Blind and Low Vision Overview

People who are blind or have low vision are a diverse group of people with varying levels of usable vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Visual acuity of 20/200 is considered legally blind in most U.S. states. The legally blind person can see at 20 feet what the average-sighted person can see at 200. One’s usable vision might be cloudy, limited to tunnel vision or peripheral vision, or some combination thereof. Causes of blindness and low vision vary greatly and can include congenital sources, illness, degenerative syndromes and trauma. 

The ways in which people who are blind or have low vision navigate familiar environments (such as their own home) or public spaces for the first time also range widely, as do people’s preferences for accessing print material and online media. These can depend not only on one’s level of usable vision but also one’s innate sense of spatial awareness, light sensitivity, exposure to and mastery of tools such as a white cane and Braille, or newer technologies such as GPS and reading software.

The SF State community includes students, faculty and staff who are blind or have low vision. Such individuals’ access to learning and working environments continues to increase as new technologies become available that interface with common mainstream tools. More recently, these tools have become accessible out-of-the-box to our colleagues who are blind or have low vision—for example, smart phones with built-in accessibility features like a screen reader. That said, the challenges faced by people who are blind or have low vision still deserve consideration, as do all other aspects of diversity represented by students, faculty and staff at SF State.

Some considerations:

  • Some people with vision loss use canes or guide dogs for mobility purposes; however, many navigate without them.
  • Like anybody, people with vision impairments appreciate being asked if help is needed before it is given. Ask the person if he or she would like some help and then wait for a response before acting.
  • Words and phrases that refer to sight, such as "I'll see you later," are commonly used expressions and usually go unnoticed unless a speaker is particularly self-conscious. People with vision loss can still "see" (i.e. understand) what is meant by such expressions.
  • When talking with or greeting a person with vision impairment, speak in a normal voice; most people with vision impairments are not deaf. Speak to the person directly, not through a third party or companion, and use the person’s name when directing the conversation to him or her. When entering a room, identify yourself to the person.
  • When giving directions, say "left" or "right," "step up" or "step down." Convert directions to the vision-impaired person’s perspective. When guiding a person (into a room, for example), offer your arm and let him or her take it rather than pulling the person's sleeve.
  • If a person has a harnessed guide dog, the dog is working and should not be petted.
  • Common accommodations for people with vision impairments include alternative print formats, magnification devices, bright incandescent lighting, raised lettering, tactile cues, adaptive computer equipment, electronic copies of quizzes, tests, and exams, print scanners, early notification of required textbooks and course readers, early syllabi, priority registration, audio-recorded lectures, and lab or library assistants.