Tirohanga pōhara Low vision and blindness

Low vision is an eyesight problem that makes it hard to do everyday activities. It cannot be fixed with glasses, contact lenses, or other standard treatments like medicine or surgery.

When you are considered legally blind

Types of low vision

There are several types of low vision, determined by the disease or condition that caused your low vision.

The most common types of low vision are:

  • central vision loss (not being able to see things in the centre of your vision)
  • peripheral vision loss (not being able to see things out of the corners of your eyes)
  • night blindness (not being able to see in low light)
  • blurry or hazy vision.

Causes of low vision and blindness

Low vision and blindness can be caused by conditions that only affect your eye or affect your whole body. These conditions include:

  • age-related macular degeneration
  • glaucoma
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • cataracts
  • eye cancer
  • albinism
  • brain injury
  • genetic conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa.

Symptoms of low vision and blindness

You may have low vision if you cannot see well enough to do things like:

  • read
  • drive
  • recognise people’s faces
  • tell colours apart
  • see your TV or computer screen clearly.

Diagnosing low vision and blindness

If you notice any changes in your vision or are concerned about your eyesight, see your optometrist, healthcare provider, or ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor).

They will ask you questions about your vision and perform an eye examination.

Treating low vision and blindness

The treatment depends on the cause of your low vision or blindness. Some conditions such as diabetic retinopathy can be treated by laser or eye surgery to restore and improve your vision.

Conditions such as age-related macular degeneration cannot be cured. But there are vision aids to help you do tasks, and treatments to help prevent further loss of vision.

Preventing low vision and blindness

It is important to have regular eye examinations so any eye problems you develop are diagnosed early. This means the problem can be treated as soon as possible.

Have an eye examination every 2 years after the age of 40, unless your optometrist or ophthalmologist suggests otherwise.

After 65, you may have them more often, so your optometrist can diagnose and treat any sight-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) as soon as possible.

    • Use a dark tablecloth with white plates so you can see the table edges and food more prominently.
    • Paint white lines on the edges of steps and ramps.
    • Install contrasting frames or switch-plates around light switches and power points.
    • Use brightly coloured accessories, such as cushions and vases, so it is easier to find the furniture.
    • Paint door frames, door knobs and handrails a contrasting colour so they stand out more.
    • Install bright lighting in areas where you need to see details, such as the bathroom, workshop and kitchen.
    • Make sure hallways, stairwells and entrances are well lit so you can find your way around safely, especially at night.
    • Put desk lamps or motion sensor lights in areas such as the pantry or darker corners of the kitchen or office. Aim the light at the work, not your eyes.
    • Use bold labels or stickers of varying shapes to make it easier to identify things.
    • Use texture to help you identify things. For example, Blind Low Vision NZ has textured labels you can use to identify frequently used positions on your oven dial and microwave panel.
    • Use devices, such as TVs, phones, and watches, with large display screens or faces and bigger buttons. This can make it easier to tell the time, use the phone, change television channels and even weigh yourself.
  • It is easier to find things if you know where they are. If you are not used to keeping things tidy, it may take some time to get into the habit, but life will be easier once you do.

    • Eliminate clutter — get rid of things you do not use.
    • Always put kitchen items and clothing away in the same place so you can find them easily.
    • Ask others to tell you if your clothes are clean and tidy.
    • Replace worn carpeting. Remove or tape down loose mats and other hazards on the floor, such as electrical cords.
    • Keep access areas and walkways between furniture clear, push chairs under the table and fully close drawers and cupboards.
    • Install grab bars and handrails.
    • Keep the telephone where you can easily reach it.
    • Mop up spills as they happen.
    • Use non-slip mats in the shower or bath.
  • Asking for help is often the hardest thing to do but it can make a big difference to your life. Staff in many shops are trained to help people with low vision. Even passersby are often happy to help if you ask them.

    Blind Low Vision NZ offers recreation and support services, and Age Concern can also help you find services and support.

  • Low vision is common among older people. As one of the side effects of low vision is a feeling of loneliness, finding a friend or support system in your community can be very helpful. It can also help you learn tips and tricks that have worked for other people in the same situation.

  • Coping with low vision is not simple. Developing your own tricks and methods takes time and effort. Go easy on yourself and keep trying. Eventually, you will find the best solutions for your specific visual impairment.

  • It is important that you keep your interests, hobbies and social contacts. Once you have decided how to do things, practise doing them. The more you practise your new methods, the easier things will become.

Related websites


Videos about causes of vision loss, showing they affect sight. Produced by Blind Low Vision NZ.

Blind and Low Vision NZ

Information and support for people with low vision.


For personal stories about coping with low vision and blindness, follow the link, scroll down the page and open the 'Personal stories' block.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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