading the newspaper.

Advances in technology have created exciting, and bountiful opportunities for blind or visually impaired individuals, and can enhance a person’s ability to gain and/or maintain a desired career goal. Text-to-speech software and screen magnification allow individuals who are blind or visually impaired to efficiently access a variety of computer programs. Screen readers, such as VoiceOver on Apple products and Thunder for Windows users, assist the user by reading what is on the screen using a speech synthesizer. Other programs, such as JAWS, can translate the words on the screen into braille for the user to read. Using some combination of these tools, most people are able to operate a computer normally, and perform most modern office jobs.

How the Blind Navigate Around Their Surroundings

People who are blind or visually impaired must learn to orient to their surroundings, and move independently and safely across a variety of environments with the use of their remaining senses, learned travel skills and techniques, and mobility tools.

Canes allow people who are blind and partially sighted to move safely through the world around them. By moving the cane in a swift, arch motion in front of them, the individuals can feel each step before their foot lands on that spot. If there is a hole or obstacle, the cane will find it before the individual can trip.

The visually impaired can also use our furry friends to help them navigate through the world. Specially trained guide dogs can assist a blind person by being their eyes. Guide dogs can assist people around obstacles and through crowds, stop at curbs and stairs, and sometimes even be trained to find a limited number of objects that are within sight when given orders such as “Find the chair,” “Find the door,” or “Find the elevator.” These dogs are trained to understand certain commands from their handlers. For instance, when it comes to crossing the street, the handler will listen to traffic cues and then tell the dog to walk. However, if the dog senses danger it will not move until it is safe.

People with visual impairments are still people who live vibrant, valuable, and interesting lives. Their lives are not impossible, are not a tragedy, and are not something to be afraid of. Although they are often faced with more difficult challenges, they always find ways to rise above it.