February is Low Vision Awareness Month

Feb 1, 2023 | Bullying, HIB, Special Education, Special Needs Child

February is Low Vision Awareness Month


Low Vision v. Blindness


What is the difference between a visual impairment, aka low vision, and blindness?

The difference can be confusing. About 90% of people who are legally blind have some vision. Some people with visual impairment can see only light or dark, or shapes. Some have blurred or patchy vision or visual distortion. Some people who are legally blind can even see large print.


How then, to tell the difference? Isn’t that simply low vision?

The American Optometric Association separates low vision into two categories:

“Partially sighted” means a person using prescription glasses has a visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/200.

“Legally blind” means a person has either a) a restricted field of vision less than 20 degrees wide, or b) visual acuity no better than 20/200 with prescription lenses (“conventional correction”), or c) both.

Low vision impacts a person’s daily activities of living. A person with low vision is unable to do things a sighted person can do, including:

  • Sustainably read print.
  • Drive a car.
  • Recognize others by sight.
  • Distinguish between colors.
  • Read or watch electronic screens.

Low vision cannot be corrected with conventional methods like eyeglasses or contact lenses, or more invasive measures like medication or surgery.

A variety of low vision impacts those affected. They include:

  • Loss of central vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Night blindness
  • Blurry vision
  • Hazy vision

Who Has Visual Impairment?

Well over half a million schoolchildren in the United States live with visual impairment. In 2019, the American Community Survey discovered that approximately 547,000 U.S. children have visual impairments.

These students face obstacles to learning, especially when it comes to educational materials. It’s important for parents and educators to understand each student’s unique visual needs in order to create an accessible educational environment.


How to Obtain an Accessible Educational Environment?

FIRST, your child should have an evaluation by a qualified low-vision expert. Have that professional test your child’s sustained reading over a period of time.

NEXT, ensure the low vision expert determines whether your child’s reading speed and fluency decrease over time. Have the expert include a graphic to demonstrate the results.

THIRD, have the low vision expert consider your child’s future needs, i.e., that print will get smaller with higher grades and the difficulty of reading will increase over time.

FOURTH, ensure the low vision expert and your school district follow the presumption of Braille in the IDEA.

FIFTH, ensure the low vision expert considers the use of assistive technology but also makes clear that listening to books, stories, and instruction is no substitute for Braille just as listening is no substitute for reading.


In a case this office tried in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind, HM v Oceanport, Docket # 2011 17218, SGW obtained a favorable ruling that the school district failed to assess HM’s “sustained reading ability” with print and demonstrated a “bias against Braille.” The judge wrote, “listening does not equate to reading. One does not enhance the active skill of comprehending text by passively listening, even if one is following along with the reading.”


For more information on how to assist your student obtain an accessible educational environment and appropriate education plan, contact SGW now! 609-409-3500

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