According to the National Eye Institute, by 2030 more than four million Americans are projected to have some form of low vision.
“It is somewhere where I have lived my whole life. You’re not totally blind and you’re not totally sighted and so we find ourselves in kind of this limbo-land in between those two worlds,” said Zelda Gebhard, a member of the North Dakota Association of the Blind.
Gebhard has low vision. Her condition is genetic but low vision could be caused by any number of reasons.
Low vision is when you still have visual impairment despite standard eye disorder treatments like glasses, medicines or surgery.
Superintendent of the North Dakota Vision Services and School of Blind Paul Olson said, “Macular degeneration is probably the most prevalent in the United States, cataracts are another condition which are quite common like glaucoma, there’s a series of what they call retinol diseases which are diseases which affect the tissues inside the eye.”
Other conditions could put some races at higher risk of low vision.
“In North Dakota, we have a high number of people who are of Scandinavian heritage and those folks seem to be predisposed to diabetes and that’s one of the conditions that can cause visual impairment. Our Native American populations are also predisposed oftentimes to diabetes and some of the effects on vision due to diabetes and African Americans people who are Black, there’s a high prevalence rate of glaucoma,” said Olson.
Glaucoma increases pressure within the eye and could cause damage to its tissues. Gebhard says life could get difficult for people who have low vision.
“There’s a very high percentage of individuals with vision loss who are unemployed and that’s really sad because the ability to see does not decrease the ability to contribute,” said Gebhard.
Gebhard says more employers need to understand that.
Organizations like the federally funded vocational rehabilitation resource and the North Dakota Vision Services can help people with low vision live a normal life as well as the use of technology.
“It could be a simple magnifier or in this case, this is a video magnifier this one happens to be portable, and to be honest with you there are apps,” said Olson.
The older a person gets the higher the chances of getting a condition that could lead to low vision and depending on the type of condition it could lead to total loss of sight if left unchecked.
The National Eye Institute advises people 40 and above to have comprehensive eye checks every year. If you think you may be experiencing low vision, speak to your health professional.
The North Dakota Association of the Blind is a nonprofit that raises funds to help educate members and the public on blindness and visual impairment.