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Kent Association for the Blind

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Services for people with a learning disability

KAB rehab workers are experienced in providing rehab services to people with learning disabilities. We’ll work to ensure that people with a learning disability and sight impairment can achieve their maximum level of independence and we'll give their families and carers help and advice so they are also able to support them; this can be on an individual basis or via one of our training courses. Regular eye health checks are important for everyone, and especially for people with learning disabilities as they are more likely to find it difficult to see properly. Opticians have special picture tests for people who find it difficult to speak or read and KAB's rehab workers can also give you advice on how to make eye tests more accessible.

KAB's Intervenor Service

This service provides one-to-one person-centred support, and is designed for adults who are congenitally deafblind, and who have a learning disability or additional physical disabilities, resulting in complex needs.

Contact KAB's intervenor service

Occasionally the service may also benefit a person with a single sensory impairment who also has significant additional disabilities, resulting in complex needs.


If you have a learning disability you are 10 times more likely to have a sight impairment.

60% of people with a learning disability should be wearing glasses.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability affects the way a person learns new things in any area of life.

A learning disability affects the way a person understands information and how they communicate. Around 1.5m people in the UK have a learning disability. This means they can have difficulty:

  • understanding new or complex information
  • learning new skills
  • coping independently

It is thought that up to 350,000 people have severe learning disabilities. This figure is increasing.

Mild, moderate or severe learning disability

A learning disability can be mild, moderate or severe. Some people with a mild learning disability can talk easily and look after themselves, but take a bit longer than usual to learn new skills. People with severe or profound learning disabilities may not be able to communicate at all and may have more than one disability.

Overall, the estimates suggest that in the UK today around 96,500 adults with learning disabilities are blind or partially sighted. This may be the result of an organic and/or structural problem linked to the cause of the learning disability as the eye and the brain are very closely connected.

Many people, particularly at the profound end of the spectrum, have multiple disabilities.

Problems ignored

Even people with no cognitive problems often don’t realise that their sight is deteriorating, and could be improved. So, someone with communication problems will find it even harder to explain that they cannot see, than someone in the mainstream population.

People with a learning disability, behaving in a distressed and/or challenging manner is often interpreted as a sign that someone is having a ‘bad day’, but it may be indicative of an underlying health issue. Assumptions are often made about what people need sight for, and that for some people, it just isn’t that important, this simply isn’t true. Good eyesight is essential for everybody.

So how would I know if the person with a learning disability that I support has a problem seeing?

You might notice;

  • Items or objects of interest being held closer to the face of the individual or that the individual begins to peer at things they wish to see.
  • That they appear to become more clumsy, tripping over items left on the floor, walking into doorframes, knocking glasses or cups over or begin to move uncertainly in places in which they are very familiar.
  • >That someone begins to shield their eyes in bright light, squint or that they become reluctant to go out on a sunny day.
  • An individual may become very reluctant to move around in dark or poorly lit environments, or develop what appears to be a fear of the dark.
  • Challenging or self injurious behaviours may begin which may include eye poking or head smacking.
  • A reluctance to take part in activities for which eyesight is essential such as board games or other recreational activities.
  • Repeatedly mistaking the identities of people that are well known.
  • Communication may appear to become more difficult as the individual struggles to read or recognise symbols.
  • Undue alarm at unfamiliar noises or when approached

What do I do if I suspect the person I am working with has a sight problem?

Encourage a person with a learning disability to visit a local optician. You may need to explain to the optometrist that the person you are supporting may need a little extra time. It is possible to arrange a home visit from an optometrist if, for any reason someone is unable to attend a high street practice. Seeability offers advice on where to find optometrists who can support people with learning disabilities. It is as simple as entering your post code into a search box. https://www.seeability.org/our-services/find-optometrist.

If someone with a learning disability is nervous about visiting an optometrist it may be useful to visit the practice on several occasions before the appointment. Showing video clips of people having their eyes examined or explaining what is going to happen on a regular basis before the appointment may ease worries and concerns. For further information of what to expect when visiting an optometrist visit https://www.seeability.org/our-specialisms/?book=having-an-eye-test

How do I make the most of a trip to the optician?

In 2012 people with learning disabilities who lived in East Kent decided that it would be a good idea to let opticians and optometrists know how they could best help them when they had their eyes tested. Working in partnership with Kent Valuing People, Seeability and KAB devised a leaflet which contained the following key points:

  • Speak to the customer – not the supporter or carer, even if the supporter has to respond on people’s behalf.
  • Explain information in short sentences.
  • Speak slowly and clearly using easy to understand words. Do not use long words or jargon.
  • Ask if a longer appointment time is needed.
  • Don’t talk to the person like a child, give them time to reply.
  • Explain clearly what is going on.
  • If people are new or nervous offer to show them the examination room and equipment before they attend for the appointment so they know what will happen.
  • Make sure people know they can take their supporter or carer into the examination room if they need to.
  • Remember to give the customer an easy read resource pack with the appropriate leaflets.
  • Check to make sure the person has understood what was said (repeating back if necessary)

Having hospital eye tests

KAB has a number of Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLO’s) who are happy to support people with learning disabilities who need to visit the hospital eye clinic. http://www.kab.org.uk/help-a-advice/eye-health/whos-who-in-eye-care/210-hospital-eye-services.html?highlight=WyJlY2xvIiwiZWNsb3MiXQ

It is important that the eye consultant has as much information as possible about the individual with a learning disability, particularly if extra time is required for the appointment, or if adapted methods of communication need to be used.

Functional Vision Assessment

Functional vision assessment is an observational tool which can be used to recognise how a person with learning disabilities might be using their sight. To find out more visithttps://www.seeability.org/site/search-results/c7a86e212ab7c66dfd03ed123847b71e

KAB rehab workers are happy to advise on the completion of functional assessments.

How do I encourage someone I am looking after to wear their glasses?

  • Point out someone they are familiar with or who they admire that wears glasses
  • Support the individual to choose their own frames.
  • Encourage glasses to be worn when the benefit is at its maximum for example; while watching television, playing video games or at the cinema.
  • Encourage the individual to keep the glasses clean, well maintained, ensuring a comfortable fit. Opticians won’t charge for bending glasses back into shape.

Be Patient

Focus on the positives and ensure that wearing glasses is fun and enjoyable.

Things to consider

  • Find out when and where glasses need to be worn.
  • Don’t swap glasses with anybody else.
  • Recycle old glasses so that only new glasses can be worn.

Where can I go for help?

Sight impairment in people with learning disabilities occurs for a number of reasons. You can find a range of fact sheets at Seeability:


Downs Syndromehttps://www.seeability.org/our-specialisms/?book=downs-syndrome


Monocular visionhttps://www.seeability.org/our-specialisms/?book=eye-care-conditions#eye-conditions-monocular-vision


Glaucomaans-serif'; font-size: 12pt;">https://www.seeability.org/our-specialisms/?book=eye-care-conditions#glaucoma


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