What Is Legal Blindness?

The following article discusses the U.S. Government’s definition of legal blindness.

What Is Legal Blindness? in Olympia

Legal blindness as defined by the U.S. Government does not mean that a person has no vision at all, nor is it synonymous with a medical diagnosis of low vision. That is to say, that while a person with a diagnosis of low vision may in certain circumstances meet the U.S. Government’s standard of legal blindness, the reverse is not necessarily true. Only a low vision optometrist is qualified to make a diagnosis of low vision.

Legal blindness reflects the U.S. Government's definition of the term which may entitle people to government disability benefits, and will likely prevent them from legally driving a motor vehicle in many states.  This definition of legal blindness takes into account visual acuity and visual field. Visual acuity refers to the sharpness of vision at a distance of 20 feet. Visual field refers to all that the eye can see when it focuses on a fixed point. 

The U.S. government’s definition is as follows: 

  • If you cannot reach better than 20/200 with corrective measures in the best eye
  • If you have 20 degrees or less of your field of vision
American Family Vision Clinic

What Conditions Cause Legal Blindness?

Causes of blindness include:

  • Blindness from birth: Some people may be born with visual deficiencies that meet this criterion.
  • Blindness from medical and eye conditions:  There are many disorders and types of eye disease that can affect the optic nerve such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, best disease, stargardt, retinitis pigmentosa, ocular albinism, age-related macular degeneration, and other ocular disorders
  • Injury/trauma: Injuries can lead to visual deficits that meet this legal standard.

Symptoms or Conditions of Possible Legal Blindness

Signs of possible visual deficits that meet this standard are not monolithic and they will vary according to individuals. Schedule an appointment right away if you notice any of the following:

  • difficulty with peripheral vision
  • tunnel vision
  • difficulty with central vision
  • blind spots
  • difficulty with night vision
  • cloudiness



Speak with our low vision optometrist to discuss how to proceed following a diagnosis of legal blindness. The emotional impact can be difficult. The good news is that with proper intervention regain their ability to do the things they loved doing before vision loss

Symptoms or Conditions of Possible Legal Blindness
Various interventions include:

Various interventions include:

  • Vision aids and vision devices such as magnifiers, specialty glasses, lighting, assistive technologies, prisms, and telescopic optical aids.
  • Vision therapy or rehabilitation to learn how to maximize residual vision
  • Emotional help: Speaking with psychologists, social workers, and emotional health counselors are often very helpful for those learning to cope emotionally with this condition.

Common Questions

Not necessarily. There are degrees of blindness. It is a government definition of visual impairment, but it doesn't mean that you have complete blindness.
Many people have found support on our page, resources and links for people with low vision.
What Is Legal Blindness?
Dr. Zurcher cartoon

Definition of Legal Blindness

You can't diagnose yourself with legal blindness. Contact our low vision optometrist to schedule an examination to assess visual acuity and field of vision, both of which are essential for a thorough evaluation. It is relatively easy to determine if a person meets the legal criteria for blindness. If you have been diagnosed with legal blindness, speak with our optometrist to create a plan for maximizing your vision and living a normal life. Patients with low vision visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of low vision services for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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