What is low vision or visual impairment?


Low vision is a loss of eyesight that makes everyday tasks difficult. A person with low vision may find it difficult or impossible to accomplish activities such as reading, writing, shopping, watching television, driving a car, recognizing faces and crossing the street. When vision cannot be improved with regular eyeglasses, medicine, or surgery, people with low vision need help to learn how to make the most of their remaining sight and keep their independence.

Dr. Laura C. Fine, MD
Ophthalmologist (Eye Specialist)


Many people must live with vision that limits their daily activities, a condition known as low vision. Low vision may involve blurry vision, poor central vision, loss of peripheral vision, or even double vision. Whatever the symptom, the immediate consequences are often the same—difficulty performing day-to-day activities such as reading a newspaper, using a computer, watching television, cooking a meal, or crossing the street. Still, low vision is like many complicated medical conditions: while there may not be a cure, there often are ways to cope.

Dr. Michael X. Repka
Ophthalmologist (Eye Specialist)

Low vision and visual impairments are legally stipulated. The definitions may vary from state to state. Typically, visual acuity of 20/200 or less or visual field less than 20 degrees are required. There are many definitions of partial impairment that may affect central acuity (the eye chart) or visual field.

In general the legal definitions apply to the patient as a whole and not to each eye, so that impairment in one eye with a normal fellow eye would not be considered impairment of the patient, unless there was substantial loss of visual field.

Continue Learning about Visual Impairments

Visual Impairments

Optical issues with the eye are quite common, possibly because we started as cavemen who did not have to read tiny letters on a computer screen as you may be doing right now. Conditions that may be corrected with optics include as...

tigmatism, near and far sightedness and some forms of visual field distortion. Some eyes have trouble seeing color the way other's do. This is called color blindness, and is more common in men. As we age there are common diseases and concerns including cataracts and glaucoma. Having diabetes can make you more likely to develop retinopathy, when blood vessels in the retina break and leak into the eye. Some conditions may lead to partial or total blindness. Legal blindness is a legal term more than a medical one, but meeting the standard for legal blindness can qualify you for special help.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.