About Visual Impairment: Cause, Treatment, Technology and Other Information You Need to Know

There is still bright future ahead for visually impaired people. Photo by Justin Clark on Unsplash

Minor edits were made by Ed Henkler from The Blind Guide.

Visual impairment is not a challenge most people ever expect to confront. Unfortunately, the statistics suggest vision loss is much more common than many believe. Over the age of 65, the incidence of vision loss approaches 25%. For visitors, especially the "newcomers", some helpful information are below.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision. 82% of people living with blindness are aged 50 and above. The good news is that the number of people visually impaired from infectious diseases has been reduced in the last 20 years according to WHO global estimates. The other potentially good news is that much of this blindness is preventable if the resources were available in third world settings.



A number of diseases including glaucoma, cataract, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are common causes of vision loss. Globally, uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of moderate and severe visual impairment; cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness in middle- and low-income countries. For children under the age of 15, the main cause of visual impairment is refractive errors, most of which can be corrected through visual rehabilitation interventions.


Some of the latest research also suggests tobacco is a potential cause of serious vision loss or even blindness. Researchers at the American Academy of Ophthalmology discovered that smoking increased the risk of developing cloudy vision from cataracts and central vision loss from age-related macular degeneration at any age. Additionally, doctors at AIIMS (Association of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences) also say that smoking dramatically increases the risk of cataracts.


The degree of impairment, the actual causes of the vision loss, the level of progression and general health condition of the patient are some of the major aspects requiring consideration. In most cases, ocular diseases are treated by medication or surgery.


If the vision loss is caused by cataracts, surgery is generally successful in restoring vision. An artificial lens inserted into the eye replaces the damaged and clouded lens, and vision will be restored and often improved above the original baseline after surgery.

Although surgery can be required, glaucoma is typically initially treated with medication. Drugs such as Latanoprost, tafluprost, travoprost are prostaglandin analogues that are often prescribed. For diabetic retinopathy, strictly controlling diabetes is the most effective way to prevent progression.


I strongly believe that medicine and technology will soon offer many more choices to restore vision. For now, most treatment focuses on delaying rather than curing the underlying condition. When surgery and medication does not improve eye condition, assistive technology may provide some respite.


Many people who are visually impaired value assistive technology but they also prefer solutions which don't draw attention to themselves. Smartglass technology is one area which has been evolving rapidly. The hardware is becoming progressively more streamlined. Simultaneously, virtual, augmented, and mixed reality solutions are becoming mainstream. Those special glasses begin to look like a cool accessory, rather a device for someone who is disabled. Read more below.


Ubiquitous smartphones have driven the development of many apps for people with visual impairment. Many of these apps work by magnifying images or switching to user-selected high contrast colors, like Zoomax App. It is also encouraging to see some of the largest technology players designing smartphone apps implemented in new hardware, such as Samsung's Relúmĭno.


When it comes to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), just like the VR or AR set for gaming, wearable technology is growing more popular for people with visual impairment. Most of this technology employs a headset. Images are displayed on LED screens right in front of the users' eyes. The views range from simple magnifying to some unique technologies such as partial magnification and peripheral vision elongation. One of the latest electronic glasses for low vision use are Acesight using AR technology.

There are also some posts indicating the exclusive technicial advantages of the wearable gadgets.


Video magnifiers are one of the most commonly used electronic items as they are relatively less expensive and also may be simpler to use. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology allows the device to scan the printed material, then text-to-speech technology can read the text with natural voices. This technology has been installed on some desktop devices; however, the OCR technology has not been applied to handheld video magnifiers until Snow 7 HD Plus was launched in 2017.

This handheld video magnifier employing OCR technology is more portable than a desktop device. Its accuracy is also as good as desktop OCR at a lower total system price.

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