As Florida ages, it’s time to talk vision | Commentary

Imagine: A man who is blind goes out to dinner with his wife. But when the waiter comes to take their order, he ignores the husband. Instead, he turns to the wife and asks her what her husband would like to eat.

That’s one version of a real story I’ve heard countless times from clients at Lighthouse Central Florida, where we provide rehabilitation and training for individuals of all ages who are blind or visually impaired. Many well-meaning individuals simply don’t realize that a person with limited vision can be just as capable of ordering a meal — or cooking, cleaning, using a computer, crossing a busy intersection or filing taxes — as someone with perfect eyesight.

As Florida’s population ages, it becomes more critical that people do understand what it means to be blind or vision-impaired. After all, the three leading causes of non-correctable blindness nationwide are age-related: macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.

All told, the occurrence of vision loss in Florida is expected to more than double over the next three decades, due primarily to an increase in our population of adults over 65. And addressing that public health crisis is about so much more than eyesight.

In many cases, blindness is comorbid with other health conditions, like arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, hearing loss and depression. According to a 2022 analysis by VisionServe Alliance, vision loss also disproportionately impacts Hispanic and African American communities and low-income adults.

But perhaps the most notable effect of vision loss is an internal one: Losing your eyesight can feel like losing independence and connection. As time goes on, you may struggle to do things you used to take for granted — reading a good book, playing cards with friends, going for a walk in the park, cooking at home — and that can make the world feel like a very limited, isolating place.

At Lighthouse Central Florida, we know that isn’t true. With training, assistive tools, accessibility and health care, any person with vision loss, of any age, can live a full and fulfilling life — and we’re working proactively to be ready for our community’s needs in the years to come.

A person with limited vision can change the layout of their home for easier navigation, attach textured tags to everyday clothing and items, or use a voice-activated vacuum to clean the house. Practical training can help a person learn to read Braille or safely cross busy streets. And cutting-edge devices can also be a game-changer: New smart cameras are capable of identifying products, counting paper currency, and recognizing familiar faces at a distance.

Relearning the skills of daily life and being surrounded by a supportive, positive community are important for people with vision loss, and it’s especially critical for seniors. Vision rehabilitation can empower older adults to continue personal passions, socialize with friends, and explore the community around them with confidence. And they can stay intellectually stimulated and physically engaged, laying the foundation for a longer, healthier life.

Navigating the world with impaired vision comes with plenty of challenges … but in many cases, the biggest limitations are those imposed by society’s assumptions and misconceptions. It’s time we changed the way we think about aging and eyesight. Together, we can tackle stigma, inspire hope, and improve access to care that empowers lives.

Kyle Johnson is the president and CEO of Lighthouse Central Florida, provider of rehabilitation services for persons living with blindness and visual impairment in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

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