Visual Impairments: Focus on the Future

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.
Woman helping girl read braille

People have a lot of misconceptions about those who are blind or have low vision. Many are surprised to learn that having a visual impairment doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is completely blind or without sight. Some people who are considered legally blind can still see. However, they may have limited vision at night, low light perception, blurred vision, or reduced visual fields (meaning they can’t see to the sides, top, or bottom like most people typically can).

Independent Living

People who have visual impairments can function well independently as they grow up. Some may use assistive aids like a cane, technology tools or service animals. Depending on the type and severity of vision loss, some people will be able to read print, although the print may need to be enlarged. There are also things that parents can do to help their children learn skills for independence.

Think about what it’s like for your child to navigate around the house. Is there anything in the environment that may pose as a barrier to their independence? Keep furniture and commonly used items in the same place so your child can maneuver and find things easily. Add tangible cues to items to help your child sort through the space. For example, if you have a gallon of milk and a gallon of tea in the fridge, put a sticker on top of the milk cap and teach your child to feel for it. Then, your child can pick out the drink they want independently.

It’s important for parents to learn about their child’s specific vision loss. How much can they see? What can be done to help children maximize their use of residual vision (the vision they do have)?

As you talk with your child’s doctors, ask about long-term vision. Is your child’s condition likely to worsen or stay the same? Keep this in mind as you plan for your child’s future independent living needs.

Education & Advocacy

It’s important for parents to advocate for their children who are blind, have low vision or have other visual impairments This includes educating your child in much the same way you do other children: read to them, set high expectations, and nurture and support their educational endeavors. Speak up and let educators know what works well for your child, what doesn’t, and what goals you have for your child’s future. When they’re old enough, include your children in those conversations.

In school, orientation and mobility specialists can help children learn to navigate their physical world. Other specialists may teach Braille and help general education teachers make accommodations in classes so students with low vision can participate fully.

Finally, when able, advocate for people with low vision by talking with your children and others about
the use of canes, etiquette, and service animals. For example, someone should never take a person who is blind by the arm. Instead, the person who is blind will (if needed) take someone else by the arm to be guided. When service animals are working, it’s not play time. Help others learn to leave the animal alone.

As you raise your child and work with doctors and therapists, a focus on the future will help your child feel respected. Over time, teach them to advocate for themselves as they become independent, successful adults.

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