There is no question that, for the 39 million people who are blind, worldwide, each and every one have been dramatically affected by their disability.
Blindness, defined simply, is the level of vision (whether extremely poor or completely nonexistent) at which point the everyday visual tasks are made impossible. Legal blindness- the level of reduced vision that qualifies a person for blindness benefits in the US- is considered vision of 20/200 or less and/or a field of vision of 20 degrees or less. The most common causes of blindness worldwide include cataracts (48%), glaucoma (12%), and macular degeneration (9%). The remaining percentage is made up of corneal disease, diabetes, and childhood blindness, among other diseases.
Over one million Americans fall under the category of legally blind. Fortunately, as devastating as it is to lose one’s sight, US citizens have a plethora of resources to sift through. These resources include financial stipends and grants, Braille translations and “talking” electronic devices, as well as specialized schools and employment services. Due to the technological advances and programs offered by our nation, as well as the majority of developed nations, the blind are now enabled to live more “normal” lives than was ever possible for previous generations.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for underdeveloped nations, wherein 90% of world blindness occurs. The affected individuals in these areas are not only denied the disability rights and resources Westerners are afforded, but are also presented additional challenges specific to their cultures and economies. To be blind in many of these regions contributes to the inability to work (90% are unemployed), a shorter life expectancy (1/3 shorter life span), and the loss of social standing. All this, while the science and resources are completely available to prevent or cure three quarters of all blindness. These regions simply have not been provided with the tools to see.
Hope is on the horizon, however. For many organization have risen up to begin meeting these needs, significantly decreasing world blindness rates in the past two decades. The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), for example, is a non-profit company dedicated to restoring sight across the globe in what has been coined “a medical revolution”. For a material cost of less than $25, and a total cost of under $100 per patient, HCP is able to deliver high-quality cataract surgery to remote areas. In a typical day, surgical teams will restore sight to over one hundred people. As they restore vision, they bring life-change and hope, not only for the individuals with blindness, but for their families and communities as well.