Blindness/Vision Loss

What is Blindness/Vision Loss?

  • Visually impaired: persons who have some difficulty seeing with one or two eyes even when wearing glasses. Individual may have blurry vision, cannot see items at a distance, have difficulty making out details, and/or have a hard time following moving objects
  • Legal blindness: visual acuity of 20/200 or less, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees
  • Blind: having less than 1/10 normal vision or no vision
blind symbol
International symbol of blindness


  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Retinitis pigmentosa
  • Trauma to the eye

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Depending on eye condition, eyes may look cloudy and discolored
  • Move cautiously in an unfamiliar environment
  • Reaching slowly and with caution to locate objects
  • May have trouble maintaining eye contact or is unable to do so even though it might look like they are doing so
  • Will have difficulty identifying others by visual means but can readily identify people that are known to them by the sound of their voice
  • May have difficulty identifying objects using vision but will be able to identify them by touch and may be able to identify colors accurately
  • Arranging and organizing personal objects so they can be easily located; may have trouble locating objects if someone else has moved them
  • Individuals who are blind and are active in the community can usually be identified by the mode of assistance that allows them to be independent; this is either a walking (white) cane or a guide dog (service animal)
  • When in a setting, such as their homes, where they would be familiar with their surroundings, use of assistance may not be necessary and, therefore, would not be evident.
  • Most individuals will identify as being blind or having some form of vision loss.
  • If you feel there is vision loss, it is OK to ask so as to help you remedy the situation.

How to approach someone with vision loss/blindness:

  • Greet person as soon as you walk into room, use his/her name if known and speak directly to him/her in natural conversation tone and speech
  • Using visually descriptive language is OK (i.e. see, look)
  • Identify yourself – allow them to feel badge, handcuffs, helmet, etc.
    • As an alternative, if you are uncomfortable letting someone touch you/your equipment offer to contact radio or dispatch for a time or location check/update.
  • Alert them of actions before you do them
  • Ask if they need assistance; don't assume they do. If they do offer your arm, bent at a 90 degree angle. They will place their hand right above your elbow.
  • When giving directions be specific; right, left, straight, carpet/tile floor, pole, stairs, etc.
  • Be specific when talking about people or objects. Avoid terms such as "they," "this," "you," and "over there" and avoid pointing without giving verbal directions.

How to Escort an Individual Who is Blind (video)


  • Braille is a series of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or whose eyesight is not sufficient for reading printed material. Braille symbols are formed within units of space known as braille cells. A full braille cell consists of six raised dots arranged in two parallel rows, each having three dots. Only 10% of people with vision loss/blindness can read Braille.

Sources: National Federation of the Blind (2011); Federal Emergency Management Agency (1999); United States Department of Justice (2010)