Living with visual impairment

Magnifying lenses and reading devices make it possible to improve the use of available vision. (Photo: SBV)

For many people, visual loss is a nightmare scenario. This, however, does not need to be the case. With proper aids and appliances, an autonomous and independent life is still possible, in spite of visual impairment.

A few weeks after her fiftieth anniversary, Marianne noticed that she was hardly able to read the time on her watch. In a similar way, even though she could recognise the people she was talking to, she was not able to distinguish their traits. She did wear glasses, but they improved the situation only very briefly.

Marianne consulted an optician, who strongly advised her to have an ophthalmic examination. The rapid visual loss and the problems related to the visual field were rather untypical for her age group.

Visual loss becoming more frequent

“Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)” – upon receiving this diagnostic, Marianne almost felt her world collapse. Indeed, AMD is the most frequent cause of visual impairment for people over fifty. Visual acuity in the center of the visual field decreases, without reaching an absolute blindness.

One person out of 30 is visually impaired

Apart from AMD, there are many forms of visual impairment: extreme glare sensitivity, increased contrast sensitivity, limited visual field, tunnel vision, etc. Simply said, visual impairment is when sight loss occurs and cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

Visual impairment can be caused by illnesses such as cataract or glaucoma, retinal disorders, eye injuries or prenatal damages. In Europe, an average of one person out of 30 is suffering from visual impairment (more than 30 million people).

Optimal use of available vision

Many eye disorders that appear at a later age cannot be cured. However, even though nothing can be done from an ophthalmologic point of view, many possibilities enable an optimal use of the remaining visual acuity. One of these methods is called Low-Vision.

(Photo: SBV)

Aids and appliances enable an autonomous life

Magnifying lenses and reading devices make it possible to improve the use of available vision. Such devices are essential for visually impaired people to lead an autonomous life. In order to find out which device is most adapted to each individual situation, it is recommended to consult a rehabilitation specialist.

For a better space orientation, the white cane proves to be very useful, as well as assistance dogs or white guiding lines on the streets. In order to facilitate communication, braille printing, audiobooks as well as computer programmes for smartphones (such as speech recognition or text-to-speech software) are also very valuable tools.

For daily house chores, many devices on the market help the visually impaired people, such as “talking” clocks or scales. Audio-films or audio-description of football matches or of exhibitions also increase the availability of offers for blind and visually impaired people.

Learning to re-organise the daily life

Two years after receiving her diagnostic, Marianne began to re-organise her life situation. She accepted to use the white cane, which allowed more autonomy. Thanks to professional counselling, she was also able to find an acceptable work arrangement.

Flexibility is needed

As Liam was two years old, it was clear that something was wrong with his sight. Glasses improved the situation substantially, so that his childhood was barely affected by his visual impairment. He joined the gymnastic club, swam in competitions and attended the regular school.

When he was seven, he began to see red spots in front of his eyes. A consultation with an ophthalmologist brought the diagnostic: retinal detachment. This was followed by two surgeries, three months of school holidays, and a diminished visual capacity.

Sharing with other visually impaired people

Liam and his parents found out only later through a paediatrician about Low-Vision. Liam received a special desktop lamp, as well as schoolbooks with clear paper and thicker lines. When he was 11, it was clear to him that he would live with visual impairment for the rest of his life. As a result, he chose to attend a specialised school for the visually impaired. Once there, he realised that some other children had a sight worst than his, while some were totally blind, but were still able to acquire knowledge and faculties. From that time onward, he was no more afraid of becoming blind one day. He accepted life as it came, and decided to make the most out of it.

Making the best out of a situation

Since then, this faculty has been put to the test on many occasions. During his school years, retinal detachment forced him to take a few longer breaks and repeat two school years, to abandon his training as a landscape gardener and to re-orient himself professionally. During this process, he realised that he was able to use his talent and love for organisation, planning and coordinating in an office environment, and decided to pursue commercial studies. He enjoyed working in the office, which he would have never thought while he was still at school. After completing his training, he realised the value of a good education and decided to carry on with further studies, so that he could have something to rely on should his sight require further adjustments. He also learned to ask for help when his sight was not always sufficient. He asks himself only rarely what his life would have been had he had a normal vision. Most of the time, he makes the best out of his faculties and possibilities, thanks, also, to the professional support he benefits from.

Professional support

Visual impairment or blindness drastically changes the life circumstances of the people directly affected by it. However, the challenges brought by such a situation do not need to be faced on one’s own. Specialists offer their advice in regard to daily questions, aids and appliances or insurance-related issues, provide training in orientation and mobility, etc. Such offers aim at enabling an autonomous life in spite of visual impairment.

Text: SBV, Edith Nüssli – 04/2015
Translation: MyH – 04/2015
Photos: SBV