Straightforwardly, the terminology “legally blind” appears to be describing the vision without eyeglasses or contact lenses for the visually disabled people or it seems to relate to total blindness. It appears that the word for the legally blind person is nothing but either blur or dark. That is not the case!
What does legally blind mean?
In the real sense, “legally blindness” is a degree of visual impairment defined by the law. The government agencies and health insurers determine if a person is eligible for certain benefits by fulfilling the criteria of “legally blind”. The purposes of this interpretation are public safety and the provision of financial benefits to the visually impaired people.
To keep the roads and highways saved from accidents, the DVLA shows seriousness to check and limit the activities of the legally blind people for driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that over 3.3 million people above age 40 are legally blind or have low vision. The main reasons for blindness can be the age factor, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
Blind people are those who cannot see anything out of either eye. However, the legally blind persons have some vision; they are not entirely blind.
What are the criteria for legal blindness?
It is trickier to determine whether a person meets the requirements of legal blindness or not. There are some levels of sight loss in about two million people in the UK. It is because of long-sightedness, shortsightedness, or astigmatism. However, almost 360,000 of these 2 million people qualify the criteria of legally blind or partially sighted.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has defined various measurements and scans which the eye specialists carry out to register someone as the legally blind or partial sighted.
The examinations test your level of visual acuity and the quality of your visual field.
- Visual acuity means the clarity or sharpness of your vision.
- Visual field means the area in which you can see things.
If a person has an excellent visual acuity, but his or her visual field is severely compromised, then he or she will be certified as legally blind. In a similar manner, if a person has a very good visual field, but the visual acuity is very poor, then he or she meets the RNIB criteria to be certified as legally blind.
Snellen test for legal blindness
The eye specialist or the consultant ophthalmologist carries out the Snellen Test in which a person has to read the rows of smaller and smaller black letters on a white chart. Snellen test is the widely standard method for measuring the visual acuity. Its average standard is 6/6, which means a person can read all or most of the chart from a distance of six meters.
For example, if a person can read only the top line of the chart, then his or her visual acuity is 6/60, which means the person can see at six meters what someone with standard vision can see at sixty meters.
In the visual field test, the ophthalmologist covers either of your eyes, asks you to focus on a target point or object, and inquires about what you can see on the far edges and periphery of your vision.
The consultant ophthalmologist can do other tests to check your eye health. To open the pupils of your eye, they can use the eye drops. It can cause your vision to be a blur for a few hours. Therefore, you should take someone with you to the clinic to help you home after the appointment.
The eye specialist determines based on the results of your visual acuity and visual field, whether you are severely sight impaired or blind or not. The RNIB website lists the categories in this regard:
- Visual acuity of less than 3 / 60 with a full visual field.
- Visual acuity between 3 / 60 and 6 / 60 with a severe reduction of field of vision, such as tunnel vision.
- Visual acuity of 6 / 60 or above but with a very reduced field of vision, notably if a lot of sights are missing in the lower part of the field.
The RNIB website lists the categories of the sight-impaired (partially sighted) as:
- Visual acuity of 3 / 60 to 6 / 60 with a full field of vision.
- Visual acuity of up to 6 / 24 with a moderate reduction of field of vision or with a central part of the vision that is cloudy or blurry.
- Visual acuity of 6 / 18 or even better if a large part of your field of vision, for example, a whole half of your vision, is missing or a lot of your peripheral vision is missing.
Moreover, the eye specialist carries out these tests on both of the eyes. If the eye specialist finds that you have lost the sight in either of your eyes, your eye specialist will not certify you as sight impaired or severely sight impaired because your other eye can compensate for the loss of sight in the affected eye.
What happens if you are legally blind?
If your eye specialist certifies you as legally blind, then the eye specialist gives you the copies of the certificate, your GP and your local social services department. Then you can be registered with your local social services.
In case of vision loss, you need to have regular sight tests so that your eye specialist can give you the advice to make the best use of your vision.
On the other hand, your eye specialist can say that you are not legally blind for the following reasons:
- You do not fulfil the criteria for visual acuity and field of vision.
- Your sight loss is temporary.
- They advise you to wait because the treatment can improve your sight.
However, if you think that you should be certified as legally blind, then you can talk to your GP who may refer you to another eye specialist. But keep in mind that this second specialist will have to follow the same rules for the certification process. Moreover, you can still take help from social services.