Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Facts and Figures on Americans with Vision Loss

Updated November 2009

Please note that estimates of the number of people experiencing vision loss differ based on the definitions of vision loss used, as well as on the dates the data were collected, populations surveyed, and other features of data sources. AFB urges investigators to pay attention to the detailed background information provided along with each estimate.

Topics

Numbers of Americans with Vision Loss
Employment
Educational Attainment
Family Income
Marital Status
Place of Residence
Race and Ethnicity
Numbers of Legally Blind Children and Their School Experiences

Other topics that include older estimates:
Numbers of Legally Blind Americans
Getting Around
Special Education
Computer Use

For more of the most recent facts and figures, see Prevalence Rates of U.S. Adults with Vision Loss

For definitions of vision loss and related terminology, see Key Definitions of Statistical Terms


Numbers of Americans with Vision Loss

Approximately how many people have vision loss in the U.S.?

More than 25 million Americans report experiencing significant vision loss.

The exact figure from the 2008 National Health Interview Survey Provisional Report was 25.2 million Americans who reported experiencing vision loss.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 18 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


How many older Americans have vision loss?

There are approximately 6.5 million seniors (65 years of age and over) who have vision loss. There are approximately 10.7 million Americans 45 to 64 years of age who have vision loss. As the over 10 million baby boomers with vision loss continue to age, the number of seniors with vision loss will continue to grow substantially.

Furthermore, the 2008 NHIS estimates pertain to the noninstitutionalized civilian population. Seniors in nursing homes, for example, are not included in these data. Thus, there is reason to believe that the rate of vision loss among seniors is substantially greater than indicated by the 2008 NHIS Provisional Report.

For more information, see our Special Report on Aging and Vision Loss.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. As mentioned, this estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey , 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


Employment

Several recommended resources for employment statistics are provided in Featured Resources for Employment Statistics.

Investigators are advised that there are no perfect employment statistics currently available pertaining to Americans with vision loss. A primary limitation of the currently available nationally-representative data sources is that people with vision loss are often grouped together with all people who have sensory impairments. In other instances, people with vision loss are grouped together with all people who have a disability in communication. Consequently, Americans with vision loss cannot be separated from Americans who have other sensory impairments such has hearing loss, for example.

Employment statistics pertaining to people with vision loss differ based on the scope and definitions of vision loss used, as well as on the dates the data were collected, populations surveyed, survey methodology, and other features of data sources. Please pay attention to information provided about the data source. The background information is necessary for the accurate interpretation and use of these data.


Educational Attainment

How much schooling have Americans with vision loss received?

Of Americans who have vision loss and are 25 years of age and over, 5.0 million have less than a high school diploma, 6.3 million have a high school diploma or a GED, 6.5 million have some college education, and 4.8 million have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 25 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


Family Income

How many people with vision loss in the U.S. have a family income of less than $35,000?

Approximately 10.4 million people with vision loss in the U.S. have a family income of less than $35,000. There are approximately 13.1 million people with vision loss in the U.S. that have a family income of $35,000 or more.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 18 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


Marital Status

How many Americans who have vision loss are married?

Approximately 12.6 million of Americans who have vision loss are married, 2.7 million are widowed, 4.2 million are divorced or separated, 4.0 million have never married, and 1.6 million live with a partner.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 18 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


Place of Residence

How many people with vision loss live in each of the particular geographic regions of the U.S.?

Approximately 3.8 million people with vision loss live in the Northeast, 5.8 million live in the Midwest, 10.2 million live in the South, and 5.2 million live in the West.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 18 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


How many people with vision loss live in a large metropolitan statistical area (MSA) with a population size of 1,000,000 or more?

Approximately 11.2 million people who have vision loss live in a large MSA. There are approximately 8.8 million people with vision loss living in a small MSA with a population size of less than 1,000,000. Of the people with vision loss in the U.S., 5.2 million do not live in an MSA.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 18 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


Race and Ethnicity

Looking at different racial and ethnic groups, how many Americans have vision loss?

Approximately 24.7 million Americans who have vision loss indicated one race and 419,000 indicated two or more races. Of those who indicated one race, 20.5 million are white, 3.0 million are black or African American, 2.8 million are Hispanic or Latino, 886,000 are Asian, and 265,000 are American Indian or Alaska Native.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian population 18 years of age and over.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2008, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. For further information, see "Pleis J.R., Lucas JW. (2009). Provisional Report: Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(242)."


Numbers of Legally Blind Children and Their School Experiences

How many legally blind children are there in the U.S.?

According to the 2007 Annual Report from the American Printing House for the Blind, there are approximately 57,696 legally blind children in the U.S.

Definition and scope: The children referred to range in age from 0-21 years and only include those children with vision loss that are legally blind. Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been defined by law to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to explicitly to those who have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.

Data source: 2007 Annual Report: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. www.aph.org/about/ar2007.html. The American Printing House for the Blind maintains an annual register of legally blind persons in educational settings below the college level.


How many legally blind children in the U.S. use braille most often when reading?

According to the 2007 Annual Report from the American Printing House for the Blind, approximately 5,626 legally blind children use braille as their primary reading medium. Of the 57,696 children who are legally blind, 10% (5,626) are registered with the American Printing House for the Blind as braille readers, 27% (15,303) as visual readers, 7% (3,942) as auditory readers, 34% (19,793) as non-readers, and 23% (13,032) as pre-readers.

Definition and scope: The children referred to range in age from 0-21 years and only include those children with vision loss that are legally blind. Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been defined by law to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to explicitly to those who have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.

Data source: 2007 Annual Report: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. www.aph.org/about/ar2007.html. The American Printing House for the Blind maintains an annual register of legally blind persons in educational settings below the college level.


What percentage of legally blind children attend residential schools for the blind?

According to the 2007 Annual Report from the American Printing House for the Blind, approximately 9% of legally blind children attend residential schools for the blind. Of the 57,696 children who are legally blind, 83% (48,080) were registered by state departments of education, 9% (5,085) were registered by residential schools for the blind, 5% (2,791) were registered by rehabilitation programs, and 3% (1,740) were registered by multiple disability programs.

Definition and scope: The children referred to range in age from 0-21 years and only include those children with vision loss that are legally blind. Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been defined by law to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to explicitly to those who have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.

Data source: 2007 Annual Report: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. www.aph.org/about/ar2007.html. The American Printing House for the Blind maintains an annual register of legally blind persons in educational settings below the college level.


Numbers of Legally Blind Americans

How many legally blind people are there in the U.S.?

Please note that this older estimate is provided pending the availability of more current information. In 1994, approximately 1.3 million Americans were legally blind.

Definition and scope: This estimate only includes those people with vision loss that are legally blind. Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been defined by law to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to explicitly to those who have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey- Disability Supplement, 1994 and 1995, www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. Breakdown by severity is estimated, with rounding, from National Eye Institute, "Statistics on Blindness in the Model Reporting Area, 1969-70,"(Publication No. [NIH] 73-427), which is conventionally still used as a yardstick.


Getting Around

How many people with vision loss use long canes to get around in the U.S.?

Please note that this older estimate is provided pending the availability of more current information. In 1990, approximately 109,000 people with vision loss in the U.S. used long canes to get around.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to noninstutionalized individuals.

Data source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 1992, "Supplement on Assistive Technology Devices and Home Accessibility Features." For further information, see "Demographics Update: Use of White ("Long") Canes" (1994). Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Part 2, JVIB News Service, 88 (1), 4-5.


How many people with vision loss use dog guides to get around in the U.S.?

Please note that this older estimate is provided pending the availability of more current information. Just over 7,000 Americans use dog guides. Annually, approximately 1,500 individuals graduate from a dog-guide user program.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who are blind or unable to see at all. This estimate pertains to noninstutionalized individuals.

Data source: Eames, E., & Eames, T. (1994). A Guide to Guide Dog Schools, (2nd ed.). For further information, see "Demographics Update: Alternate Estimate of the Number of Guide Dog Users." (1995). Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Part 2, JVIB News Service, 89 (2), 4-6.


Special Education

How many visually impaired, blind, and deaf-blind students are served in special education in the U.S.?

Please note that this older estimate is provided pending the availability of more current information. It was estimated that in 1998 approximately 93,600 visually impaired or blind students, 10,800 of whom were deaf-blind, were being served in the special education program.

Definition and scope: This estimate pertains to students who were reported as being served in the special education system as blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind. These students were 0-21 years of age. Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been defined by law to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to explicitly to those who have a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. This estimate includes legally blind students and deaf-blind students as well as those commonly referred to as visually impaired. These visually impaired students have a vision loss with a visual acuity better than 20/200, and a visual field of better than 20 degrees.

Data source: Multistate sample survey of state special education representatives, as part of the project, "National Plan for Training Personnel to Serve Children with Blindness and Low Vision." Report available from the American Foundation for the Blind. For further information, see Kirchner, C., & Diament, S. (1999). Usable data report: Estimates of the number of visually impaired students, their teachers, and orientation and mobility specialists: Part I. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 93 (9), 600-606.


Computer Use

How many adults with vision loss in the U.S. use computers?

Please note that this older estimate is provided pending the availability of more current information. At least 1.5 million Americans with vision loss use computers.

The term vision loss includes people with any degree of limitation in seeing. Thus, these individuals with vision loss were further identified as having any limitation in seeing, a limitation in seeing, and a severe limitation in seeing. Applying these more specific measures of vision loss more a more detailed estimate is available. The total number of people ages 15 and older with any "limitation in seeing", who report they have access to the Internet is just over 1.5 million (1,549,000). The number of people ages 15 and older, with a limitation in seeing, who use a computer regularly is a bit under 1 million (979,000). Of those, about 196,000 people with a "severe" limitation in seeing have access to the Internet, and about 102,000 persons with a severe limitation in seeing use a computer on a regular basis.

Definition and scope: The term vision loss refers to individuals who have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who are blind or unable to see at all. The term vision loss includes people with any degree of limitation in seeing.

Data source: The U.S. Bureau of the Census (1999) "Survey of Income and Program Participation" (SIPP). For further information, see "Who's Surfing? Internet Access and Computer Use by Visually Impaired Youth and Adults" by Elaine Gerber and Corinne Kirchner. (2001). Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 95 (3), 176-181.


services icon Directory of Services

book icon Featured Book

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & BlindnessJVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

Help Make Drug Labels Safer

Help make prescription drugs safe for people with low vision. Support our Rx Label Enable Campaign today.