You Too Can Be Legally Blind for $5.99!

Well, at least you can experience legal blindness for next to nothing. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The recent news of a legally blind man becoming governor of New York has the world rethinking the capabilities of the blind. To recap the media coverage, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson took over the office of the morally-blind Eliot Spitzer. Governor Paterson, as reported by the New York Times, is totally blind in his left eye and legally-blind in his right eye. He is reported to have 20/400 vision, which means he can barely see objects from 20 feet away what the average person can see 400 feet away.

All the media coverage is also dispelling myths regarding legal blindness. In this blog post I want to do my professional duty to de-mystify and demonstrate legal blindness.

The United States Congress says that if a person still sees 20/200 vision, or worse, after glasses and/or contacts, then they are legally blind. It also states that if someone has only 20 degrees of peripheral vision, or less, they are also considered legally blind.

The misunderstanding occurs when the average person confuses “total blindness” with “legal blindness.” Let’s give some examples.








As you can see, someone who is barely legally blind, as depicted above, is not even close to being totally blind. This explains why Gov. Paterson, with 20/400 vision, walks the hallways without assistance and can recognize faces at conversation distance. However, visual details and contrast are dramatically reduced, which limits these individuals in certain activities, such as driving and reading.

If you’ve ever wanted to experience 20/200 vision just visit your local pharmacy. Find a pair of reading glasses labeled with a power of +3.00 and put them on (that’s the $5.99 part), or if you already wear vision correction, put them on over your current glasses or contacts. Now look off in the distance. Instant 20/200 vision!

Want to try 20 degrees of peripheral vision? Fold a sheet of paper in half. Punch a half-hole in the middle of the crease with a standard hole punch so that when you unfold the paper you have a single circular hole. Now hold the paper about one inch away from your eye and look through the hole. Instant legal blindness!

In no way do I wish to diminish the severity of blindness. The achievements of these individuals is astounding, especially in a world that is designed for those of us with 20/20 vision.


13 Responses to You Too Can Be Legally Blind for $5.99!

  1. Angie says:

    i just found out today that my vision is 20/400 without corrective lenses. i was at a yearly eye-check and i asked my optometrist what i would say if someone asked me what my vision was, and he said “20/400” and my jaw hit the floor! but he said i’m not legally blind cuz it can be corrected with lenses. but still! this whole time i thought i had like, 20/80 or something… 20/400!! @.@

  2. Kayla says:

    Thanks for posting this example of 20/400 vision. My husband has 20/400 and he’s been trying to explain to me for forever how it looks, but I just couldn’t picture it. Now I have an idea of what he sees. Thanks!

  3. Kathie says:

    I just had cataract surgery with corrective lens implants…unreal! I was 20/400 and now am 20/20 for the first time in my life. it is life changing…and no one else can “see” the change so it is strange.

  4. Jack Hodges says:

    Great. I now know what 20/200 and 20/400 vision is like. But I expected them to be more blurry than what they are. If I guessed I would guess the the 20/400 picture was that representing 20/200 vision. Heres a little request. I would love to know how you made these pictures and can you do a picture representing 20/40 vision. Thanks.

    • eidauk says:

      Great comment Jack. That’s one of the reasons I wrote that post. Our brain fills in a lot of missing information. We can make out shapes, colors, and large details with 20/400 vision. However, small details, like lettering on a road sign, are gone. I estimated the blur for these images by adding plus lenses (used for correcting farsightedness) until I couldn’t see the 20/200 or 20/400 letter on the eye chart. I then walked outside with those same lenses to see what details I could and could not see. I then blurred the images to approximate that same loss of detail.

  5. Lisa Jones says:

    Can you do one for 20/25?

    • eidauk says:

      Thanks for the question, Lisa. 20/25 is so close in clarity to 20/20 vision that you may not even notice a difference if I did create a simulation.

  6. TMc says:

    Hi. I’ve been trying to figure out how to experience 20/200 vision for a while and have not had any luck until finding your website. Why is this so hard to find if it is so easy to do? I have been unable to find it on any other websites.

    My son has homonymous hemianopsia as well as optic nerve pallor and I have been trying to figure out how to simulate his condition so I can get an idea of what he can see.

  7. TMc says:

    Also, is there a formula? For instance, would 20/400 be 6.00 reading glasses?

    • eidauk says:

      TMc, thanks for the comment and question. The reason why you won’t find many websites with this is simply because it’s estimated and varies somewhat from person to person. You can ask your optometrist to simulate your son’s vision for you. I do it quite regularly with spouses that have great vision. Seems to add more empathy for the poorly-seeing spouse. A homonymous hemi, as you know, is a complete loss of vision on either the right or left half of the vision. This can be simulated by buying a dollar store pair of reading glasses, popping out the lenses, and blocking out entirely the right or left side of the vision of both eyes, including the gap between the frame edge and the face. To get the full effect, you can’t move your eyes. You have to move your head and keep your eyes straight relative to your head.

      Hope this helps.

      • TMc says:

        It does help, thanks. Also, thanks for the ultra quick reply. I was also thinking about attempting to produce a device of some sort that would enable kids in his class to get an idea of what he is seeing. Could having young kids try on reading glasses for a moment damage their vision at all?

  8. Scott says:

    I have 20/200 vision without correction. For me, I just have to take out my contacts 😀

    Btw, the photo with the 20/200 vision simulation is very, very accurate. That’s exactly how I see.

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