Sensory impairments are more common in people with learning disabilities than in the general population.

It has been estimated that around one in three people with learning disabilities is likely to have a sensory impairment. The Royal National Institute of Blind people define a visually impaired person as the following:

“a person, who is blind, who has an impairment of visual function which cannot be improved by the use of corrective lenses,  who is unable, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book, or who is unable, through physical disability, to focus or move his/her eyes to the extent that would normally be acceptable for reading.”

The Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002, which came into effect a year later, removed some of the legal barriers experienced by blind people and their helpers in their efforts to present intellectual property in an ‘accessible copy.

Issues affecting people with learning disabilities

  • People with a learning disability may sometimes be unaware that they have a sight problem, or have difficulty in communicating it to other people. 
  • Sight problems that go unrecognised can lead to a reduced quality of life, unnecessary damage to the eye, and increased dependency on others.
  • If an individual is experiencing problems with their sight and is unable to communicate what is happening, they may become confused, angry or upset (SeeAbility, 2010)
  • Visual impairments are more common in people with more severe or profound learning disabilities and in people with Down's syndrome (RNIB, 2009)
  • Detecting eye problems at an early stage is very beneficial, both for treatment and for personal adaption.  A short eye test can determine whether someone needs glasses to support their eyesight, or if they should be referred on for specialist care from an ophthalmologist. If required, there are ways of testing eyesight which do not require individuals to talk or read.

How many people with a learning disability have a visual impairment?

Research (commissioned by SeeAbility and RNIB 2010) shows that one in three people with a learning disability are affected by a sight problem. Adults in the UK with a learning disability are ten times more likely than the rest of the population to be blind or partially sighted, with six out of ten needing to wear glasses. (SeeAbility, RNIB 2010)