Commentary: Building A Better Future for Those with Vision Loss

March 8, 2016

A recent study from the Brien Holden Vision Institute at the University of New South Wales Australia and Singapore Eye Research Institute suggests that by 2050 one in ten people will be at risk of vision loss. Researchers project that by 2050, myopia – or short sightedness – will become the leading cause of permanent blindness throughout the world. These are all worldwide projections, and reflect the increase in blindness and visual impairment that will inevitably take place in the United States as well.

According to the National Institutes of Health, around 1.3 million people in the United States were blind in 2010. This number is expected to increase to around 4.1 million in 2050. Keep in mind that these estimates are very conservative and that other factors – such as population growth – are also taken into account. People become blind or visually impaired for a variety of reasons, including disease, congenital abnormalities and injury.

Senior citizens are the largest group affected by vision loss, both now and in the future. Older adults are more likely to be diagnosed with diseases like diabetes, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, among other conditions. The baby boomer generation is rapidly aging, and this is leading to an increase in such diseases and vision loss. While we might not be able to prevent all of these cases, we can still do a lot by adapting to the needs of this and future generations. The drastic increase in the number of people with vision loss is both a sad and scary fact we might not want to think about. While it is certainly a dismal reality, we can all contribute and help people with blindness or visual impairment to have fulfilling lives.

Today, many organizations like the Chicago Lighthouse provide a vast amount of resources for those experiencing vision loss. Seniors who are blind or visually impaired can and do live fulfilling and independent lives thanks to such resources. A visually impaired senior citizen can continue reading the newspaper by using assistive technology, for example. The reality is that these and other resources will become more important in the near future for seniors. As a society we should take notice and invest more time and effort in such programs and services.

We should also strive to become more informed and accommodate the needs of this population. Sadly, our environment is not 100 percent accessible to people with vision loss. Although the ADA requires Braille signs outside elevators and restrooms, I still cannot read restaurant menus or price tags at stores. As a society, our responsibility is to make this world a more accessible place for people with vision loss and other disabilities.

Senior citizens are perhaps the group most affected by vision loss, and they will need information and resources to help them better cope with this disability. We should also take notice and adapt our environments to better meet their needs. Vision loss does not have to be sad or frightening for anyone, and by working together we will make this world a better place for current and future generations.

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