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News & Blog

What is Legal Blindness in the UK?

7th May, 2015  


Do you have trouble seeing even with glasses or contact lenses? If so, you may be legally blind. To find out if you fall into this category read on, as The Eye Blog asks; what is legal blindness in the UK?


Perceptions of blindness


The word ‘blind’ is one of those words that’s thrown around all the time. For example, it’s common practise for people to joke that they’re blind if they have a particularly strong glasses prescription. However blindness is a legal concept. It’s a parameter that can determine how you live your life. If your sight is particularly bad, you may need to know what it means to be legally blind.

Visual impairment


To determine whether you’re legally blind you need to know about visual impairment. This is the label that, according to the NHS, describes ‘when a person has sight loss that cannot be fully corrected using glasses or contact lenses.’ It might surprise you to learn that visual impairment is more common than you most people think; up to two million people in the UK fall into this category.  How do you find out if you are one of these people?


Tests for visual impairment


You go to your optician. They’ll conduct two tests to determine whether you’re visually impaired. First they’ll test your visual acuity; the central vision you use to look at objects in detail. An optician will use the Snellen test; a letters chart where the letters get smaller as you move down, to determine how close your vision is to 20/20 (6/6 in the UK) to assess visual acuity.

Second, they’ll test your visual field; your ability to see around the edge of your sight as you look straight ahead. Your optician will utilise a range of examinations e.g. asking you to follow an object with your eyes as it moves across your field of vision, to spot gaps in your sight which suggest your visual field has been impaired.


Types of visual impairment


There are two types of vision impairment and only one means that you’re legally blind.

– Sight impaired: Often defined as “partial sight” this is where you have poor visual acuity (3/60 – 6/60) but a full field of vision, good visual acuity (as high as 6/18) but a poor field of vision or a combination of poor visual acuity (as high as 6/24) and a poor field of vision. If you fall into this category you aren’t legally blind.

– Severely sight impaired: This refers to when ‘a person is so blind that they cannot do any work for which eyesight is essential.’ If you fall into this category you’ll have either poor visual acuity (under 3/60) but a good field of vision, visual acuity of between 3/60 and 6/60 and a severely reduced field of vision, or slightly reduced visual acuity of 6/60 or more, and a field of vision that’s slightly reduced. If you’re severely sight impaired, you’re legally blind.

Help and support for the visually impaired


What does it mean if you’re sight impaired or severely sight impaired? Contrary to popular myth, it doesn’t mean that you’re no longer able to live and work independently.

Yet you may face difficulty performing everyday tasks. However you can get assistive support, training and technology if you’re visually impaired that’ll help you live a normal life. Click here to find out how you can get help and support to ensure you can live a normal life if you’re visually impaired.


Benefits for the vision impaired

You can also qualify for a number of benefits that will provide you with financial support if you’re visually impaired. These benefits include:

– Personal Independence Payment or Disability Living Allowance. These are tax-free benefits that are designed to help you bear any costs incurred as a result of disability or illness.

– Parking concessions.

– Cheaper fares on public transport.

– Cheaper TV license.

– A tax allowance.

Register as vision impaired

You need to let the government know that you’re visually impaired if you wish to receive these benefits. This is why it’s important that you register as vision impaired with your local authority.

Your local authority will ask an optometrist to test your visual acuity and your field of vision so that they can come to their own decision over whether you’re visually impaired. If they determine that you fall into either category, your local authority will issue you with a Certificate of Visual Impairment (CVI) that can be used to claim these benefits. They’ll also send a copy of your CVI to your local social services so they can offer you practical support.


You can live a normal life when you’re vision impaired


Therefore if your sight can’t be completely corrected with glasses or contact lenses you may be severely sight impaired a.k.a legally blind, or you may be sight impaired a.k.a. partially sighted. If you fall into either category there is help and support out there that you can utilise to live a normal life.


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