What is the difference between low vision and poor vision?

Outside of the vision community, the average person likely doesn’t know what we mean when we use the term ‘low vision’. It becomes synonymous with the term ‘poor vision.’


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines low vision as best-corrected visual acuity (detail vision with glasses or contacts) between 20/60 and 20/400 or a visual field between 10 and 20 degrees in diameter.

Valley Vision Optometry defines low vision as that which prevents someone from doing the things that they want to do.

Eye conditions that can cause low vision are

  • macular degeneration
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • stroke-hemianopsia
  • Stargardt disease
  • ocular albinism
  • retinitis pigmentosa

There does need to be some usable vision to work with.

Common tasks that people seek out our care for:

  • Reading
  • Driving
  • Watching TV


Dr. Golemba and his colleagues in the International Academy of Low Vision Specialists have a process to match the correct device to each patient to help them achieve their goals.


As the first definition of low vision above states, we can’t fully correct the eye condition. What we do is enhance the parts of the visual system that are still functional.

This is a typical low vision patient:

Meet Jane. Jane has macular degeneration. She found out that new glasses won’t help and there isn’t a cure. She can’t read her Bible anymore or see the numbers well enough on her bills. It’s also hard to tell what is happening on tv. She feels frustrated and down, but she is motivated to find a solution. Jane has low vision. She is a perfect candidate for a low vision evaluation and rehabilitation.

Here are some questions to identify if someone is a low vision candidate.

  • Do you have a vision condition?
  • Are there things that you can no longer do as a result?
  • Does not being able to do these things frustrate you?

If the answer to all three of these questions is ‘Yes,’ then the person would benefit from a low vision consultation. If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No,’ they do not have low vision (they may have poor vision.)


Take the example of someone who is hard of hearing, George. George has mild hearing loss (poor hearing). He mentions it to his primary care physician, but it is not severe enough to warrant a referral to an audiologist. Instead, George goes out and buys an over-the-counter amplification device to hear his tv better.


Then there is Dennis. Dennis has more severe hearing loss than George. He can’t hear some tones, like the seatbelt alarm in his car, and he is concerned that his hearing could put him in physical danger. His primary care physician referred him to an audiologist. His audiologist prescribed Dennis a specific hearing aid to hear the missing tones and live confidently again.


Optometrists with a special interest in Low Vision are the audiologists of the visual world. We work with those with moderate to severe vision loss who are frustrated with their inability to function in their everyday lives. We assess and provide custom, physical solutions for the things they want to do. Often, we see our patients for the initial assessment and then only one more time at the dispense.


Ever since William Feinbloom introduced the first low vision glasses in 1936, there have been solutions that, for whatever reason, are not known to the general public (unlike hearing aids.) People come into our office frustrated, having been told that there is nothing more that can be done for their vision.
There is life after vision loss.