Low Vision

According to recent estimates, 90 per cent of visually impaired Europeans have low or reduced vision. Furthermore, with its ageing population, Europe faces rapidly growing demographics and a tremendous need for low vision care in the near future. Approximately one out of three people over the age of 75 has Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which is the most common cause of reduced vision.

Europe's low vision needs can be met if low vision care includes dedicated centres staffed with trained professionals, early intervention services and education support for children as well as comprehensive low vision and rehabilitation services for youths and adults. Technical aids such as magnification tools and softwares are important to help people with low vision lead active and fulfiling lives but Design For All in public places remains an important goal to ensure they can go about their daily tasks independently and comfortably.

EBU believes that low vision services in Europe have much to share and learn from one another. Role models and examples of good practice from different countries can be implemented everywhere while taking into consideration cultural variations and differences.















Published in EBU Newsletter 63 (July-August 2008)

LOW VISION IN EUROPE

By Alenka Bera, Fritz Buser and Krister Inde


According to estimates, 2 % of Europeans are visually impaired and 90 % of these have low or reduced vision. This raises the question of terminology which apparently still needs to be settled so that accurate data and strategic planning for this group of people can be achieved. The issue of the definition of low or reduced vision matters because access to services and support largely depends on whether or not an individual falls into a certain category. Efforts are being made to adopt a functional definition which would not only take the medical aspects into account but also the impact on the basic daily skills of the person with reduced vision.

Approximately one out of three people over the age of 75 has Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which is the most common cause of reduced vision. With its ageing population, Europe faces a tremendous need for low vision care in the near future. In responding to this need, however, we should not neglect early intervention services and education support for children as well as comprehensive low vision and rehabilitation services for youths and adults. We need to acknowledge that “a partially sighted person tries to use his or her visual capacities as much and for as long as possible, even if these capacities deteriorate over time.”

Low vision services include three important aspects: magnification, appropriate lighting and emotional support. These services must be provided by properly trained and highly skilled professionals as well as low vision organisations.

The most advanced service delivery systems in Europe are found in the Nordic countries. Together Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark have 90 low vision centres. The centre in Stockholm is the biggest with 82 staff members and five multidisciplinary units of excellence. The Spanish low vision centres, created through ONCE, are modelled after Swedish services. In Italy low vision care has been incorporated in 14 centres. In Switzerland there is a network of about 20 multidisciplinary centres specialised in low vision and blindness.

Some countries are also involved in research and development. In Great Britain a new project aims to discover the best way of using residual eccentric vision and in Germany the EU-funded AMD Read Project has involved several research partners.

Service development is a great challenge in many countries in Eastern Europe. Efforts are being made in countries such as Poland and Hungary, but it is urgent to meet low vision needs as we are facing rapidly growing demographics. However, these Eastern European countries should not be seen as the only places suffering from underprovided low vision care. Countries like France, Germany and England are developing countries in terms of low vision service delivery.

It was an ophthalmologist who took the initiative to develop the first low vision clinic in Europe in Copenhagen in 1960. That is also the case in countries like Germany and Italy. But where and who is not what matters. According to the Oslo Document “Toward a Reduction in the Global Impact of Low Vision from 2004”, instigators may come from rehabilitation, medicine or education. The important thing is that we as stakeholders can inspire entrepreneurs, researchers and practitioners to start providing low vision services and training for children, adults and the elderly now.

Visually impaired organizations must also play an educative role to raise awareness on what partial sight is, on our specific needs and the adequate solutions. Partially sighted people are too often afraid of sighted people’s reaction when using specific devices, but using low vision aids in public is and will be a normal situation that we should not be ashamed of.

This raises another issue: promoting the principles of design and society for all so that access to the built environment, media and public services is ensured and the need for specialized solutions and adjustments is minimized.

EBU has shown great awareness of the special needs entailed by low or reduced vision by establishing a dedicated Low Vision Steering Group. A Low Vision session was held during the last General Assembly and a Low Vision seminar will take place over the current working period as part of EBU’s Strategic Plan. However, low vision should not be seen as a separate issue and should be on the working agenda of each Commission since EBU is committed to supporting both blind and partially sighted people.

EBU is made up of blind and partially sighted people so the knowledge is there and the responsibility is on us. Out-reaching and raising awareness is basically a matter of good campaigning. We should not just wait for things to change, we need to create change.

Low vision services in Europe have much to share and learn from one another. Role models and examples of good practice from different countries can be implemented everywhere while taking into consideration cultural variations and differences.

Further information from Alenka Bera, Low Vision SG Coordinator, alenka.bera@guest.arnes.si