Information Now

Visual Impairments

As you get older your eyesight changes. 98% of people over the age of 50 years old need glasses to correct their vision.

It is important to have regular eye tests to maintain a good level of vision and so that appropriate new glasses and lenses can be purchased. You can find out more about eye tests in our section on Opticians.

What is a Visual Impairment?

There are a number of eye conditions which typically affect older people. They include;


This condition makes the lens inside the eye cloudy, instead of clear. If you have a cataract you may find that your vision seems misty and blurred, especially in strong sunlight.

Cataracts are most commonly age-related. Most people aged over 60 years old will have some clouding of the lens, which may or may not affect their vision. Most cases of cataracts can be treated easily though, by a surgical procedure to remove the cloudy lens and to replace it with an artificial clear lens. This is generally performed under local anaesthetic and you can usually go home the same day. Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the NHS.

For further details, see the RNIB’s information on Cataracts.

Macular Degeneration

This condition is when fluid leaks behind the retina and a black spot appears in the centre of a person’s vision. People with this condition find it difficult to read, watch television, and recognise people.

If you have this condition, there are a variety of optical aids available which can help you to make the most of your remaining sight.

For further details, see the RNIB’s information on Age-related macular degeneration.


This condition is the result of a build-up of pressure in the eye, causing injury to the optic nerve at the back of the eye.  In the early stages, there are no specific symptoms and regular check ups with the optician/optometrist are important to catch it early.

In the majority of cases, glaucoma occurs over a period of time. If it is found and treated early enough, vision will not be lost.

Glaucoma can run in the family and you should tell your optician if there is a family history. Eye tests for the over 40s should include a screening for this condition. People aged over 40 years old who are related to someone with glaucoma can also claim free eye tests.

For further details, see International Glaucoma Association’s free and downloadable information on Glaucoma.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetics may experience some problems with their eyesight. Changes at the back of the eye may result in your vision becoming patchy and blurred. Often you won’t notice any changes in your vision in the early stages, so regular eye tests are very important.

Laser treatment is usually given to stop this condition getting any worse. You can also stop your sight deteriorating by controlling your diabetes.

For further details, see the RNIB’s information on Diabetes related eye conditions.


A stroke can damage the function of the brain and can cause problems with your eyesight. You may be unable to see things on the side of your body that has been affected.

Registering as Sight Impaired

If you have serious sight loss you can register with Newcastle City Council as being sight impaired or seriously sight impaired (this used to be known as registering as partially sighted or blind). Being registered as seriously sight impaired doesn’t usually mean that you can’t see at all; most people who are registered do have some useful vision.

Registering is confidential and can help you to get practical support. It is a ‘passport’ to concessions and can help when claiming some benefits.

  • To register as sight impaired, or seriously sight impaired, an examination needs to be carried out by a consultant ophthalmologist (eye specialist). If you are not already attending an eye clinic, a referral can be made by your GP.
  • If the consultant carries out the the tests and you are eligible, they will complete a Certificate of Vision Impairment. With your permission, this certificate will then be sent to Adult Services, the Department of Health and your GP.

The Benefits of Registration

There are two categories of registration:

  • Severely sight impaired (blind)
  • Sight impaired (partially sighted)

If you are registered as seriously sight impaired you are entitled to receive:

  • Blind Person’s personal income tax allowance
  • Free NHS sight tests
  • A reduction of 50% on the television licence fee
  • Car parking concessions under the Blue Badge Scheme
  • Free postage on items marked ‘articles for the blind’
  • Membership to local travel schemes, such as TaxiCard

You may also be entitled to receive:

If you are registered as sight impaired you are entitled to receive:

For more information on the registration process and the benefits of registering, contact RNIB.

Practical Help

Aids and Equipment

There are a number of practical aids to help you with daily living. Examples of these include talking alarm clocks and watches, task lighting, bath water level guards and iron guards. These kinds of aids are available from:-

  • Disability North -you can try equipment at their Independent Living Centre
  • Disabled Living Foundation
  • Community Health & Social Care Direct at Newcastle City Council can provide specialist information and advice on sensory issues or refer you for a needs assessment.  They work with adults over 18 with a sensory impairment such as blindness, partially sighted, deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. They may visit you at home to carry out a needs assessment and can then agree a plan of action with you

Following the assessment they may recommend;

  • equipment such as personal loops to help hear the TV, portable doorbells, liquid level indicators, or talking clocks.
  • minor adaptations to your home or property for example to improve lighting.
  • an ongoing care service in your home, day care or a short break to relieve a carer.

To give you more choice and control, direct payments are available so you can choose what equipment and support you would like to purchase.

Any training, equipment or advice is provided free to Newcastle residents; but for services such as home care or an ongoing Direct Payment, there is a financial assessment.

If you want to get out and about, there are two websites that may help you:

Vocal Eyes finds theatres and museums with audio-described performances, tours, or buildings and places with audio-described introductions

AccessAble gives you information about how accessible a place/building is.

RNIB React System

Newcastle is one of the first places in the country to use the RNIB React system, with 17 speaking signs installed on Northumberland Street, Blackett Street, Percy Street and Thomas Street and on the way to the city’s eye clinic at the Royal Victoria Infirmary. A further 15 signs have also been installed on the Metro system, with five more placed at the new look Haymarket Metro station.

The React system sees speaker units fixed to lampposts which are triggered by an electronic fob carried by users. When the speaker is activated it tells the user where they are and what is around them.

Fobs are available free of charge on short term loan to people visiting the city from tourist information centres, the RVI and Nexus travel offices. A deposit will be required for fobs from Nexus travel offices or tourist information centres that will be refuned when the fob is returned. Longer term loans are available from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Newcastle Sensory Support Service and the Newcastle Society for the Blind.

More information is available from Newcastle City Council Accessible Services.

Accessible Information Standard

If you have a sensory loss or disability you are entitled by law to accessible information about your health care and support from the NHS and publicly funded social care services. For example this could include large print or a professional BSL interpreter at medical appointments.

Services must:

  • Find out your information needs
  • Record them in a set way
  • Highlight them in your records so that staff meet your needs every time you use services
  • Share your information needs with other services e.g. if you give details to your GP then these can be shared with any hospital service you maybe referred to
  • Make sure you get support the way you need including when your needs vary. For example you may need to receive short letters in large print but need longer documents on audio.
  • Ask on a regular basis if your needs have changed

Remember – tell services this is your right to have your needs addressed and they have to do this by law (section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012)

Reading Assistance

Information Now has accessiblity software built in to the website. This means that Information Now can be read aloud to you. The colour, size and contrast of the web pages can be changed to make the website easier to read for people with visual impairments. To use this feature click the right hand corner of the page marked ‘Show Accessibility Options’. The Recite Me toolbar will open up and you can tailor the website to suit you best. You don’t need to download anything to your computer to use this software and it’s free! CIC Thunder is a free, talking computer software package promoted by It enables visually-impaired users to hear what is on the screen, access the internet, write e-mails and letters. Thunder can be used to access on-line banking, read scanned bank statements and bills, and keep track of family finances, overcoming many of the barriers to financial inclusion that visually-impaired people face. Available support includes email, a telephone helpline, newsletters and web resources.

BrowseAloud reads web pages aloud for people who find it difficult to read online. Reading large amounts of text on screen can be difficult for those with literacy and visual impairments. Browsealoud makes using the Internet easier for people who have:

  • Low literacy and reading skills
  • English as a second language
  • Dyslexia
  • Mild visual impairments

Local Information

Eye Clinic Liaison Service is based at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI). They can offer emotional support, advice and information at any stage of sight loss. You don’t need to be referred from another health professional and you don’t necessarily need an appointment. You may also be referred to other services.

Guide Dogs Newcastle offer a My Guide service in the North East. This service is designed to help you gain confidence, increase your independence and make new friends including joining new activities in your community.  A volunteer will be selected and matched to your needs to help you get around your area.

Newcastle Vision Support provide practical support for people with sight loss by offering services such as volunteer visiting, befriending, vision awareness training, outings, lunch clubs, specialist advice and information, newsletters in large print, braille, tape, and computer disc.

North Regional Association for Sensory Support (NRASS) provides a free advocacy scheme for people with hearing and sight loss. Their advocates are people who can support or represent you when dealing with everyday problems or in times of crisis. They can offer you support with information on how you can stand up for your rights, and they can be your ‘voice’ if you don’t have the confidence to stand up for yourself in formal situations.


Other Useful Information

  • Protected Telephone Services and Priority Repairs are available to help support people with long term conditions and disabilities. This helps to make sure that your phone line is working, so you can use it to stay in contact with others and in emergencies.
  • RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People)
  • Eye HealthAge UK’s Guide
  • The Cinemas Exhibitors’ Association (CEA) Card helps to ensure cinemas make reasonable adjustments for you if you need them because of a disability. With the card you can claim a free ticket for a carer or person accompanying you to the cinema. The card costs £6 . You can apply if you receive Disability Living Allowance; Attendance Allowance; Personal Independence Payment or Armed Forces Independence Payment or are registered as blind.
  • Seeing Ear runs an online library which provides books in a flexible format that can be downloaded by library members with a visual impairment.
  • is a website offering over 85,000 Old Time Radio programs available to be instantly listened to or downloaded for free.
  • Your Equipment Newcastle provides advice on daily living equipment – products that make daily living easier.


Please note – The content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you are feeling unwell, make an appointment to see your GP or contact NHS 111. In an emergency, dial 999.

Last updated: June 18, 2019

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