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Legally Blind - What does it mean

Legal blindness is a level of visual impairment that has been defined by law either to limit allowed activities (such as driving) for safety reasons or to determine eligibility for government-funded disability benefits in the form of educational, service, or monetary assistance.

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) defines legal blindness as follows:

Limitation of your field of view such that the widest diameter of the visual field in your better eye subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.

Reduced central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in your better eye with use of the best eyeglass lens to correct your eyesight.

Stevie Wonder is Legally Blind

In the United States, clarity of eyesight almost always is expressed by a measurement system called Snellen visual acuity. In this system, you identify smaller and smaller letters on an eye chart, and the results are expressed as a fraction standardized for a viewing distance of 20 feet.

If you have 20/20 Snellen visual acuity, this means the smallest letters you can discern from a distance of 20 feet (the first number in the fraction) are the same size as the smallest letters a person with historically defined "normal vision" can see at a distance of 20 feet (the second number in the fraction).

But if you have 20/200 visual acuity, the smallest letters you can identify from a distance of 20 feet are the size of the smallest letters a person with historically defined "normal vision" can see from a much greater distance — 200 feet, in this case.

Andrea Bocelli is legally blind

So your central vision — the part of your eyesight you use to see and identify objects you are looking directly at — is much worse (10 times worse, in fact) than that of a normally sighted person.

As long as your vision can be corrected to better than 20/200 with glasses or contacts, you are not considered legally blind, no matter how much nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism you have.

There are many reasons why you could be born with a visual disability or become legally blind during your lifetime.

The four leading causes of legal blindness in the United States are age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

Optic neuritis and neuropathy also can cause legal blindness, as can a number of congenital conditions, such as congenital cataracts, infantile glaucoma, and retinopathy of prematurity.

The Social Security Administration provides benefits for the legally blind, and there are federal and state tax deductions as well. There also is a variety of non-governmental resources aimed at making it easier to lead a normal life despite severe vision impairment.