Sight Loss and Visual Impairments
It is important to keep your eyes healthy and to attend check ups with an optician, at least every two years. As you get older your eyesight changes. 98% of people over the age of 50 years old need glasses to correct their vision. You can find out more about eye tests in our section on Opticians. This article covers:
Depending on your level of sight loss, you might find you need help with some everyday activities like:
- recognising faces or street signs
- telling the time
- using a computer screen, keyboard or keypad
- using the phone and taking down messages.
Having sight loss doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying life. There are lots of ways you can make the most of your existing sight. It could be as simple as buying reading glasses or making a few changes to your home. In some cases, specialised equipment can also make things a lot easier. And it’s important to tell friends and family so they understand and can offer their support.
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.
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 Glaucoma UK’s free and downloadable information on Glaucoma.
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.
There are also several conditions which arise from other medical conditions, in particular: diabetes, brain damage and inherited genetic disorders:
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.
Hemianopia is caused by damage to the brain. The damage may cause loss of half of your visual field. This may be temporary or permanent depending on the extent of the brain damage.
There are a few types of hemianopia, depending on the parts of the brain involved. Your brain contains two halves:
- Left side. This half receives information from both eyes, processes it, and sends signals that allow you to see the right side of your visual world.
- Right side. This half receives information from both eyes, processes it, and sends signals that allow you to see the left side of your visual world.
These signals are carried through optic nerves, which cross over and connect in an area called the optic chiasm.
Damage to either side of the brain or these nerve pathways can cause different types of hemianopia:
- Homonymous hemianopia. This type affects the same side of each eye. For example, you might only be able to see out of the right half of each of your eyes.
- Heteronymous hemianopia. This type affects different sides of each eye. For example, you might only be able to see out the left side of your right eye and the right side of your left eye.
A stroke may lead to this condition.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina — which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. Common symptoms include difficulty seeing at night and a loss of side (peripheral) vision.
When you are registered as having sight loss you will be issued with a Certificate of Vision Impairment. This will state whether you are severely sight impaired (blind) or sight impaired (partially sighted). With your permission, this certificate will then be sent to the Council, the Department of Health and your GP.
Council staff will contact you within two weeks of receiving the form to complete the registration process and undertake a needs assessment.
Your assessment will start with a Sensory Support Specialist arranging to meet you at your home. They have the right skills and knowledge to help you, and you will be asked about your needs and what it is you want to achieve. They will give you information and advice.
There are some very significant advantages to getting registered. Firstly, it can make life more affordable by enabling you to claim a wide range of concessions. These include a half-price TV Licence, help with NHS costs, help with your Council Tax bill and tax allowances, leisure discounts and free public transport. Which concessions you are entitled to depends on whether you are registered as severely sight impaired or sight impaired.
If you are registered as sight impaired you are entitled to receive:
- a railcard and other rail travel concessions
- free access to BTs including you scheme
- protection by the Disability Discrimination Act
If you are registered as seriously sight impaired you are entitled to receive items above and:
- 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:
- free permanent loan of radios, cassette players and television sound receivers from the British Wireless for the Blind Fund contact Newcastle City Library or Newcastle Vision Support.to request equipment.
- help with telephone installation charges. Contact Community Health and Social Care Direct.
For more information on the registration process and the benefits of registering, contact RNIB.
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 where you can try out equipment
- Disabled Living Foundation have a living made easy website
- Your Equipment Newcastle – where you answer questions and receive a personal report based on occupational therapists expertise. You can buy products once you have read your report.
The Sensory support officer at the council will have advised you on minor aids and adaptations that will help you. These include:
- 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:
AccessAble gives you information about how accessible a place/building is.
In Your Pocket is a voice operated smartphone and media player, specifically designed for visually impaired people. In collaboration with RNIB and & O2 this app uses only a few voice commands to make calls, listen to books or get the newspaper read to you.
Braille is a language that is designed for visually impaired people and helps with literacy.
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 Vision Support.
More information is available from Newcastle City Council Accessible Services.
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.
- 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)
InformationNOW has accessibility 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!
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
- Mild visual impairments
Tyne Sound News is a registered charity, part of the Talking Newspaper Federation and provides an audio recording service for the visually impaired. Recordings are sent to listeners throughout the North East of England and elsewhere. Three regular productions provide local news, entertainment and 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.
Macular Society provides an advice and information helpline for those affected by macular disease and there is a support group that meets in Newcastle monthly. See our Events and Activities page for further 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 Connect Radio, the UK’s radio station for blind and partially sighted people. It’s available on Freeview 730 and online www.rnibconnectradio.org.uk
- 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.
- Radioechoes.com is a website offering over 85,000 Old Time Radio programs available to be instantly listened to or downloaded for free
- Infosound is an information service for vision-impaired (blind and partially-sighted) people in Great Britain. They cover any subject that deals with the practical aspects of living with sight loss. They continuously broadcast information around the clock and also provide an on-demand service where individual audio features can be selected and heard.
- British Blind Sport aims to give blind and partially sighted people the opportunity to participate in a range of sports.
- The Braillists Foundation is a community connecting Braille readers with Braille technology developers and funders. They have Braille courses, a Facebook group and a discussion forum.
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: January 21, 2021