Blind vs. Visually Impaired: What’s the Difference? | IBVI | Blog (2024)

Blind vs. Visually Impaired: What’s the Difference? | IBVI | Blog (1)

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A look into the difference between what constitutes someone as visually impaired or blind

A question people ask often is, “What’s the difference between someone who is blind and someone who is visually impaired?” So, today, I sat down with our newest intern, Katie, to ask her some questions about the differences between visual impairment and blindness. She told me we should first start with the definitions of both.

What is the difference between visual impairment and blindness?

The definition of visual impairment is “a decrease in the ability to see to a certain degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses.” Blindness is “the state of being unable to see due to injury, disease or genetic condition.”

In the U.S., there are four terms used to describe different levels of vision impairment and blindness—partially sighted, low vision, legally blind and totally blind.

Partially sighted means a person has partial vision, either in one or both eyes.

Low vision refers to a severe visual impairment in which visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better-seeing eye and cannot improve with glasses or contacts.

Blind vs. Visually Impaired: What’s the Difference? | IBVI | Blog (2)

Legally blind means a person has a corrected vision of 20/200 in their best-seeing eye. If visual aids such as glasses can correct a person’s vision to 20/20, they are not considered legally blind.

Totally blind refers to a complete loss of sight.

While the phrase “visual acuity” may seem new to you, Katie explained that it is something most of us are familiar with. It is a measurement determined by the letter chart tests we take when we get our eyes checked; the number represents your eyes’ clarity or sharpness. For example, a person with a visual acuity measurement of 20/70who is 20 feet away from an eye chart sees what a person with 20/20 vision can see from 70 feet away.

Does a totally blind person with their eyes open see the same thing as a sighted person with their eyes closed?
Most people who are born blind say they see nothing. But, people who previously had vision before going blind say they usually see black and sometimes faded shapes, flashes of light or color, and experience vivid hallucinations.

From what distances are visually impaired people able to see?

It depends on the type of visual impairment someone is living with. For Katie and probably many others, objects are only visible from a certain distance—this distance could be as close as right in front of the eye or as far as 20 feet away. From a distance, objects may be blurry or faint. Some people may also see in tunnel vision, which is the loss of peripheral vision. Visual impairment can improve with glasses or other types of adaptive technology such as CyberEyez.

Can blind or visually impaired people still lead normal lives?

Absolutely! Many blind and visually impaired people adjust to their disabilities. Being visually impaired or blind doesn’t mean they can’t live normal lives just like anyone else. They work, go to the movies, explore new parts of town, and even win national talent contests.

Being blind or visually impaired isn’t about what they can or cannot do. It’s about learning the best way to accomplish whatever goals they set out to achieve.

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Blind vs. Visually Impaired: What’s the Difference? | IBVI | Blog (2024)


Blind vs. Visually Impaired: What’s the Difference? | IBVI | Blog? ›

The definition of visual impairment is “a decrease in the ability to see to a certain degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses.” Blindness is “the state of being unable to see due to injury, disease or genetic condition.”

Is visually impaired the same as blind? ›

The World Health Organization defines “low vision” as visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/400, with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. “Blindness” is defined as a visual acuity worse than 20/400, with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 10 degrees or less.

What falls under visually impaired? ›

Impaired vision can range from poor vision to blindness. People whose vision cannot be corrected by ordinary glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery have visual impairments. People with visual impairments have difficulty with routine tasks, such as reading a newspaper, even with glasses or contact lenses.

Are blindness and visual impairment the same under the law? ›

All totally blind people are legally blind. Some legally blind persons who have some usable vision are considered to have low vision. There must be some usable vision remaining in the eyes to be considered low vision.

Do we still say visually impaired? ›

Terms such as blind, partially sighted, visually impaired, vision impaired, low vision, and legally blind are also not generally considered offensive, as these terms are often used in a medical context as well as a social context.

What is the new term for visually impaired? ›

What do we say?
Don't useAcceptable Alternative
Blind (the), visually impaired (the)Say "person who is blind", "person with vision impairment or low vision"
Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound (a wheelchair provides mobility not restriction)Say "uses a wheelchair" or is a "wheelchair user"
22 more rows

What is another name for a visually impaired person? ›

blindness, cecity, sightlessness.

What is the federal definition of visual impairment? ›

Defines visual impairment as visual activity of 20/40 or worse in the better-seeing eye with correction, excluding blindness. Whereas, blindness is defined as visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better seeing eye with correction.

Are you visually impaired if you wear glasses? ›

Visual impairment is an umbrella term that covers a complete spectrum from low vision (can't read normal news-sized fonts at normal reading distances – even with prescriptive eyeglasses or contacts) to total blindness (cannot perceive changes in light and shadow).

What are the four types of blindness? ›

Types of blindness
  • macular degeneration.
  • glaucoma.
  • cataracts.
  • damage to the retina.
Nov 20, 2019

What is the polite way to say visually impaired? ›

Instead use: Person with a visual impairment. Person who is blind / visually impaired.

What is the politically correct way to say blind? ›

AP style: Included in its “Disabled/Handicapped” entry, the stylebook describes blind as “a person with complete loss of sight” and suggests using the terms “visually impaired” or “person with low vision” for those who have some sight.

Are you disabled if you are visually impaired? ›

If You Are Blind Or Visually Impaired

You may be entitled to receive Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What are the four types of visual impairments? ›

4 forms of visual impairment
  • Central vision loss. The central part of the retina concentrates the cells responsible for visual acuity. ...
  • Peripheral vision loss. In people with impaired peripheral vision, the visual field narrows. ...
  • Blurry vision. ...
  • Visual disorders following brain injuries.
Feb 18, 2022

Can a visually impaired person read? ›

Braille is also useful as a way to read books. Either a visually-impaired person can read a physical braille book, or they can read a book on a digital device using a braille display.

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