What Does It Mean to Be Legally Blind?

[Blog Post] What Does It Mean to Be Legally Blind?

Over the years, I have had to explain that I cannot see as well as other people. I use a variety of terms, such as blind, visually impaired, low vision and so forth. One that many people use is the phrase “legally blind.” People often seemed confused by this, so I thought I'd give an answer here today.

First of all, let me explain something: Most people assume that the word “blind” is very black and white. They think that you are either sighted, which means you see everything, or you are blind, which means you see black or nothing at all. This actually couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact, most people who have vision issues, around 90%, have some usable vision remaining. Whether that is light perception, shadows or shapes, it is not simply “darkness.” So, to say I am blind does take a little more explanation.

Ok, so back to the “legally blind” thing. Here is the basic definition:

A person would be considered legally blind if their BEST EYE has an acuity of 20 over 200 or lower at its most correctable.

Ok, let's break that down. Let's say there is a person who has very poor vision in one eye but perfect vision in the other. Are they legally blind? No, since their best eye is better than 20 over 200 at its most correctable.  Another example is a person who has poor vision normally, but with glasses or contacts, it can be corrected to 20 over 20. Are they considered legally blind? No, since the correction brings them above the 20 over 200 barrier.

So, who is legally blind? Well, basically, anyone who can't correct their vision in either or both eyes above 20 over 200. Some people might have a lot of usable vision while others have hardly any at all. However, they would both be considered legally blind.

I have heard many people say something like, “I'm legally blind without my glasses.” To them I would say, “Well, then you are not legally blind.” The term “legally” here implies that you are now eligible for certain benefits because of your limited vision. (One other thing I say that doesn't always come across so kind is, “Did you drive here? Yes? Then you aren't legally blind.”)

Now, how do you get to be “legally blind” if there is a distinction? Well, that takes a doctor writing a letter and saying that your visual acuity is below the line and could be considered legally blind. Typically, you have to show this letter to governmental agencies, certain services like guide dog organizations and so forth.

I think that about explains the basics of it. If someone is calling themselves legally blind, chances are they have enough of a vision issue that it affects there everyday life. For example, they usually can't drive, they might have assistive technology and they may or may not use a white cane.

Here's the important part of all of this: no matter what you say about yourself, you know your vision the best. I often like to tell people that I have a “visual disturbance” as I am a Star Wars fan. But, most likely, if you are telling someone you are legally blind, you'll have to go into a deeper explanation as most don't have a clue what that means. That is, of course, unless they just read this blog post!

How do you describe yourself? Blind? Legally blind? Visually impaired? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!