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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Learning About Blindness

What is Blindness or Low Vision?

Visually Impaired: A person is considered visually impaired when, with best correction, he or she has difficulty reading a newspaper, is unable to see objects with peripheral vision, among many other indicators.

Legally blind: This is defined as no better than 20/200 corrected vision in the better eye, or a visual field not extending beyond 20 degrees in the better eye, or a visual efficiency of no more than 20 percent. The "legal" refers to a determination of the person's eligibility for government benefits resulting from his or her visual impairment.

Blindness: A wide array of conditions ranging from a limited ability to see objects with special aids to the absence of light perception. Most people who are blind have some light perception.

Eye Disorders

Almost all blindness in the United States is the result of eye disease. Less than 3 percent is the result of injuries. For more information, see AFB's Glossary of Eye Conditions.

What the World Looks Like to People with Low Vision

A low vision simulation was created by Lighthouse International to give sighted people an idea of how the world looks to people with low vision. Further information is available on what it's like to be blind or to have low vision on the Braille Institute's web site.

How Do I Interact with a Blind Person?

As with a person with any disability, the best approach is to interact with the person, not with his or her disability. In general, what you would do or say with a sighted person is appropriate for a person with a visual impairment. However, to be most courteous, here are some hints.

  • Introduce yourself by name and make eye contact when speaking.
  • Speak in your usual conversational voice.
  • When a blind person enters the room, identify yourself.
  • Indicate the end of a conversation, and let a blind person know when you are walking away.
  • Feel free to use vision-oriented words such as "see", "look", and "watch."
  • Be specific when giving directions.
  • Don't grab the arm of a person who is blind or visually impaired: offer yours instead.
  • Don't interfere with a blind or visually impaired person's cane, and don't pet or feed dog guides
  • When in doubt, just ask.

Myths About Blindness

Myth: People who are blind or severely visually impaired can't do most jobs.

Reality: People who are blind or have low vision are currently doing many jobs, some which may astound you. These are just a few:

  • Corporate executives (e.g., Senior VP, Marriott)
  • World-class athletes (e.g., mountain climber who climbed Everest, Olympic runner)
  • Politicians (e.g., New York state senator, mayor of a large city, Washington state representative)
  • Jeopardy! (game show) champion

Myth: Accommodations are too expensive.

Reality: The cost of accommodation is typically low (88 percent of complete employee accommodations cost less than $1000) and easy to implement. The value—to morale, to loyalty in the workforce, and in retaining highly qualified people—can be very high.

Myth: Employees who are blind or visually impaired need more supervision than others.

Reality: Studies have proven that employees who are blind or visually impaired do not need more supervision. They may need different supervision to perform specific tasks. Most have a high desire and motivation to succeed. Given proper instruction, employees who are blind or visually impaired will perform competitively.

Myth: People who are blind or visually impaired cannot read printed or handwritten materials.

Reality: The advent of computers and technology has made nearly any kind of print accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Computer software can translate print into speech, magnify screen images, and enlarge text to a readable size. Occasionally human readers take care of the rest.

Myth: Vision loss means job loss and may mean the end of a person's productive employment.

Reality: State vocational rehabilitation agencies and private organizations are available to provide orientation and mobility training, career counseling, and skill development to help clients resume their current job duties or to qualify for other employment. There are workers who are blind or visually impaired in all walks of life who use learned skills and adaptive technology to become or remain productive in the workplace.

Myth: Studies show that hiring blind or visually impaired employees causes insurance rates to increase.

Reality: Insurance premiums are based on overall actuarial events. A single individual, even if he or she is blind or visually impaired, does not make an impact. Many states have passed regulations prohibiting differentiation in premiums on the basis of blindness without full actuarial evidence to support the distinction. A study by DuPont as validated by others, documented that 97 percent of employees with physical disabilities were rated average or above average on safety, compared with 92 percent of unimpaired employees.

Myth: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives the final accommodation decision to the requesting employee, yet the employer bears the cost.

Reality: The ultimate decision is the employer's: as long as the selection effectively removes necessary barriers. ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or job applicants, except in cases that impose verifiable "undue hardship" to the employer. An accommodation is any change that will enable an individual "to enjoy equal employment opportunities and privileges."

Myth: ADA shields employees with disabilities from disciplinary action.

Reality: An employer is always at liberty to excuse or punish infractions of company standards. The employer must make reasonable and effective accommodations to an otherwise qualified employee to ensure that he or she can do the job and that job-related standards are met. The employee is then held to those standards in the same way as all other employees.

Myth: Blind people have special gifts: a "sixth sense."

Reality: People who are blind or visually impaired are not endowed with a sharper sense of touch, hearing, taste, or smell. To compensate for their loss of vision, many learn to listen more carefully, or remember without taking notes, or increase directional acumen to compensate for their lack of functional vision.

Myth: Most blind people are proficient in braille and own a dog guide.

Reality: Only a small percentage of blind or visually impaired readers are completely fluent in braille; many know enough braille for functional use, such as reading notes and labels. Most people who learn braille as adults do not develop the skill to read rapidly. Only a small percentage of blind or visually impaired people use a dog guide. They are invaluable tools and companions for those who do use them. Dog guides are trained to lead the person safely through crowds, across streets, and around obstructions. When the dog guide is harnessed, it's on duty. Once out of harness, the dog relaxes because it's off duty.

Myth:Blind people see only darkness, nothing else.

Reality: Only 18 percent of people who are visually impaired are classified as being totally blind and the majority of them can differentiate between light and dark.

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