Living with sight loss
Sight loss is a term used to describe everything from low vision to no sight at all. Contrary to popular belief, most people with sight loss can see something. Different eye conditions can give different levels of vision. Some people have reduced central vision others have no side vision. Some people see everything as a vague blur or as a patchwork of blanks. Other people can see the shape and colour of objects but not detail. Many blind people can still see light from a lamp or a window – called perception of light.
Find out more about the main causes of sight loss here
Finding your way around
Some people have enough useful vision to move around independently and safely. It is often easier for people with sight loss to find their way around their home or school or another familiar environment because they can remember where things are. Unfamiliar surroundings outside can be more difficult to get around because things are constantly changing. It is also more dangerous because roads are busy.
Some people use a long cane to find a safe way in front of them. They learn to use their long cane to locate landmarks and hazards on the ground in front of them and for checking for kerbs and corners. A long cane also symbolises to other people that the person has impaired vision and may need assistance to cross a busy road, for example.
Different textures underfoot can help with orientation. The texture underfoot used only at a pedestrian crossing is called blister surface for pedestrian crossing points. It can help the person differentiate between where the footpath ends and the road begins.
In buses, trains and lifts, spoken announcements of the next station or next floor level or that doors are opening or closing can also be very helpful when getting around.
Some people may use a shorter cane, also known as a symbol cane. This is used simply to identify the carrier as a person with a vision impairment, who would appreciate some extra consideration from the public, especially in crowded areas or when crossing roads. People who carry symbol canes may not need the long cane or may not need it in daytime or in particular environments. The long cane is sometimes called an obstacle detector, demonstrating its value to those who use it as an important independent travel aid.
Reading and writing
People with sight loss read the same books as everyone else. Braille readers often choose to read their books in Braille so instead of using their eyes to read, they read with their fingers. Braille readers can read books in the dark!
Some people listen to books on CD or read large print books. Magnifiers can be used to make print bigger. Assistive technology will enlarge print or read aloud the text on the persons computer screen.
Telling the time
People with low vision may wear watches which have larger faces and bigger numbers and hands, making them easier to read. There are also talking watches available, which announce the time when a button is pressed. A tactile watch has bumps on it so that people can feel what the time is.
People with sight loss are employed in a wide range of careers including: art, physiotherapy, social work, management, journalism, radio presenting, call centre staff, computer programming, music, clerical work, accountancy and teaching. There are many jobs where good eyesight is not essential. Where good vision is important, it may be possible to introduce adaptations to either the job or the equipment used. With appropriate training and equipment, people with sight loss can have the same career prospects as anyone else.
Students who are blind or vision impaired can do just as well as their sighted peers in maths and science subjects. Tactile diagrams can be used in subjects that utilise a lot of diagrams and Braille textbooks are also available. Braille readers can learn to read music, mathematics and foreign languages through Braille. Audio is also very important to people with sight loss but tables and diagrams, which are difficult to describe and understand in audio, can be easily read by Braille readers.
School textbooks are available in Braille, large print, audio and DAISY formats and can be requested through the Visiting Teacher service. DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System. A DAISY book is an MP3 file that can be played on a DAISY player or on any laptop with DAISY software. DAISY books can have sound, text, pictures and are easy to navigate. Leisure books are also available in Braille, audio and large print for children who are blind or vision impaired.
Sports can be as important to people with vision impairments as to anyone else. Certain sports and games, including football, can be adapted for people who are blind or vision impaired and, for example, non contact sports such as running and athletics have many participants who have sight loss.
Including children with vision impairments in play
Parents of a child who is blind or vision impaired may find that their child doesn’t seem to want to play with sighted children. Sometimes adults need to be particularly aware that because children who are blind or vision impaired can be physically hesitant in new environments, or because they cannot perceive the non-verbal cues involved in so much of the communication or play activity between sighted peers, that special attention must be given to including blind and visually impaired children in social situations.
Some people shop independently, especially when they are familiar with the layout of the shop and the location of products. People with low vision can use a magnifier to see product labels and prices more clearly.
Shop staff can also guide the person around the shop, as appropriate. Staff can make the person aware of the choice of products available, the range in prices of products and whether there are any special offers. Some online-shopping websites are accessible to screen readers used by many people with vision impairments so that they can do their shopping on the Internet and get it delivered to their home.
There are plenty of simple practical ways that people with sight loss can use to organise and match their clothes. People can place their clothes in the same place and order so that they can find them again. They can learn which clothes are which by identifying different fasteners, textures or tags on their clothing. Some people keep something distinctive in the pocket of a jacket or put on a brooch to help them identify the clothing. Different types of coat hangers can also denote different types of clothes. A person will know which way round their jumper is because the label is on the inside at the back. By pinning outfits together before they are washed can ensure that they remain colour coordinated.
Making changes in the home
Effective lighting, good use of contrasting colour, changes in texture and sound clues can make a person’s home safer and easier to move around. Some of the helpful aids and appliances in a person’s home can include a magnifying mirror, a large screen television and a talking weighing scales.
Multiple disabilities (MDVI)
MDVI is a Europe-wide acronym for multiply disabled visually impaired people and refers to those people who are blind or vision impaired and have one or more additional disabilities.