Low Vision

The information presented within this glossary entry is aimed at website owners seeking to learn the ropes of web accessibility. Technical elements are described in layman’s terms, and, as a rule, all topics pertaining to the legalities of web accessibility are presented in as simplified a manner as possible. This guide has no legal bearing, and cannot be relied on in the case of litigation.

Low vision is a term that describes a significant loss of vision that isn’t correctable with standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medical treatments, or surgeries. Unlike total blindness, individuals with low vision retain some functional vision. This vision might be blurred, hazy, or limited in scope. It's essential to differentiate between blindness and low vision, as those with the latter condition still have some usable sight, albeit compromised. This distinction helps in understanding the unique challenges and needs of the low vision community.

Causes and prevalence of low vision

Low vision can arise from a number of sources. Congenital conditions, traumatic injuries, or diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are common causes. Age is a significant factor, with many older individuals experiencing deteriorating vision. Millions are affected by low vision around the world. As the global population ages, understanding and addressing the causes and implications of low vision becomes increasingly crucial for public health initiatives.

Daily life and challenges for people with low vision

Living with low vision presents numerous challenges. Everyday activities, such as reading, writing, shopping, recognizing acquaintances, and even simple tasks like distinguishing colors or navigating unfamiliar areas, can become arduous. Beyond ‌physical limitations, individuals with low vision often encounter emotional and psychological challenges, including feelings of isolation or frustration. These challenges can impact their overall quality of life, making support systems and adaptive strategies vital.

Tools and rehabilitation for low vision

A range of assistive tools have been developed to aid those with low vision. Magnifying glasses, screen readers (such as NVDA and JAWS), and specialized software applications are just a few examples. Vision rehabilitation services play a pivotal role, offering training in adaptive techniques, introducing assistive technologies, and providing emotional support. These services aim to help individuals regain independence and confidence, allowing them to lead fulfilling lives despite their visual limitations.

Low vision is recognized as a disability in many jurisdictions, including under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. The ADA prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities, including low vision, in employment, public services, and public accommodations. Specifically:

Low vision is recognized as a disability in many jurisdictions, including under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. The ADA prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities, including low vision, in employment, public services, and public accommodations. Specifically:

  • Employment: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations, like specialized software, for qualified individuals with low vision
  • Public services: Public entities must ensure accessibility, such as verbal bus stop announcements
  • Public accommodations: Private entities, like restaurants, must ensure a non-discriminatory environment, by offering accommodations like large-print or braille menus

The ADA's protections ensure equal access and opportunities for those with low vision, safeguarding them from discrimination and promoting inclusivity. Additionally, various support groups and organizations provide resources and community support, enhancing awareness and understanding for those with low vision.

Web accessibility for people with low vision

In the digital era, web accessibility is more than a technical requirement; it's a fundamental right. For individuals with low vision, navigating the online world can present unique barriers:

  • Visual clutter: Busy layouts or overlapping elements can make content indistinguishable
  • Inadequate color contrast: Without proper contrast between text and background, content becomes unreadable for many with low vision
  • Small text size: Fonts that are too small or styles that are difficult to decipher, can pose challenges
  • Non-descriptive links and buttons: Elements labeled ambiguously, like "click here", can be confusing without context

Assistive technologies, such as screen readers, bridge some of these gaps. They convert digital text into synthesized speech, allowing users to "hear" website content. However, for these tools to work effectively, websites must be designed correctly. Proper semantic HTML tags, alt text for images, and ARIA roles are crucial.

Moreover, design choices like high color contrast, resizable text, and clear fonts can significantly enhance readability. Simple adjustments, such as offering a dark mode or ensuring clickable elements are adequately sized, can make a world of difference. Many website owners rely on accessibility tools that present people with low vision (as well as people with other disabilities) with an interface through which they can adjust specific design elements to fit their unique abilities. In this way, people with low vision can increase font sizes and adjust color contrasts themselves and gain access to critical information independently. 

Preventive measures and adaptations for people with low vision

Regular eye examinations can aid in the early detection of conditions leading to low vision, potentially slowing their progression. For those already living with the condition, various adaptations can make daily tasks more manageable. Increased lighting, high contrast settings on digital devices, and using large fonts are common strategies. Embracing these adaptations can significantly improve the quality of life for those with low vision.

Raising awareness for low vision

Promoting awareness about low vision is crucial. By fostering understanding and empathy, society can become more accommodating and supportive. Awareness campaigns, educational programs, and community outreach can help dispel myths and misconceptions about low vision. Recognizing the challenges faced by those with low vision, while also celebrating their achievements and contributions, paves the way for a more inclusive society.

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