Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Low Vision Awareness Month

Anyone who was fully sighted and experienced a significant vision loss undoubtedly had many questions and concerns. Some of those questions and feelings might have been, “What do you mean I have low vision? Does that mean I’m going blind? Will I get any of my vision back?”

The primary goals of Low Vision Awareness Month are to help people understand exactly what low vision is, what its most frequent causes are, and how it can be treated. Since February is Low Vision Awareness Month–with some referring to it as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and Low Vision Awareness Month–Lee Huffman, Editor of Access World, an AFB publication, devoted his page in the February 2013 issue to low vision (afb.org/accessworld, Vol. 14, No. 2).

Huffman begins by defining low vision as, “partial sight which cannot be corrected by contact lenses, glasses, medication, or surgery.” Editor Huffman goes on to list the most common causes of vision loss being: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.” Just as individuals can be born blind, so, too, can people be born with low vision. Conditions that can cause congenital low vision are albinism and optic nerve damage.

If you notice even the slightest change in vision, optometrists and ophthalmologists recommend getting a low vision exam–an evaluation that is quite different from the routine annual exam performed by primary care optometrists and ophthalmologists. When a doctor performs a low vision examination, he or she assesses medical and vision histories including diseases and any systemic changes. Though this evaluation takes much longer than a routine examination, the information physicians obtain can be invaluable. With this information, professionals can make appropriate referrals, recommend access technologies, and enable educators, employers, and vocational rehabilitation counselors to be more knowledgeable about a person’s visual abilities and limitations. Just as important–and maybe even more so–the person experiencing a vision loss can learn alternative ways of performing tasks which may have become difficult and learn about computer software, electronic devices, and magnifiers.

Despite movements toward inclusion which have resulted from civil rights and rehabilitation legislation, there remains a need for awareness. To make that point, statistics on www.lvib.org indicate that only 16 percent of Americans 18 and older are aware of low vision. Additionally, 44 percent of those surveyed as part of an “eyeq (R)” survey reported that vision was the sense they most feared losing. Many respondents also stated that they feared vision loss even more than memory impairment, hearing loss, or the development of a physical disability.

Though I failed to find in my research any reference to when February was first designated Low Vision Awareness Month, there seems to be little doubt about the need to focus outreach initiatives on raising awareness.

As someone who has limited light and shadow perception in one eye, I used to think that persons with partial sight were “so lucky” that they at least have some usable vision. I have since come to realize that partial sight comes with its own unique set of problems, like people not always realizing that you have low vision, and sometimes even accusing you of “faking it.” Tell us in Reader’s Forum about your experiences as persons with low vision, not only with the sighted public, but also with persons who are totally blind.

Sources: afb.org/accessworld and lvib.org

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