REPRESENTING CLIENTS WITH INJURY TO VISION

Recently a trial lawyer friend asked me for ideas  about handling a case involving a client who had negligently been deprived of sight in one eye and resulting limited vision in the other eye. While one would assume that the damages are obvious, my experience in running focus studies regarding cases like this, was the surprising result that many people didn’t regard visual injury and even blindness  as a significant injury. Many people believe that with adaptive devices and other technology one  would be able to function at a somewhat normal manner. Other focus study members referred to blind and sight impaired people they knew or read about that were functioning very well. In Washington State we have an elected a blind lieutenant governor. I think we have to assume that we need to present  evidence to support the seriousness of injuries and not assume the injuries are obvious.

Factors Involved in Vision Impairment Injury

To understand the significance of this kind of injury, try to intellectually reverse roles with a client who has suffered an impairment of vision. Consider the fact that our eyes work every waking hour. That’s an average of 16 hours a day, 365 days a week. They are one of only five senses we have been given to function in life. Furthermore vision was intended to cooperate in a team like manner with the other senses. When one important sense, like vision, is impaired, it effects us as a whole human being.  It changes us from someone who has normal functioning five senses into someone who must cope with the loss of an important sense. What we take for granted is becomes an enormous loss when taken from us.

The Christian Bible explains this very clearly in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul writes:

“Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.there are many parts, but one body.”

The function of eyesight gives us facts, beauty, impressions and are part of our  human function. Eyes are source of information from watching television, going to a movie,  reading newspapers and the computer and in many other ways we don’t always think about. Eyes are important to the enjoyment of daily life. Gardening, recreation and walking without impairment are all related to vision. Eyesight is an important part of our social life. That involves meeting people, enjoying family and friends. We rely upon facial expression is a substantial part of relationships with others.

Research has shown that when people can both see and hear each other, they rely upon facial expressions, body language and tone of voice for the majority of their evaluation and impression of the other person. Sight impairment deprives us of this ability. A change of expression communicates information which a visual person uses to form conclusions about what is being said and the other person. Without vision one would not be certain the other person is smiling or frowning. We communicate and send messages by our facial expressions. In fact, all social settings can be difficult  for a person without normal vision. There is the problem of recognizing other people.  Such simple things as the stress of  the social interchange physically by handshake or otherwise.

Think about the simple daily events that are impacted by visual impairment or blindness. A candle in a dark room makes the darkness tolerable. Extinguish it and you are completely in the dark. Have you ever walked into a dark room and groped for the light switch? Close your eyes and enter the world of the blind or visually impaired. Try moving around with your eyes closed or talking to another person with your eyes closed and you will have a sense of the reality involved with blindness and visual impairment. But for you it is only temporary. For the visually impaired it is a daily experience for the rest of their lives.

Obviously there are employment issues involved for people who are visually impaired. Assuming two people applied for the same job, one with normal site and one with visual impairment irrespective of the lot relating to disability discrimination, it is an important factor in obtaining employment. Review the employment and salary impact of visual impairment.

Think also about the impact on daily life. Being deprived of driving a car and the independence that gives one. Most people With sight have daily activities that include  television, movies, computer, IPads and IPhones. Most people with sight do not have environmental challenges of steps, sidewalks and other mobility issues. Navigating on city sidewalks and in office buildings is a challenge.

Yes there are adaptive devices for the visually impaired. But, research those that are available for the visually impaired.  Consider not just the cost, but the learning effort required to use them. Review the amount of effort in using them after learning how.  Consider the extra time required when employing them. Analyze the number of daily activities that are involved.

Spending quality time with your visually impaired client, listening to them and watching them is the single best way of learning the reality of visual impairment. Be an advocate for your client.

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