What Do Blind People See?

Blind person and friend cross street

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Not all "blind" people view the world the same way. It all depends upon the type of condition that has impacted a person's sight to begin with that may foretell whether the world is stereotypically black or someone has some sight, albeit limited.

Here's what to know about different types of vision loss and how those with certain conditions take in their surroundings.

Types of Blindness

The term blindness is more of a broad category than a narrowly defined condition. To get a better idea, you may want to think of sight limitations this way:

Total Blindness

Those who are totally blind see absolutely no light. Doctors will record this as "NLP" for no light perception. Most people have some remaining sight. Just 15% of people with an eye disorder actually fall into the totally blind category.

Included in this group are those who were born without sight, known as congenitally blind, as well as others who lose their sight later to accident or disease. But vision loss is much broader. A 2018 National Health Interview Survey shows that 32.2 million American adults report having vision loss.

Blindness With Light Perception

Those who can perceive light have the ability to distinguish night from day. They may be able to walk into an otherwise dark room with a lamp turned on and walk toward it.

While they don't live in total darkness, they are also unable to distinguish any objects no matter how large or how closely these are held. Their visual ability is strictly limited to telling light from dark.

Legally Blind

When someone is classified as legally blind, it is actually simply a way of conveying whether or not they are eligible for certain programs that benefit those with low vision.

The United States defines legal blindness as having vision of less than 20/200 on the classic Snellen acuity chart, known for the big E at the top. Of those age 40 or older, nearly 1.3 million Americans fit the definition of legally blind.

To have less than 20/200 vision means that when standing 20 feet away from the chart you are unable to make out the big E in your better-seeing eye, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Meanwhile, newer low-vision charts measure vision between 20/100 and 20/200. Those who are unable to read the 20/100 line with corrective lenses are still classified as legally blind since this puts them in the category of having 20/200 vision or less.

Also, no matter how good their remaining vision, anyone who has a visual field that is less than 20 degrees wide is considered legally blind.

People can be left with low enough vision to be considered "legally blind" by a number of different conditions. Some things that can lead to such low vision include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration: This disease targets the fine central vision of the eye. Those with both eyes affected have vision that measures less than 20/200 on a chart, although their side vision may remain intact.
  • Cataract: When severe enough, the opaque lens of the eye does not let sufficient light through to get to the retina, which can diminish vision to less than 20/200. However, the cataract can be surgically removed and vision significantly improved.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Those with this condition can lose significant vision to retinal detachment or to swelling or bleeding of the retina.
  • Glaucoma: With this disease, retinal nerves that convey vision from the retina to the brain die over time. While the normal field for both eyes is 180 degrees, if this drops to less than 20 degrees, a person is considered legally blind.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa: This genetic condition can cause "tunnel vision" in which just a very narrow area of vision remains. While this may even be 20/20, because the field is so narrow the person is still considered legally blind.

Sight When Dreaming

What blind people see when they are dreaming is influenced by how much sight they have when they're awake. A May 2014 study showed that blind individuals as a rule report fewer visual dream impressions than their sighted counterparts.

Those who are born blind tend to report that their dreams revolve around the other senses such as sound, touch, taste, and smell. They also tended to have more nightmares than sighted people or those who became blind later in life.

Individuals who became blind later in life reported more tactile dreams than those with sight. Still, regardless of sight, the emotional impact and the themes of the dream were similar for all in the study. So, whether it's during the day or while sleeping, blind individuals tend to see the world in their own unique way.

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