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What’s the Definition of Legally Blind?

by Damion Wasylow 7 May 2018 14:15 PM

woman taking vision test by reading exam poster
Legally blind is a term that is often misunderstood and misused. Many people believe a person who is legally blind has no sight at all, but the truth is, a legally blind person may be able to see well enough to read this article...although they will likely need to zoom in quite a bit.

An estimated 1.1 million Americans are legally blind, a designation government agencies use when evaluating who gets certain disability and other benefits. According to current government standards, any person whose vision is below 20/200 is legally blind. 20/200 vision means the person must be within 20 feet in order to clearly see what a person with normal vision sees at 200 feet.

The government also considers someone legally blind if their visual field is 20 degrees or less, meaning they have a very narrow field of clear vision.

How is legal blindness tested?

Your eye doctor can perform a comprehensive eye exam to determine whether you qualify as legally blind. If you wear contact lenses or eyeglasses, your eyesight will also be measured while wearing these corrective lenses. To be considered legally blind, your vision will need to be 20/200 or worse while wearing your lenses, or you must meet the visual field criteria. Your doctor will also need to be able to show that this condition has been present for 12 months or more or that it is likely to continue for at least 12 months.

What can lead to legal blindness?

Any condition that can result in complete blindness may first cause legal blindness. These include congenital diseases passed down through genetics, physical traumas from accidents or injuries or any of a number of eye diseases.

Among the most common eye diseases that lead to legal blindness are diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Identified early, steps can be taken to slow the progression of these diseases, and in the case of cataracts, surgery can permanently correct the problem

Effects of legal blindness

Vision loss can be traumatic, especially the kind of extreme loss of sight defined as legal blindness. Depression and isolation from family and friends often accompany severe vision loss. The American Foundation for the Blind offers resources to help.

Being legally blind can also impact your ability to work in your chosen field, or to progress professionally. That’s part of the reason the U.S. Social Security Administration offers disability benefits to legally blind citizens. To apply for these benefits, you must first have an appropriate diagnosis from an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Depending on the state in which you live, legal blindness may also impact your ability to legally drive. In Florida, the law requires minimum vision acuity of 20/70 or better in both eyes.

If you or someone you love is experiencing vision loss, take action today to preserve or extend the vision you have left. To schedule your eye exam, contact North Florida Cataract Specialists and Vision Care today at 352-373-4300.



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