Over 285,000,000 people suffer visual impairment, a condition that limits the visual capability of an individual to such a degree that additional support is needed. Visual impairment is the result of trauma, disease, congenital or degenerative conditions that cannot be corrected by medication, surgery or refractive correction. 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries and 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured by conventional means.
There are 3 levels of visual impairment:
- Moderate visual impairment
- Severe visual impairment
Who Is At Risk?
65% of visually impaired are over 50 years and with an ever increasing elderly population in many countries, more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment. An estimated 19,000,000 children under 15 years are visually impaired with 12,000,000 due to refractive errors that have not yet been diagnosed or corrected, while 1,400,000 are irreversibly blind.
Disorders of the eye that lead to visual impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, infection and cortical disorders.
Refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism) are typically the result of nature with 43% of visually impaired born with refractive errors that can be corrected with medication, surgery, glasses or contact lenses.
Before the industrial revolution, people with visual impairment were condemned to a life of confinement where opportunities of education and employment were unheard of. Since this time the rights of visually impaired people have been fought for and as a result improvements in accessibility that now allow people with low visual acuity to live full and independent lives in place of bygone institutionalization.
Equality is the most important challenge that faces those with visual impairment and the improved accessibility to technology, braille and other tools that aid in daily life, the rest of the world is beginning to understand that the visually impaired population are capable of the same things as those with near perfect vision.
Although the visually impaired community has seen new opportunities, these are not foolproof solutions to everyday challenges and a greater dependence on what we might take for granted is very important. Electricity is a huge factor when it comes to content as without electricity a person who relies solely on a screen reader cannot simply browse a book, magazine or newspaper. This in turn puts greater demand on media that originated in print to be made available through computers where screen readers can assist in accessibility to content.
The Future’s Bright
Louis Braille invented the Braille system for reading and writing in 1824, giving access to previously inaccessible literature. Helen Keller overcame the institutionalized education system of the 19th century, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Bob Stepp in 1980 developed the first Braille editing program, and in the modern era of internet we hold the key to accessibility for this generation and many more to come.
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The challenges of yesterday are the opportunities of today.