Definition of Visually Impaired
NICHCY Fact Sheet Number 13 (FS13),
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
DEFINITION OF VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS
The terms partially sighted, low vision, legally blind, and totally blind are
used in the educational context to describe students with visual impairments.
They are defined as follows:
"Partially sighted" indicates some type of visual problem has resulted in a
need for special education;
Visual impairment is the consequence of a functional loss of vision, rather than
the eye disorder itself. Eye disorders which can lead to visual impairments can
include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems
that result in visual disturbances, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital
disorders, and infection.
"Low vision" generally refers to a severe visual impairment, not necessarily
limited to distance vision. Low vision applies to all individuals with sight
who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with
the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses. They use a combination of vision and
other senses to learn, although they may require adaptations in lighting or
the size of print, and, sometimes, braille;
"Legally blind" indicates that a person has less than 20/200 vision in the better
eye or a very limited field of vision (20 degrees at its widest point); and
Totally blind students learn via braille or other non-visual media.
The rate at which visual impairments occur in individuals under the age of 18
is 12.2 per 1,000. Severe visual impairments (legally or totally blind) occur
at a rate of .06 per 1,000.
The effect of visual problems on a child's development depends on the severity,
type of loss, age at which the condition appears, and overall functioning level
of the child. Many children who have multiple disabilities may also have visual
impairments resulting in motor, cognitive, and/or social developmental delays.
A young child with visual impairments has little reason to explore interesting
objects in the environment and, thus, may miss opportunities to have experiences
and to learn. This lack of exploration may continue until learning becomes motivating
or until intervention begins.
Because the child cannot see parents or peers, he or she may be unable to imitate
social behavior or understand nonverbal cues. Visual handicaps can create obstacles
to a growing child's independence.
Children with visual impairments should be assessed early to benefit from early
intervention programs, when applicable. Technology in the form of computers and
low-vision optical and video aids enable many partially sighted, low vision and
blind children to participate in regular class activities. Large print materials,
books on tape, and braille books are available.
Students with visual impairments may need additional help with special equipment
and modifications in the regular curriculum to emphasize listening skills, communication,
orientation and mobility, vocation/career options, and daily living skills. Students
with low vision or those who are legally blind may need help in using their residual
vision more efficiently and in working with special aids and materials. Students
who have visual impairments combined with other types of disabilities have a greater
need for an interdisciplinary approach and may require greater emphasis on self
care and daily living skills.
American Foundation for the Blind. Search AFB's Service Center on the Web
to identify services for blind and visually impaired persons in the United States
and Canada. Available: www.afb.org/services.asp
Holbrook, M.C. (Ed.). (1996). Children with visual impairments: A parents'
guide. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine. [Telephone: 1-800-843-7323; (301) 897-3570.]
Lewis, S., & Allman, C.B. (2000). Seeing eye to eye: An administrator's guide
to students with low vision. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.
Scott, E., Jan, J., & Freeman, R. (1995). Canít your child see? (2nd ed.).
Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. [Telephone: (512) 451-3246.]
Update January 2001
This fact sheet is made possible through Cooperative Agreement #H326N980002 between
the Academy for Educational Development and the Office of Special Education Programs.
The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies
of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products
or organizations imply endorsement by the U. S. Government.
This information is in the public domain unless otherwise indicated. Readers are
encouraged to copy and share it, but please credit the National Information Center
for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY).
National Information Center
for Children and Youth with Disabilities
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
Web site: http://www.nichcy.org/