Georgia Tech Research Institute
Accessibility Assistant

Accessibility Assistant

Blindness and Low Vision Fact Sheet

What we refer to as "vision" is actually a complex interaction between the eyes and the optic nerve. It's a common assumption that vision loss results in one problem - loss of focus. In fact, vision problems have many causes that affect people very differently. People experience loss of focus, loss of color, loss of contrast, loss of night vision, and/or problems with glare. Some experience changes in the size and shape of the visual field (glaucoma, macular degeneration and retinopathy). Most people will experience some changes in vision over the course of their lives. Vision loss varies widely and visual impairment is multi-dimensional. Because of this variation, the impact on people's lives varies and so do their needs and preferences.

Cultural and Social Contexts

Organizations. Locate and review the following organizational World Wide Web sites to learn more about the current issues in the blind and low vision communities.

Greetings and Tips for Interacting. When greeting a person who is blind, identify yourself by name and introduce anyone else that is present. If the person does not extend a hand to shake, verbally extend a welcome. Address your questions, comments, or concerns directly to the individual, not to another person that may be present. Let the person know if you move your location or if the conversation needs to end. Verbally close a conversation and announce your departure before leaving a room.

Mobility and Orientation. Among people who are blind, independence is a major concern and training in orientation and mobility is a common practice. In mobility training, the person is trained to move from point A to point B. And in orientation training, the person is trained to use sensory input from other senses (hearing, touch, smell) to orient to new environments. To assist in mobility, many people use a long white cane, commonly known as a Hoover Cane, and/or a dog guide. A cane is part of an individual's personal space. As was mentioned earlier, dont touch or steer a person's cane. Offer the use of your arm (at or about the elbow), walking normally. This enables you to guide, rather than touch or steer the individual. Service dogs are working animals and should not be treated as pets. Dont play with or pet service animals. Service animals are permitted to enter any public facility including restaurants.

Providing verbal instructions and points of orientation is also helpful. For example, before ascending or descending stairs, come to a complete stop, inform the person regarding the direction (up or down) and approximately how many steps there are. Tell the person the location of the handrail. If there is a choice between an escalator and an elevator, ask their preference. When describing surroundings, use phrases that relate to sound, smell, and distance. Be as specific as possible and describe obstacles in the path of travel, using clock clues: "The desk is at 3 o'clock." Finally, provide verbal cues when offering seating and/or place the persons hand on the back of the chair.

Access to Media. People have individual needs regarding how they best receive information. People with visual impairment use a mix of print and other media, and people with vision loss may use corrective lenses in order to read. Large print is useful only for people with some vision. People who are blind may rely on Braille and media other than print for access to information, but not all blind and visually impaired people read Braille. Braille is difficult to learn and Brailled books can be big and cumbersome. Only a small percentage of people who are blind are "fluent" in Braille. Since listening is reading for many people who are blind, historically they have relied on people who read aloud to them. Today, there are recordings and text-to-speech computer applications (also known as screen readers) that use information technology to read digitally produced materials and content. Many people prefer to receive information on audiotape. Ask the person in advance to determine their preference.

Assistive Technology

People who are blind or visually impaired use a variety of equipment for modifying and controlling the environment. Variable intensity lamps are used for reading to cut down on glare. Large print, audio books, view scanners (known as CCTV), reading machines (which use optical character recognition to convert print to synthetic speech), Braille translators (which convert digital data to Braille), and synthetic speech may be used to deliver information. Generally, products with spoken outputs (talking watches, clocks, rulers) are of assistance, as are products that use audible cues.

Prevalence of Blindness and Low Vision

  • 9.7 million Americans have difficulty seeing the words and letters in ordinary newspaper print, even with glasses or contact lenses.

  • 9.3 million Americans have a sensory disability involving sight or hearing. (Source: Waldrop J. & Stern, S.M. Disability status 2000; Census 2000 brief. March 2003, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU.)

  • 60% of persons with severe visual impairments are 65 years old or older. (Source: McNeil, J. Americans with disabilities: Household economic studies. February 2001, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU.)