Is Blindness The "Worst Ailment"?

by Dan Roberts

A recent online nationwide poll (1) has joined similar past studies in revealing that people consider vision loss to be the “worst ailment that could happen to them relative to losing memory, speech, hearing, or a limb.”

The researchers’ intent was to “underscore the importance of focusing on preservation of eye health and the public support for vision research.” Most of the respondents supported prevention and treatment of eye and vision disorders as a priority, which may help to guide policy and funding strategies. The poll, however, also unintentionally surfaced the need for a stronger emphasis on education about the meaning of vision loss.

It seems that most people equate uncorrectable vision loss with blindness. A major part of public education should include awareness of the fact that individuals affected by most eye diseases do not go blind. Defects in their ophthalmic systems can prohibit seeing well, but total blindness is very rare.(2) The majority of the visually impaired population is at least partially sighted and capable of handling most daily living activities with the use of assistive optical and non-optical devices. Those who are without functional vision can benefit also from non-optical devices, in addition to adaptive techniques, Braille, and mobility aids.

99% of all normal daily living activities can be accomplished without eyesight.(3) Blindness at any level is manageable with proper education and rehabilitation intervention. Continued support of vision research is indeed necessary, but to believe that blindness is “the worst ailment that can happen” is to exaggerate the comparative functional value of eyesight and to deprecate the burdens of truly debilitating conditions. More significantly, such thinking reinforces the fear of losing vision, which can lead to chronic depression and devalued quality of life in those who are faced with it.

A large number of resources are available for those who would like to learn more about living well with vision loss, starting with this website. Living with blindness is challenging, but it is not as dreadful as the unenlightened might believe.
(1) Public Attitudes About Eye and Vision Health. Adrienne W. Scott, MD, et al (JAMA Ophthalmol. Published online August 04, 2016)
(2) Vision Problems in the U.S. Published online by Prevent Blindness.
(3) An Examination of Sensory Contributions to Independent Activities of Daily Living. Dan Roberts. (Published online 2011)