What do we mean by visual impairments?

By Emma Major and Laura Neale

In the UK there are

  • almost 2 million people living with significant sight loss (NHS).

  • around 350,000 people on the registers of blind & partially sighted people

  • 173,735 people are registered severely sight impaired

  • 176,125 are registered sight impaired.

  • 1 in every 5 people in the UK will live with sight loss in their lifetime. (RNIB)

As these facts show, there are a number of different terms used by people to describe their visual impairments. Here is a quick rundown of what they might and might not mean - but remember, if you're not sure what someone can see, just ask them.


Blind

Most people assume this means someone can see absolutely nothing, but that is not true. Most people have some sight. I, like many of my visually impaired friends, say we're blind as shorthand to mean that we have extremely limited vision.


Legally blind - severely sight impaired (SSI)

Ophthalmologists register people as severely sight impaired when we are confirmed as having considerable, irreversible sight loss, which cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. This used to be labelled, "blind".


Sight impaired (SI)

People who have sight loss, but to a lesser extent, may be registered as sight impaired, though many people do not bother obtaining this registration.


Partially sighted

Most people with some sight loss, but who are not registered sight impaired, will refer to themselves as partially sighted.


Even within these categories of visual impairment, there are huge variances in what we can see. For example:


  • Some of us have good central vision but poor peripheral vision, others of us have poor central vision but good peripheral vision

  • Some of us have no sight in one eye and the other sees quite well, some of us see poorly through both eyes.

  • Some of us are very light sensitive and need to wear dark glasses, others of us see better in bright light.

  • Some of us see colours, others of us are colour blind or see no colour at all.

  • Some of us have different vision every day and some of us have declining sight; we're all different.


Accessibility tools

In the same way that there are many different forms of visual impairment, there are different ways we use to access the internet, depending on our own sight but also on what technology we have available to us.


The two most