Feb 20, 2019 12:00 AM

As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist in the John A. Moran Eye Center’s comprehensive Patient Support Program, Amy Henderson, MSW, LCSW, is well aware of the misunderstandings surrounding people with low vision.

She and her colleagues—including counselors, an occupational therapist, and a vision rehabilitation specialist—support low vision patients and their families daily, debunking myths along the way.

“The terms ‘low vision’ or ‘visual impairment’ cover a lot of territory,” she explains. “We use them interchangeably to describe poor vision that can’t be fixed with glasses, contacts, or surgery. They do not mean total blindness. In fact, just about five percent of people with visual impairment are completely blind, with no light perception.”

When you meet someone with low vision, it’s important to be aware that they probably have some useable vision and that you should avoid making assumptions about their abilities or needs.

Support, practice, technology, and confidence all help make it possible for people with low vision to get around—whether they’re making use of a guide dog or a white cane (or not). They can navigate public transportation, easily use cell phones, tap into all kinds of apps, play video games, and go shopping with the help of magnification.

“Low vision does not mean low ability,” Henderson emphasizes.

Interacting with a visually impaired person

That doesn’t mean people can’t use a little human help—so if you approach someone who looks like they may need assistance, offer it with these tips in mind:

  • Announce your name
  • Ask questions and ask before assisting
  • If you’re unsure about what the person needs, ask for clarification
  • Be aware of making assumptions
  • Just be yourself and don’t worry about using terms like “look” and “see
  • Always ask before approaching working guide dogs
  • Accept ‘no’ as an answer if someone declines your help
  • If they do want your assistance, be as descriptive as possible when orienting someone to a space, or tofood selections or other options

“If you ask most visually impaired people how they like to be treated, they say, ‘I just want to be treated like a person. I don’t want to be special. I don’t want to be less than special. I want you to treat me like anyone else,’ ” says Henderson. “Vision loss of any kind not only impacts individuals physically and functionallybut it also affects them and their families emotionally—so the more awareness we have around these issues, the better.”

low vision vision impairment

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