Is Legal Blindness a Disability? Everything You Need to Know

Yes, legal blindness is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is defined by legal guidelines as having a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in your better eye, with corrective lenses, and/or visual field limitation of 20 degrees or less.

What is Legal Blindness?

Legal blindness is a legally recognized state of vision impairment which, in most cases, falls below the threshold necessary to obtain a driver’s license. It is often used to determine eligibility for certain disability programs and services. Generally, it is defined as vision that is 20/200 or worse in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses or a visual field that is 20 degrees or less. While this definition may appear rather straightforward, there has been debate surrounding what defines legal blindness – particularly when factoring in both low vision and other ailments such as color-blindness or astigmatism.

The most common argument advanced on behalf of those who fall outside of legal blindness involves the legal definition itself: Does having an impairment that falls short of achieving levels outlined in the definition constitute being legally blind? Proponents of this argument assert that low vision is still a form of disability and should be acknowledged and supported as such. On the opposite side are those who deem it difficult to prove complete legal blindness when measurements deviate from accepted definitions, leaving some individuals without the resources and assistance they might otherwise qualify for if more stringent criteria were introduced.

Leading from this discussion, it is pertinent to consider defining low vision and other levels of impairment. As stated previously, legal blindness does not necessarily encompass all forms of visual difficulty; for instance, those with impaired color vision may experience functional losses similar to someone classified as legally blind but find themselves ineligible due to technically failing to meet specific standards. This brings us to our next section where we will explore how such impairments can be defined and incorporated into a broader understanding of both legal blindness and other types of sight loss.

  • According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 36 million people globally who have legal blindness or severe visual impairment.
  • In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 1 in every 28 children is affected by some form of vision impairment.
  • A 2018 study found that males are 1.5 times more likely than females to experience legal blindness or vision loss.

Defining Low Vision and Other Impairment Levels

When it comes to defining low vision and other impairment levels, there are a few terms people should familiarize themselves with. The first is visual acuity (VA). VA is how well a person can see when tested at a certain distance with correction or without. When we talk about legal blindness, people generally assume it means the same as complete blindness; however, that’s not necessarily the case. VA of 20/70 or worse is considered impaired enough to be legally blind in some states in the United States.

Some argue that someone who has a VA of 20/70 or worse but can still detect shapes and colors should not have the same advantages and accommodations extended to them as those who have lower VAs. However, those who strongly disagree with this argument believe that those who are legally blind are being silenced. Optometrists or ophthalmologists often document the severity of a person’s vision loss by testing for Near Visual Acuity (NVA) or Reading Speed VI (RSVI). NVA measures how far away from an eyechart one must stand to be able to read it and RSVI measures how long it takes one to read a line of text. Those with higher impairment levels may find printed material very difficult to read or even impossible without assistance; therefore, counting VA alone does not accurately describe disability levels for visually impaired individuals.

The differences between ”low vision” and “legal blindness” can also be distinguished by Visual Field Loss (VFL). Someone who has VFL cannot see well at any distance as they have lost either their central field of view, their peripheral view, or both. There are different categories used to specify degrees of VFL — tunnel vision represents a central field defect while joint damage usually causes peripheral field defects. People with legal blindness will usually have more severe impairment than those who are classified as “Low Vision” although whether they fall into one category or another is subject to debate amongst different medical professionals.

The question of whether legal blindness should be considered a disability sparks strong opinions from both sides of the debate; however, there is no clear consensus yet on how to define it specifically nor on whether it qualifies under the law as a disability or not. Moving forward, it’s important to consider all aspects of vision loss when evaluating whether someone qualifies as legally blind and how it affects them beyond physical abilities. With this in mind, let’s look at how the U.S. legal system defines legal blindness next.

How Does the U.S. Legal System Define Legal Blindness?

In the United States, legal blindness is defined as a visual acuity of 20/200 or lower in the better eye with best correction, or a range of vision no greater than 20 degrees. In simple terms, this means that someone who is considered legally blind can see at 20 feet what a person with normal vision could see at 200 feet.

The definition of legal blindness can be controversial. Some argue that it is too strict, while others would like to widen the parameters to include those with more than 20/200 vision in one eye but worse than 20/40 in the other after correction, who may need help for certain tasks. On the other hand, only those with severe or total vision impairment qualify for certain benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Widening the definition could mean decreasing the amount of services available for those who are severely impaired and thus creating an unfair system.

Balancing these arguments has proven difficult for lawmakers and the courts, but knowing how the U.S. legal system defines legal blindness is important for understanding an individual’s rights and options when seeking financial assistance or other accommodations and services.

Leading into the next section: As mentioned above, individuals who are considered legally blind are eligible for certain benefits. In the next section we will discuss what benefits are offered to people with legal blindness.

What Benefits Are Available for People with Legal Blindness?

For individuals with legal blindness, certain government benefits may be available through the Social Security Administration (SSA). The first step to determining eligibility is to complete an online application. People with legal blindness may qualify for either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSI is a needs-based program and requires the individual to meet age and income requirements. SSDI does not require a person to meet financial criteria, but it does have work history criteria; the individual must have worked in jobs within the last 10 years that paid into Social Security taxes.

People who are approved for SSI or SSDI will receive a monthly cash benefit, as well as health care coverage through Medicare or Medicaid. This coverage can help ensure that medical treatment is accessible and affordable. Additionally, some individuals may also qualify for vocational rehabilitation services through their state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). The DVR works with employers and local agencies to connect people with disabilities to job training programs, educational opportunities, and employment services.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a special monthly allowance program for veterans who are legally blind. The allowance helps cover daily living expenses such as food, clothing, and other household needs.

On one side of the argument, advocates assert that disability benefits are necessary to provide tangible support in order to reduce poverty and improve economic security among individuals with disabilities. On the other side of the argument, skeptics claim that providing disability benefits could discourage people from finding employment and could enable people to rely on government assistance rather than attempting to support themselves financially in any way possible.

Regardless of these debates, the reality is that for many cases, benefits related to legal blindness can be beneficial in providing financial stability and access to resources like assistive technology, accessibility services etc. With this in mind, let’s explore how assistive technology, accessibility services, and other supports are available for people with legal blindness.

Assistive Technology, Accessibility, and Services

When considering the disability status of legal blindness, it is also important to understand the various services, assistive technologies and accessibility measures that people who are classified as legally blind may be eligible for. Generally, these will depend on where you live as legislation and regulations related to assistive technologies, accessibilities and services often vary by region.

For example, in many countries, those who are classified as legally blind can get reduced fares on public transportation and in some cases may be eligible for a pension or disability allowance. Accessibility measures such as extensions to deadlines on time-sensitive activities (like exams) can also make life easier. Moreover, assistive technology can help those with legal blindness to work more efficiently and independently. Assistive technology such as adaptive keyboards, voice recognition software and specialised software like screen readers can greatly enhance an individual’s ability to perform tasks they would otherwise find difficult or impossible.

However, some argue that in providing these forms of assistance to those classified as legally blind, society is creating a crutch for those people that could lead to complacency or reliance which could ultimately impede their progress or development in the long run. Others counter this argument by arguing that modern assistive technology can help people of all abilities work more quickly, accurately and independently. Additionally, providing people with access to assistive technology does not require that people become overly reliant on it; this type of equipment can provide a vital stepping stone so individuals are able to reach their personal best depending on their physical limitations or disabilities.

From this discussion it is clear that there are pros and cons associated with the use of assistive technologies and accessibility measures for those categorized as legally blind. Moving forward it is important to consider what these possibilities mean for individuals when evaluating whether or not legal blindness should be considered a disability – which we will explore further in the next section on “What Is the Legal Blindness Evaluation Process?”.

What Is the Legal Blindness Evaluation Process?

The legal blindness evaluation process can be an important part of assessing whether a person should be considered legally blind. This evaluation is typically conducted by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, who will evaluate the vision of the person being tested to determine if they are eligible for disability benefits.

Though there are some health professionals that advocate for the use of technology such as visual field testing to conduct evaluations, there are others who believe that these methods aren’t reliable enough when it comes to making a determination of legal blindness. Visual field tests are objective measures that can be used to measure how much of a target an individual can perceive, but they don’t necessarily indicate if someone’s vision is low enough to qualify as legally blind.

This disagreement sparks debate on which evaluation process should truly be used in determining legal blindness. Those for technological assessment argue that it is more accurate than subjective measures taken by those with medical degrees, though those against the use of technology caution that it isn’t always reliable or capable of providing a comprehensive assessment.

No matter which approach is used in the evaluation process, it is important to ensure that proper procedures and protocols are followed in order to get an accurate result. Ultimately, this should lead to providing individuals with disabilities adequate access to necessary services and support.

Next section: How Can Legal Blindness Be Accommodated?

How Can Legal Blindness Be Accommodated?

When it comes to legal blindness, accommodating for the vision impairment can be very challenging. For certain activities such as reading and writing, blind people often require special resources like braille books or magnification software. Blindness is also a major factor in employment and education opportunities where adaptations may need to be made to make sure that everyone has an equal chance of succeeding.

On one hand, ensuring full access to disabled people could lead to higher costs for employers and educational institutions. Having to purchase specialized tools or provide assistance can be difficult if those institutions don’t have the funds or the staff to make it happen. On the other hand, not accommodating can result in discrimination and exclusion of disabled persons from exercising their right to access the same opportunities that are available to non-disabled persons.

Since accommodating for legal blindness comes with distinct challenges, it’s important that employers and educational institutions find ways to fairly and properly accommodate disabled individuals without burdening them with added expenses or creating barriers of entry. This may include providing easily accessible materials in alternative formats or modifying work spaces or classrooms to accommodate visual impairments. Additionally, communication between those providing the accommodation and those receiving it is important so ensure all needs are being met throughout the process.

It’s clear that accommodating for legal blindness requires balance between cost and fairness for all parties involved, but with the right approach everyone can benefit from making proper accommodations for vision impairments. Now that we’ve discussed how legal blindness can be accommodated let’s move on to our conclusion.


Legal blindness is a condition that can be difficult to navigate, especially for those affected by it. It is important to remember, however, that people with legal blindness have every right to benefit from the same types of accommodations and resources as people with any other disability. People with legal blindness should be provided with the educational, vocational and financial resources and support they need in order to overcome the challenges posed by their disability.

On one hand, people may argue that because someone who has been diagnosed as legally blind often does possess some level of vision- even if it’s limited- that some may not consider them as disabled too heavily. However, this fails to take into account the daily, real-life struggles associated with legal blindness. Those who are blind often face immense obstacles in regards to finding employment, engaging in everyday activities or even just living independently.

Legal blindness is far more than just a lack of vision; it can be a true disability that requires proper assistance and empathy. By providing people with legal blindness with adequate adaptive technologies and other resources, we can create an environment that allows them to lead fulfilling lives despite their disability. Ultimately, we all stand to benefit much more when society works together towards acceptance, understanding and inclusion of those living with legal blindness.

Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any accommodations provided to people with legal blindness?

Yes, there are accommodations that are provided to people with legal blindness. Accommodations may include large print materials, Braille materials, computer-assisted technology, readers for exams, magnifying equipment, and telephone and communication devices that help persons with vision impairments communicate more effectively. Additionally, educational institutions may also provide audio textbooks, note takers, and extended time periods on tests and quizzes. Such services can help blind individuals reach their full potential in the classroom or in their workplace.

What qualifies as legal blindness?

Legal blindness is a legal term used to describe the level of vision that qualifies someone for benefits under federal disability laws. A person is considered legally blind if their best corrected central visual acuity (with the use of corrective lenses) falls below 20/200 in both eyes or if their visual field is narrowed to an extent where the widest diameter of their visual field does not total more than 20 degrees. People with legal blindness often describe it as having tunnel vision or only being able to see what’s directly in front of them.

For example, in order to see a letter at 20 feet away a person who has perfect vision would need to be able to read it from 200 feet away – which may seem impossible. Furthermore, those who are legally blind have difficulty with tasks such as recognizing faces from a distance, reading street signs, or noticing features on the ground.

What kind of benefits are available to people with legal blindness?

People with legal blindness are eligible for a variety of benefits designed to help them live their lives more independently. These include medical assistance, such as access to special equipment and low-vision counseling; financial assistance in the form of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); and vocational training and job placement services. In addition, people with legal blindness may be eligible for specialized transportation services, including ride sharing services adapted to their needs and public transportation that offer priority seating and other accommodations. Finally, many states have laws specifically tailored to people with disabilities, including those related to housing, education, or employment.

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