What Is Legal Blindness?

The following article discusses the U.S. Government’s definition of legal blindness.

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Legal blindness as defined by the U.S. Government does not mean that a person has no vision at all, nor is it synonymous with a medical diagnosis of low vision. That is to say, that while a person with a diagnosis of low vision may in certain circumstances meet the U.S. Government’s standard of legal blindness, the reverse is not necessarily true. Only a low vision optometrist is qualified to make a diagnosis of low vision.

Legal blindness reflects the U.S. Government's definition of the term which may entitle people to government disability benefits, and will likely prevent them from legally driving a motor vehicle in many states.  This definition of legal blindness takes into account visual acuity and visual field. Visual acuity refers to the sharpness of vision at a distance of 20 feet. Visual field refers to all that the eye can see when it focuses on a fixed point. 

The U.S. government’s definition is as follows: 

  • If you cannot reach better than 20/200 with corrective measures in the best eye
  • If you have 20 degrees or less of your field of vision
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What Conditions Cause Legal Blindness?

Causes of blindness include:

  • Blindness from birth: Some people may be born with visual deficiencies that meet this criterion.
  • Blindness from medical and eye conditions:  There are many disorders and types of eye disease that can affect the optic nerve such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, best disease, stargardt, retinitis pigmentosa, ocular albinism, age-related macular degeneration, and other ocular disorders
  • Injury/trauma: Injuries can lead to visual deficits that meet this legal standard.
Symptoms or Conditions of Possible Legal Blindness

Symptoms or Conditions of Possible Legal Blindness

Signs of possible visual deficits that meet this standard are not monolithic and they will vary according to individuals. Schedule an appointment right away if you notice any of the following:

  • difficulty with peripheral vision
  • tunnel vision
  • difficulty with central vision
  • blind spots
  • difficulty with night vision
  • cloudiness



Speak with our low vision optometrist to discuss how to proceed following a diagnosis of legal blindness. The emotional impact can be difficult. The good news is that with proper intervention regain their ability to do the things they loved doing before vision loss

Symptoms or Conditions of Possible Legal Blindness

Symptoms or Conditions of Possible Legal Blindness

  • Vision aids and vision devices such as magnifiers, specialty glasses, lighting, assistive technologies, prisms, and telescopic optical aids.
  • Vision therapy or rehabilitation to learn how to maximize residual vision
  • Emotional help: Speaking with psychologists, social workers, and emotional health counselors are often very helpful for those learning to cope emotionally with this condition.
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Common Questions

Not necessarily. There are degrees of blindness. It is a government definition of visual impairment, but it doesn't mean that you have complete blindness.
Many people have found support on our page, resources and links for people with low vision.
Being legally blind is a specific classification that refers to a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the best-corrected eye. It doesn't mean total blindness but rather indicates significant impairment. A low vision optometrist might still work with legally blind patients to enhance their remaining vision. In contrast, total blindness means complete lack of visual perception, with no ability to see light or shapes.
Yes, legal blindness is a medical diagnosis that signifies a specific level of visual impairment. It's a classification rather than a specific eye disease, meaning it could result from various underlying conditions. Working with a low vision optometrist can help those who are legally blind make the most of their remaining vision through specialized techniques and tools.
Legally blind is considered a disability under various laws and regulations. This status allows for specific accommodations and benefits, both in the workplace and other areas of life. It recognizes the substantial visual impairment that legally blind individuals face, requiring adjustments to their environment and potentially the intervention of a low vision optometrist or other specialists to enhance their daily living.
What Is Legal Blindness?
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Definition of Legal Blindness

You can't diagnose yourself with legal blindness. Contact our low vision optometrist to schedule an examination to assess visual acuity and field of vision, both of which are essential for a thorough evaluation. It is relatively easy to determine if a person meets the legal criteria for blindness. If you have been diagnosed with legal blindness, speak with our optometrist to create a plan for maximizing your vision and living a normal life.

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