Various scales have been developed to describe the extent of vision loss and define "blindness." Total blindness is the complete lack of form and visual light perception and is clinically recorded as "NLP," an abbreviation for "no light perception." Blindness is frequently used to describe severe visual impairment with residual vision. Those described as having only "light perception" have no more sight than the ability to tell light from dark. A person with only "light projection" can tell the general direction of a light source.
In order to determine which people may need special assistance because of their visual disabilities, various governmental jurisdictions have formulated more complex definitions referred to as legal blindness. In North America and most of Europe, legal blindness is defined as visual acuity (vision) of 20/200 (6/60) or less in the better eye with best correction possible. This means that a legally blind individual would have to stand from an object to see it—with vision correction—with the same degree of clarity as a normally sighted person could from . In many areas, people with average acuity who nonetheless have a visual field of less than 20 degrees (the norm being 180 degrees) are also classified as being legally blind. Approximately ten percent of those deemed legally blind, by any measure, have no vision. The rest have some vision, from light perception alone to relatively good acuity. Low vision is sometimes used to describe visual acuities from 20/70 to 20/200.
By the 10th Revision of the WHO International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Injuries and Causes of Death, low vision is defined as visual acuity of less than 6/18, but equal to or better than 3/60, or corresponding visual field loss to less than 20 degrees, in the better eye with best possible correction. Blindness is defined as visual acuity of less than 3/60, or corresponding visual field loss to less than 10 degrees, in the better eye with best possible correction.
It should be noted that blind people with undamaged eyes may still register light non-visually for the purpose of circadian entrainment to the 24-hour light/dark cycle. Light signals for this purpose travel through the retinohypothalamic tract (RHT), so a damaged optic nerve beyond where the RHT exits it is no hindrance.
Central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with corrective glasses or central visual acuity of more than 20/200 if there is a visual field defect in which the peripheral field is contracted to such an extent that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees in the better eye.
The United States Congress included this definition as part of the Aid to the Blind program in the Social Security Act passed in 1935. In 1972, the Aid to the Blind program and two others combined under Title XVI of the Social Security Act to form the Supplemental Security Income program which currently states:
An individual shall be considered to be blind for purposes of this title if he has central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees shall be considered for purposes of the first sentence of this subsection as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less. An individual shall also be considered to be blind for purposes of this title if he is blind as defined under a State plan approved under title X or XVI as in effect for October 1972 and received aid under such plan (on the basis of blindness) for December 1973, so long as he is continuously blind as so defined.
Kuwait is one of many nations that share the same criteria for legal blindness.
In November 2004 article Magnitude and causes of visual impairment, the WHO estimated that in 2002 there were 161 million (about 2.6% of the world population) visually impaired people in the world, of whom 124 million (about 2%) had low vision and 37 million (about 0.6%) were blind.
Serious visual impairment has a variety of causes:
People in developing countries are significantly more likely to experience visual impairment as a consequence of treatable or preventable conditions than are their counterparts in the developed world. While vision impairment is most common in people over age 60 across all regions, children in poorer communities are more likely to be affected by blinding diseases than are their more affluent peers.
The link between poverty and treatable visual impairment is most obvious when conducting regional comparisons of cause. Most adult visual impairment in North America and Western Europe is related to age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. While both of these conditions are subject to treatment, neither can be cured. Another common cause is retinopathy of prematurity.
In developing countries, wherein people have shorter life expectancies, cataracts and water-borne parasites—both of which can be treated effectively—are most often the culprits (see River blindness, for example). Of the estimated 40 million blind people located around the world, 70–80% can have some or all of their sight restored through treatment.
In developed countries where parasitic diseases are less common and cataract surgery is more available, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are usually the leading causes of blindness.
In 2003, a Pakistani man Mohammad Sajid was sentenced to be blinded under Islamic Qisas law, for blinding his fiancee after her parents called off the engagement.
The study used a common cold virus to deliver a normal version of the gene called RPE65 directly into the eyes of affected patients. Remarkably all 3 patients aged 19, 26 and 26 responded well to the treatment and reported improved vision following the procedure. Due to the age of the patients and the degenerative nature of LCA the improvement of vision in gene therapy patients is encouraging for researchers. It is hoped that gene therapy may be even more effective in younger LCA patients who have experienced limited vision loss as well as in other blind or partially blind individuals.
Visually impaired and blind people have devised a number of techniques that allow them to complete daily activities using their remaining senses. These might include the following:
Most people, once they have been visually impaired for long enough, devise their own adaptive strategies in all areas of personal and professional management.
For corrective surgery of blindness, see acquired vision.
Many people with serious visual impairments can travel independently, using a wide range of tools and techniques. Orientation and mobility specialists are professionals who are specifically trained to teach people with visual impairments how to travel safely, confidently, and independently in the home and the community. These professionals can also help blind people to practice travelling on specific routes which they may use often, such as the route from one's house to a convenience store. Becoming familiar with an environment or route can make it much easier for a blind person to navigate successfully.
Tools such as the white cane with a red tip - the international symbol of blindness may also be used to improve mobility. A long cane is used to extend the user's range of touch sensation. It is usually swung in a low sweeping motion, across the intended path of travel, to detect obstacles. However, techniques for cane travel can vary depending on the user and/or the situation. Some visually impaired persons do not carry these kinds of canes, opting instead for the shorter, lighter identification (ID) cane. Still others require a support cane. The choice depends on the individual's vision, motivation, and other factors.
A small number of people employ guide dogs to assist in mobility. These dogs are trained to navigate around various obstacles, and to indicate when it becomes necessary to go up or down a step. However, the helpfullness of guide dogs is limited by the inability of dogs to understand complex directions. The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. In this sense, the handler might be likened to an aircraft's navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog is the pilot, who gets them there safely.
Government actions are sometimes taken to make public places more accessible to blind people. Public transportation is freely available to the blind in many cities. Tactile paving and audible traffic signals can make it easier and safer for visually impaired pedestrians to cross streets. In addition to making rules about who can and cannot use a cane, some governments mandate the right-of-way be given to users of white canes or guide dogs.
Most visually impaired people who are not totally blind read print, either of a regular size or enlarged by magnification devices. Many also read large-print, which is easier for them to read without such devices. A variety of magnifying glasses, some handheld, and some on desktops, can make reading easier for them.
The rest read Braille (or the infrequently used Moon type), or rely on talking books and readers or reading machines. They use computers with special hardware such as scanners and refreshable Braille displays as well as software written specifically for the blind, such as optical character recognition applications and screen readers.
Some people access these materials through agencies for the blind, such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in the United States, the National Library for the Blind or the RNIB in the United Kingdom.
Closed-circuit televisions, equipment that enlarges and contrasts textual items, are a more high-tech alternative to traditional magnification devices. So too are modern web browsers, which can increase the size of text on some web pages through browser controls or through user-controlled style sheets.
There are also over 100 radio reading services throughout the world that provide people with vision impairments with readings from periodicals over the radio. The International Association of Audio Information Services provides links to all of these organizations.
The theme of blind animals has been a powerful one in literature. Peter Schaffer's Tony-Award winning play, Equus, tells the story of a boy who blinds six horses. Theodore Taylor's classic young adult novel, The Trouble With Tuck, is about a teenage girl, Helen, who trains her blind dog to follow and trust a seeing-eye dog. Jacob Appel's prize-winning story, "Rods and Cones," describes the disruption that a blind rabbit causes in a married couple's life. In non-fiction, a recent classic is Linda Kay Hardie's essay, "Lessons Learned from a Blind Cat," in Cat Women: Female Writers on their Feline Friends.
A "blind spot" is an area where someone cannot see, e.g. where a car driver cannot see because parts of his car's bodywork are in the way.