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What It's Like to Be Visually Impaired

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD

"Hooray!" thought Brittany as she watched her new neighbor move in down the hall. "A big, fluffy golden retriever, right here on our floor," she told her dad excitedly. Her dad explained that although the dog was indeed the neighbor's pet, he also had a very important job as a seeing-eye dog. Their new neighbor was visually impaired, her dad said, and the dog acted as his eyes, helping him as he walked around the city.

To learn more about what it's like to be visually impaired and how kids with visual impairment learn, keep reading.

How Is Visual Impairment Treated?
Some kids who are visually impaired can have an operation to correct their vision. If a kid has a cataract, doctors may do surgery to remove it. For smaller, less severe cataracts, glasses can sometimes help the child see. One of the newest treatments for older kids with cataracts is intraocular (say: inn-tra-ock-you-lur) lenses. These are manmade lenses that are put into the eye during surgery. They replace the eye's lens when it is removed because it is clouded by a cataract.

How Do Kids With Visual Impairment Learn?
A baby who is not blind wants to explore the world around him. If you've ever seen a baby lying on his tummy, you might have noticed him trying to push up on his arms and look around. But a baby with a visual impairment won't be as interested in a world he can't see. Specialists trained to help kids who are visually impaired can help the baby develop normally, even though he can't see. If a baby is born with a visual impairment, most ophthalmologists will tell the mom or dad to put the baby in special learning programs while he is still very small.

Like all kids, visually impaired kids need school and activities to keep them learning, growing, and happy! Because a lot of what you learn in school comes from books, you might wonder how visually impaired kids learn. Well, kids who are visually impaired can learn to read by using a special system called braille. Braille is made up of a series of little bumps that stick up from a surface. The bumps are arranged in different ways to represent numbers and letters. Kids who are visually impaired read by feeling the bumps with their fingertips. You may have even seen braille around before - pay special attention to doorways in big buildings, elevators, and at the automatic teller machine and you may notice it!

There are also special computer programs and devices that can "see" printed material and turn it into braille. Then it can be produced on paper or even spoken into words. Visually impaired kids can also learn from and enjoy books and magazines by listening to voice recordings of others reading the words. With special equipment, a visually impaired kid can read almost anything!

In the past, kids who were visually impaired had to go to special schools where they lived away from home. Most kids today go to training programs when they are very young, then attend regular schools with children who aren't visually impaired. Many visually impaired kids learn in classrooms with kids who can see. They may have special teachers that come in and help them.

Living With Visual Impairment
Kids who are blind rely on their other senses, especially hearing and touch. Remember how you learned to identify different coins by the way they look? Blind kids must learn to tell a nickel from a quarter and a dime from a penny by the way the coins feel. When you go to your closet to pick out clothes, you use your eyes to look for a certain outfit or match up your clothes. A visually impaired kid uses his sense of touch to pick out his clothes.

Kids who are visually impaired use their ears a lot, too. If a car comes down the street, you know to get onto the sidewalk because you can hear and see the car. But a visually impaired kid can't see the car, so he pays special attention to the sound of the engine.

Some visually impaired kids and adults also get help from a furry friend - a seeing-eye dog! Seeing-eye dogs are specially trained dogs that work as a blind person's "eyes" and help him get around in the world. Although seeing-eye dogs are usually gentle and friendly, it's best not to pet or distract them while they're working.

Kids who are blind aren't too different from kids who aren't blind. They can do most things that other kids can do - the big difference is that they need to "see" the world in a different way. Kids who are visually impaired like to hang out with friends and do fun things, and they can go to college, have families, and do many different types of jobs.


Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2001

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