Hiding One’s Low Vision

Hiding One’s Low Vision

Posted under Eye Conditions, Living With Low Vision, Low Vision Info

My 89 year old father-in-law has wet macular degeneration in both eyes. He has trouble reading when he is away from home if he doesn’t bring his lighted magnifier with him. But he won’t. So when he is at a medical office, store, restaurant, etc and he has to read or look at a form he is unable to see the material well enough to even know what it’s about and the office staff or store clerk have no idea that he has low vision and can’t see to read.   Yet he doesn’t want to bring any low vision aid with him and he doesn’t like telling anyone that he can’t see well. We were often frustrated by his desire to hide his low vision rather than letting others know about his advanced macular degeneration. Come to find out he’s not alone.

Dr. Robert Massof is a professor of ophthalmology and neuroscience and holds positions at  the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, Wilmer Eye Institute, and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.   At a 2006 conference he addressed the National Federation for the Blind with these observations:

“The major difference between low vision and blindness is the person’s attitude toward his or her visual impairment. People who confidently identify themselves as blind have accepted blindness as a personal trait. People who identify themselves as having low vision tend to struggle with trying to function as if they were normally sighted. It is not unusual for people with low vision to try to conceal their visual impairments and avoid challenging situations in order to avoid appearing incompetent. They will avoid using technology and alternative methods in public that identify them as blind.”

When I read his remarks it helped me to better understand my father-in-law and perhaps his comments will help you too with your loved ones.  Because this population often tries to hide their vision loss they are less apt to go out and socialize, attend an event, shop for a gift or go for a walk. They become home bound often by choice which in turn leads to more isolation and then depression.   Fear that others will find out that one can’t see well or fear that one may do something embarrassing are often what keep people at home and from venturing out.

There are ways to address and overcome the need to hide one’s low vision.  At this time my father-in-law  is still uncomfortable using a white cane but now wears a pin that says, “I’m Visually Impaired.”    Participate in a support group so that you can share your fears and hear about the fears of others with low vision.  Just knowing that those who live with vision loss share your same concerns can be helpful in overcoming attitudes that keep one from living life to its fullest potential.


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Leslie Degner, RN, BSN