Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Blindness

Information for people with vision loss including details of support organisations, plus advice about specialist equipment, home modifications and mobility.

In the UK, there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss. Of these, around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted.

Being told you have a visual impairment that can't be treated can be difficult to come to terms with. Some people go through a process similar to bereavement, where they experience a range of emotions including shock, anger, and denial, before eventually coming to accept their condition.

If you're blind or partially sighted, you may be referred to a specialist low-vision clinic, which is often located within a hospital. Staff at the clinic can help you understand your condition and come to terms with your diagnosis. They can also advise you about practical things, such as lighting and vision aids, and let you know about further sources of help and support.

Ask your local hospital if they have an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO), whose role involves providing support to people with vision loss in eye clinics.

Support groups

If you're blind or partially sighted, you may find it helpful to contact a support group for people with vision loss.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is the UK’s leading charity for people with vision loss, and it has a useful page on its website about coming to terms with sight loss.

The RNIB's helpline is open Monday to Friday from 8.45am to 5.30pm. The number is 0303 123 9999, with calls costing no more than a standard rate call to an 01 or 02 number. You can also email helpline staff (helpline@rnib.org.uk).

The RNIB's website is specially designed for people with sight loss and provides a wide range of useful information and resources, including an online community and online shop.

Action for Blind People

Action for Blind People is another national charity that provides blind and partially sighted people with practical help and support.

For example, the charity can provide you with support and information about the day-to-day practicalities of living with a visual impairment, such as adjusting your home to make it easier to get around.

Other national charities

Other national charities that specialise in vision loss and you may find useful include:

Local organisations

There are also many local voluntary organisations around the country that help and support people with vision problems. You can search by postcode on a website called Visionary to find local support organisations near you.

Registering as blind or partially sighted

If your vision has deteriorated to a certain level, you may choose to register as visually impaired. Depending on the severity of your vision loss you'll either be registered as sight impaired (previously "partially sighted") or severely sight impaired (previously "blind").

Your eye specialist (ophthalmologist) will measure your visual acuity (ability to see detail at a distance) and your field of vision (how much you can see from the side of your eye when looking straight ahead).

These measurements will help your ophthalmologist determine whether you’re eligible to be certified as sight impaired or severely sight impaired. If you are, they will complete an official certificate with the results of your eye examination.

In England and Wales this certificate is called the Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI), in Scotland it’s called BP1, and in Northern Ireland it’s called A655.

Your ophthalmologist will send a copy of the certificate to you, a copy to your GP and a copy to your local social services department. Upon receiving the certificate, your local social services team will contact you to ask whether you want to be added to its register of visually impaired people.

After you're registered, social services will contact you again to arrange for an assessment to be carried out. The aim is to assess your needs and find out what help you require to remain independent, such as help with cleaning and cooking, or help with mobility and transport.

Registering as visually impaired isn't compulsory, but it can entitle you to a range of benefits including:

The RNIB website has more information about registering your sight loss. You can also read more about registering vision impairment on GOV.UK.

Changes to your home

Most visually impaired people can continue to live at home. However, you'll probably need to make some changes to your home, particularly if you live on your own.

Below is a list of some important pieces of equipment you may find useful.

  • Big-button telephone – both landline and mobile models are available from the RNIB online shop.
  • Computer – the internet can provide a real sense of connection to friends and family as well as other people with a visual impairment. It's also a practical way of finding out information and obtaining goods and services. Big-button keyboards, screen display software and text readers are available from the RNIB.
  • Community alarm – this small, wearable device has an alarm button which, if pressed, sends an alarm signal to a response centre, which will alert a nominated friend or carer. Your local authority should be able to provide you with further information.
  • Bright lighting – bright light bulbs and adjustable lights are essential for your home, particularly in the kitchen and the stairs (areas where you're most likely to have an accident). Fluorescent bulbs are recommended because they produce the most light and tend to be cheaper in the long term than conventional bulbs.

The way your house is painted can also make it easier to find your way around. Using a two-tone contrast approach, such as black and white, can make it easier to tell the difference between nearby objects, such as a door and its handle or the stairs and its handrail.

Reading and writing

There are several options available if you're having problems reading standard text in books, newspapers and magazines.

One of the simplest options is to use a magnifying device that can make print appear bigger to help you read. These can be obtained from a number of places including hospital low vision services, optometrists, local voluntary organisations, and the RNIB.

The RNIB also has a collection of large print publications you can borrow, as do most libraries.

You could also use an e-reader to help you read. E-readers are handheld devices that allow you to download books and subscribe to newspapers and magazines on the internet. You can choose a setting that allows you to display text at a larger size.

If you're unable to read at all you could sign up to the:

You can also install screen-reading software on your computer that will read out emails, documents and text on the internet.

A charity called Communication for Blind and Disabled People has released a free screen reader for the PC called Thunder. Similar software is available for Apple devices, although you may have to pay a small fee.

There are also voice recognition programmes where you speak into a microphone and the software translates what you say into writing. These programmes can also be used to issue commands, such as closing down the internet and moving from one website to another.

Braille

Some people with severe sight loss, particularly those who've had the problem from a young age, choose to learn Braille. Braille is a writing system where raised dots are used as a substitute for written letters.

As well as Braille versions of books and magazines, you can buy Braille display units, which can be attached to computers that allow you to read the text displayed on a computer screen. Braille computer keyboards are also available.

The RNIB website has more information about reading and Braille.

Getting around

There are several different methods you can use to get around independently if you have a problem with your vision.

Long cane

You may find a long cane useful when travelling. These type of canes are usually foldable and can help you get around by detecting objects in your path. The cane will also make drivers and other pedestrians aware that you have sight loss.

To get the most from a long cane, it's a good idea to attend a training course that will teach you how to use it. The RNIB or Guide Dogs can provide you with further details about training.

Guide dogs

The charity Guide Dogs has been providing guide dogs for people with vision loss for many years. Guide dogs can help you get around, and provide both a sense of independence and companionship.

If you apply for a guide dog, Guide Dogs provide all the essential equipment free of charge and can also offer financial assistance if needed for things like food or vet costs.

You don't need to have lost all your sight to benefit from a guide dog and you don't have to be officially registered as blind or partially-sighted to apply for one. The Guide Dogs website has more information about applying for a guide dog.

Guide Dogs also offer a number of other services for people with a visual impairment (even if you don't have a guide dog), such as Children and Young People's Services and mobility training.

The charity also provides the My Guide service, which aims to reduce the isolation that many people with sight loss experience, helping to rebuild their confidence and regain their independence.

Global positioning system (GPS)

A global positioning system (GPS) is a navigational aid that uses signals from satellites to tell you where you are and help plan your journeys.

GPS devices are available as stand-alone units that can be programmed using a Braille keyboard, which tell you your current location and give you directions to where you want to go.

If you have a smartphone, there are a number of GPS apps you can download.

The RNIB website has more information about technology and products for people with sight loss, including GPS.

Driving

If you're diagnosed with a condition that affects your vision, you have a legal obligation to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Failure to do so is a crime and can result in a fine of up to £1,000.

Visit GOV.UK for more information about driving with a disability or a health condition.

If you're registered as having a sight impairment, the DVLA will assume your driving licence is no longer valid and you'll no longer be able to drive.

Exceptions are occasionally made for people with mild vision impairment. If you think this applies to you, then your doctor will need to fill in a DVLA medical information questionnaire (PDF, 265kb).

You're only legally allowed to drive if you can read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres (65 feet), and an eye test shows your visual acuity is at least 6/12. You're allowed to wear glasses or contact lenses when reading the plate or letter chart.

There are also standards relating to your visual field and driving. If you have a condition that may reduce your visual field, the DVLA may ask you to complete a visual field test to demonstrate you're safe to drive.

Employment

If you're currently employed and have recently been diagnosed with a visual impairment, you should contact the Access to Work scheme.

Access to Work is a scheme run by Jobcentre Plus that provides advice and support about what equipment and adjustments may be required to enable you to do your job.

They also offer a grant to contribute towards the costs of any equipment or training you may need, such as voice recognition software, a Braille keyboard and display unit and a printer that can convert text into Braille (Braille embossers).

Depending on the size of the company you work for, the grant can pay for 80-100% of costs, up to £10,000.

If you're currently looking for work, there are three main organisations that can provide extra advice and support:

You don't have to disclose that you have a visual impairment when applying for a job, but it's usually recommended that you do.

If you feel you've been turned down for a job because of your disability, and you were capable of doing the job, you can make a complaint under the Equality Act 2010.

Some people with a visual impairment decide to become self-employed, often because it allows them the flexibility to work at home for hours they choose.

Action for Blind People has self-employment advisers who can provide information and training on issues such as drawing up a business plan, obtaining funding and book-keeping.

The RNIB website has more information and advice about work and employment. You can also read more about employment on the Action for Blind People website.



Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Blindness

Being told that you have a visual impairment that cannot be treated can be difficult to come to terms with.

Being told you have a visual impairment that cannot be treated can be difficult to come to terms with.

Some people go through a process much like bereavement, where they experience a range of emotions - including shock, anger and denial - before eventually coming to accept their condition.

If you are diagnosed with visual impairment, you may be referred to a specialist low-vision clinic. Health professionals working at these clinics can help you understand your condition and cope with your diagnosis. They can also advise on practical things, such as vision aids and lighting, and let you know about further sources of help and support.

Support groups

Probably the most useful thing you can do after being diagnosed with visual impairment is to contact a support group for people with sight loss.

Royal National Institute of Blind People

The UK’s leading charity for people with visual impairment is the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

The RNIB operates a helpline for people affected by visual impairment. The helpline is open from Monday to Friday from 8.45am to 5.30pm on 0303 123 9999. You can also email helpline staff at helpline@rnib.org.uk.

The RNIB's website is specially designed for people with a visual impairment and provides a wide range of useful information and resources, and an online community.

The site also has an online shop that sells different products specially designed for people with a visual impairment.

Action for Blind People

Another useful organisation is Action for Blind People, a national charity that provides practical help and support for visually impaired people.

It’s particularly useful for advising on day-to-day practicalities of living with a visual impairment, such as adjusting your home to make it easier to get around and offers advice and courses on independent living, finances and employment.  

It also has an online community where people can share experiences with others facing sight loss.

Local organisations

There are many local voluntary organisations around the country that provide support for people with visual impairment.

The website for their umbrella organisation, Visionary, includes a postcode search feature to help find organisations near to you.

Social services

It is recommended you contact your local social services department to inform them you have been diagnosed as having a visual impairment.

You may be entitled to a range of benefits as well as practical support, such as help with housework and cooking meals.

You can use the Gov.uk website to find your local council.

Changes to your home

Most people with a visual impairment can continue to live at home. However, you will probably need to make some changes to your home, especially if you live by yourself.

There are several important pieces of equipment you may find useful:

  • Big-button telephone – both landline and mobile models are available from the RNIB online shop.
  • Computer – the internet can provide a real sense of connection to friends and family as well as other people with a visual impairment. It is also a practical way of finding out information and obtaining goods and services. Big-button keyboards, screen display software and text readers are available from the RNIB.
  • Community alarm – this small wearable device has an alarm button. If pressed it sends an alarm signal to a response centre, which will alert a nominated friend or carer. Your local authority should be able to provide you with more information.
  • Bright lighting – bright light bulbs and adjustable lights are essential for your home, especially in the kitchen and the stairs (areas where you are most likely to have an accident). Fluorescent bulbs are recommended, as these produce the most light and tend to be cheaper in the long term than conventional bulbs.

The way your house is painted can also make it easier to find your way around. Using a two-tone contrast approach, such as black and white, can make it easier to tell the difference between nearby objects, such as a door and its handle or the stairs and its handrail.

Reading and writing

If you are having problems reading standard texts in books, newspapers and magazines, there are several options available.

One of the simplest options is to use one of a number of types of handheld magnifying device that you can hold over the page to help you read. These can obtained from a number of sources including hospital low visions services, optometrists, local voluntary organisations and the RNIB.

The RNIB also has a collection of large print publications you can borrow, as do most libraries.

Some people choose to use an e-reader to help them read. E-readers are handheld devices that allow you to download books and subscribe to newspapers and magazines on the internet. You can then set the device to display text at a larger size.

If you are unable to read at all, you could:

You can also install screen-reading software on your computer that will read out emails, documents and text on the internet.

A charity called Communication for Blind and Disabled People has released a free screen reader for the PC called Thunder. Similar software is available for Apple devices, although you may have to pay a small fee.

There are also voice recognition programmes where you speak into a microphone and the software translates what you say into writing.  These programmes can also be used to issue commands, such as closing down the internet and moving from one website to another.

Braille

Some people who are severely sight impaired, particularly if they have had the problem from a young age, choose to learn Braille. Braille is a writing system where raised dots are used as a substitute for written letters.

As well as Braille versions of books and magazines, you can buy Braille display units, which can be attached to computers that allow you to read the text displayed on a computer screen.

Computer keyboards in Braille dots are also available.

The RNIB has more details about reading and learning Braille.

Getting around

There are several different methods you can use to get around independently if you have a visual impairment.

Long cane

Many people who are visually impaired find it useful to use a long cane when travelling.

This is a long, usually foldable, cane that can help you get around by detecting objects in your path. It also lets drivers and other pedestrians know you have a visual impairment.

To get the most from a cane, you will need to attend a training course in how to use it. The RNIB helpline can provide more details on training.

Guide dogs

The charity Guide Dogs has been providing guide dogs for people with visual impairment for many years.

Guide dogs can help people with a visual impairment get around, providing both a sense of independence and companionship.

If you apply for a guide dog, Guide Dogs provide all the essential equipment free of charge and can offer financial assistance if needed for things like food or vet costs.

You don't need to have lost all your sight to benefit from a guide dog and you don't have to be officially registered as blind or partially-sighted to apply for one. See the Guide Dogs website for information about applying for a guide dog.

Guide Dogs also offer a number of other services for people with a visual impairment - even if you don't have a guide dog - such as Children and Young People's Services and mobility training.

The charity also provides the My Guide service, which aims to reduce the isolation that many people with sight loss experience, helping to rebuild their confidence and regain their independence.

Global positioning system (GPS)

GPS is a navigational aid that uses signals from satellites to tell you where you are and help you plan journeys.

GPS devices are available as stand-alone units that can be programmed using a Braille keyboard (see below), which tell you your current location and directions to where you wish to go.

If you have a smartphone, there are a number of GPS apps you can download.

The RNIB has more information on GPS products for people with visual impairment.

Driving

If you are diagnosed with a condition that affects your vision, you have a legal obligation to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Failure to do so is a crime and can result in a fine of up to £1,000.

See the Gov.uk website for more information about driving and medical conditions.

If you are officially registered as having a sight impairment or a severe sight impairment, the DVLA will assume your driving licence is no longer valid and you will no longer be able to drive.

Occasionally, exceptions are made in people with mild sight impairment. If you think this applies to you, then your doctor will need to fill in a DVLA medical information questionnaire (PDF, 218kb).

You are only legally allowed to drive if you can read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres (65 feet) and an eye test shows your visual acuity is at least 6/12. You are allowed to wear glasses or contact lenses when reading the plate or letter chart.

There are also standards relating to your visual field and driving. If you have a condition that may reduce your visual field, the DVLA may ask you to undertake a visual field test to demonstrate you are safe to drive.

Read more about testing visual acuity and visual field.

Employment

If you are currently employed and have recently been diagnosed with a visual impairment, you should contact the Access to Work scheme.

Access to Work is a scheme run by Jobcentre Plus that provides advice and support on what adjustments and equipment may be required to enable you to do your job.

They also offer a grant to contribute towards the costs of any equipment or training that you may need, such as voice recognition software, a Braille keyboard and display unit and a printer that can convert text into Braille (Braille embossers).

Depending on the size of the company you work for, the grant can pay for 80-100% of costs, up to £10,000.

The Gov.uk website has more information on Access to Work.

If you are currently looking for work, there are three main organisations that can provide some extra advice and support:

You do not have to disclose you are visually impaired when applying for a job, but it is usually recommended that you do.

If you feel you have been turned down for a job because of your disability, and you were capable of doing the job, you can make a complaint under the Equality Act 2010.

Some people with a visual impairment decide to become self-employed, often because it allows them the flexibility to work at home for hours they choose.

Action for Blind People has self-employment advisers who can provide information and training on issues such as drawing up a business plan, obtaining funding and bookkeeping. Read more about self-employment on the Action for Blind People website.


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