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Disability Awareness

Blind and Visual Impairment

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Around the world, an estimated 285 million people live with blindness or visual impairment, and 39 million of them are blind.
  • 121 million are visually impaired because of uncorrected refractive errors (near-sightedness, far-sightedness or astigmatism). Almost all of them could have normal vision restored with eyeglasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery.
  • Vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older and one of the most prevalent disabling conditions among children.

10 little-known facts about blindness

[Courtesy of the Perkins School for the Blind.]

  1. There are different degrees of blindness. Someone can be legally blind but still see colors, shapes and varying degrees of light. In fact, only about 10-15 percent of people who are blind see nothing at all.
  2. Anne Sullivan is known worldwide as the teacher and companion to Helen Keller. However, many don’t know that Sullivan herself was visually impaired. An eye infection left her nearly blind at the age of 8, although she later regained some vision after a series of operations.
  3. You might walk by someone who is visually impaired and not know it – fewer than 2 percent of visually impaired people use a white cane to navigate. The rest use guide dogs or nothing at all.
  4. Surprisingly, 80 percent of vision problems worldwide could be avoided or even cured with prompt medical care and regular eye examinations. In particular, a leading cause of blindness among adults over 50 is cataracts, which are treatable with surgery. Organizations like the World Health Organization are working to eliminate causes of avoidable blindness in developing countries. 
  5. People who are blind are just as likely as anyone else to experience vivid dreams while sleeping. The difference is that their dreams are dominated by sounds, smells and tastes. A Danish study also suggests that people who are blind must endure significantly more nightmares than their sighted counterparts.
  6. One of the greatest ballerinas of all time relied on strategically placed spotlights to find her way around the stage. Alicia Alonso lost sight in both of her eyes at the age of 19 but continued to perform in her native Cuba and all over the world into her late 70s. 
  7. Guide dogs can’t tell whether a traffic light is green or red or if it changes color. A person who is blind or visually impaired uses audible cues like traffic noise to determine when they think it is safe to cross, and then signals their dog to move forward. If a car is coming, the dog will refuse to obey the command.
  8. As many as 70 percent of people who are blind in the United States experience non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder – a condition where a person’s circadian rhythm is out of alignment with conventional sleep schedules, causing insomnia at night or the urge to sleep during the day.
  9. People who are blind are often better at identifying aromas than their sighted peers. Studies have refuted the age-old myth that blindness sharpens other senses, but researchers believe that people who are blind pay more attention to how an object smells and devote more cognitive energy toward cataloguing that information.   
  10. People who are blind are often lucky in love – 65 percent of Americans who are blind are married or live with a partner and only 16.5 percent have divorced.

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.