Rachel wearing glassesThere are a group of questions I’m often asked concerning my sight. These questions include, what does legally blind mean, what and how do you see and what is it like to be visually impaired. Periodically I like address these questions.

Legal blindness definitions vary but most commonly, if someone is registered legally blind they have visual acuity of 20/200 (6/60) or less in the better eye with best correction possible.

Someone with average visual acuity may also be registered legally blind if their visual field is less than 20 degrees (around 180 degrees is normal)
I’m the later. I have pretty good visual acuity but have a very narrow field of vision. That’s why I’m considered legally blind.

I don’t have stereoscopic vision, vision wherein two separate images from two eyes are successfully combined into one image in the brain. I don’t have the “successfully combined into one image” part. Instead I have one image from one eye one from the other and mixed messages in the middle. Whooops. That’s one of the reasons why I have glasses with one lens fogged. It’s less work and strain for me to get accurate information.

Here are the other things that my eyes fail to do or fail to do well.

Track: the ability to move the eyes across a sheet of paper. My eyes can not move from side to side because of optic nerve damage. I move my head instead.

Fusion: the ability to use both eyes together at the same time. I have very independent eyes, they are not team players.

Stereopis: binocular depth perception. Watch and laugh as I reach for the door knob and miss it by a mile.

Convergence: the ability of the eyes to move and work as a team. Like I said.

I struggle to answer the question, “What or how do you see?” It’s a hard thing to explain since this is all I know. I can see fairly well within my field of vision. I see less and less as the day grows long. This is simply do to muscle fatigue. I may be able to see really well in the morning but by late in the day my eyes are pooped and focusing becomes really hard. I’m very sensitive to light and bright flashes and see poorly at night. I use a white cane so I can move faster, fall less and give moving cars a heads-up. I can, and often do go without my cane when I’m in familiar and/or flat places. I get information about the terrain through feeling what the white marshmallow shaped bobble at the end of the stick goes over or bumps into. My cane (named Able) is like having fingertips on the ground in front of me.

When I walk with my husband, or a trained friend, I can use them as my “sighted guide.” I enjoy this because I can fold up my white cane and just walk comfortably with their help, even in a new environment.

None of my glasses correct my vision. They are all low vision aids and help me capitalize on my available sight. If you can love inanimate objects… I love my low vision aids. All have changed my life in profound ways. A matter of fact, I was once asked what 5 things of mine would I save from a burning building and the first thing I said was, “my reading glasses.” I have other posts on this site about learning to read at age 30 thanks to those glasses. Glasses I would, apparently, run into a burning building (shoving past my wedding album) to save.

To answer the question, what do I see? Because my eyes have a hard time tracking, movement causes blur. So maybe it’s like looking through Vaseline covered glasses then everything clears up. Movement = Vaseline. Stillness allows focus = acuity.

Sight impairment is not the end of a rich and satisfying life. Yes, it stinks that I don’t drive. But I still climbed to Artist’s Rock in the Catskills and I even got to touch a Michelangelo sculpture (with a white glove on) at the Uffizi Gallery in Florance. But it’s true, I am constantly making adjustments to be able to live in a sighted world and there are times I get frustrated and even mad. Recently I’ve been having an especially difficult time as I adjust, once again, to a decline in my vision and eye strength.

But changes in eyesight or your ability level does not have to keep you from doing what you love to do. It might very well force you to be more creative in how you interpret what you love but the only thing that’s going to stop you is your thinking. Only your thinking can cripple you and thinking is something you can do something about.