National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
The terms partially sighted, low vision, legally blind, and totally
blind are used in the educational context to describe students with
visual impairments. They are defined as follows:
sighted" indicates some type of visual problem has resulted
in a need for special education;
vision" generally refers to a severe visual impairment, not
necessarily limited to distance vision. Low vision applies to all
individuals with sight who are unable to read the newspaper at a
normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact
lenses. They use a combination of vision and other senses to learn,
although they may require adaptations in lighting or the size of
print, and, sometimes, braille;
blind" indicates that a person has less than 20/200 vision
in the better eye or a very limited field of vision (20 degrees
at its widest point); and
blind students learn via braille or other non-visual media.
impairment is the consequence of a functional loss of vision, rather
than the eye disorder itself. Eye disorders which can lead to visual
impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts,
glaucoma, muscular problems that result in visual disturbances,
corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, and
The rate at which visual impairments occur in individuals under
the age of 18 is 12.2 per 1,000. Severe visual impairments (legally
or totally blind) occur at a rate of .06 per 1,000.
The effect of visual problems on a child's development depends on
the severity, type of loss, age at which the condition appears,
and overall functioning level of the child. Many children who have
multiple disabilities may also have visual impairments resulting
in motor, cognitive, and/or social developmental delays.
young child with visual impairments has little reason to explore
interesting objects in the environment and, thus, may miss opportunities
to have experiences and to learn. This lack of exploration may continue
until learning becomes motivating or until intervention begins.
the child cannot see parents or peers, he or she may be unable to
imitate social behavior or understand nonverbal cues. Visual handicaps
can create obstacles to a growing child's independence.
Children with visual impairments should be assessed early to benefit
from early intervention programs, when applicable. Technology in
the form of computers and low-vision optical and video aids enable
many partially sighted, low vision and blind children to participate
in regular class activities. Large print materials, books on tape,
and braille books are available.
with visual impairments may need additional help with special equipment
and modifications in the regular curriculum to emphasize listening
skills, communication, orientation and mobility, vocation/career
options, and daily living skills. Students with low vision or those
who are legally blind may need help in using their residual vision
more efficiently and in working with special aids and materials.
Students who have visual impairments combined with other types of
disabilities have a greater need for an interdisciplinary approach
and may require greater emphasis on self care and daily living skills.
American Foundation for the Blind. Search AFB's Service Center on
the Web to identify services for blind and visually impaired persons
in the United States and Canada. Available: www.afb.org/services.asp
M.C. (Ed.). (1996). Children with visual impairments: A parents'
guide. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine. (Telephone: 800.843.7323; 301.897.3570.
S., & Allman, C.B. (2000). Seeing eye to eye: An administrator's
guide to students with low vision. New York: American Foundation
for the Blind. (Telephone: 800.232.3044. Web: www.afb.org)
Eye Institute. (2003, December). Eye health organizations list.
(Available online at: http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/resourceAlpha.asp)
American Council of the Blind
1155 15th St. N.W., Suite 1004
Washington, D.C. 20005
Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
For publications, call: 800.232.3044
4120 Marathon Street
Los Angeles, CA 90029-0159
Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired, Inc.
P.O. Box 317
Watertown, MA 02472-0317
Association for Visually Handicapped
22 West 21st Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010
Braille Association, Inc. (NBA)
3 Townline Circle
Rochester, NY 14623-2513
88 St. Stephen Street
Boston, MA 02115
31 Center Drive, MSC 2510
Bethesda, MD 20892-2510
Federation of the Blind, Parents Division
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
410.659.9314, ext. 360
Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
1291 Taylor Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20011
202.707.5100; 202.707.0744 (TTY); 800.424.8567 (Toll Free)
500 E. Remington Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173
847.843.2020; 800.221.3004 (Toll Free)
Foundation Fighting Blindness (formerly the National
Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation)
11435 Cronhill Drive
Owings Mills, MD 21117-2220
888.394.3937; 800.683.5551 (TTY)
410.568.0150; 410.363.7139 (TTY)
Publication of this document is made possible through a Cooperative
Agreement between the Academy for Educational Development and the
Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education.
The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views
or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of
trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement
by the U.S. Government.
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
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(202) 884-8441 · fax