Estimated prevalence of visual impairment among people with learning disabilities in the UK

Title: The estimated prevalence of visual impairment among people with learning disabilities in the UK.

Authors: Eric Emerson and Janet Robertson; Publisher: RNIB and SeeAbility Learning Disabilities Observatory; Year of publication: 2011

Background

Although there is considerable research evidence that visual impairments are more common among people with learning disabilities, there is no robust epidemiological data on the prevalence of visual impairments in people with learning disabilities in the UK. Consequently there has been no overall estimate of the number of people with learning disabilities in the UK with seeing difficulties. Researchers from the Centre for Disability Research (CeDR) at Lancaster University used prevalence rates from a major study of adults with learning disabilities in the Netherlands, and a study of children carried out in Denmark, to answer the following questions:    

  • How many people with learning disabilities in the UK are likely to be blind or partially sighted?    
  • How many people with learning disabilities in the UK are likely to have refractive error?    
  • How will these numbers change over the coming decades? 

Key findings

The findings suggest that:    

  • There are over one million adults and over 400,000 children in the UK with learning disabilities.    
  • An estimated 96,500 adults with learning disabilities (including 42,000 known to the statutory services) are blind or partially sighted. (This means that nearly one in 10 adults with learning disabilities is blind or partially sighted).    
  • Adults with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to be blind or partially sighted than the general population.    
  • An estimated 23,000 children and young people aged 0 to 19 with learning disabilities in the UK are blind or partially sighted.    
  • An estimated 579,000 adults with learning disabilities (including 122,000 known to the statutory services) have refractive error. (This means that nearly six out of 10 people with learning disabilities need glasses.)    

RNIB and SeeAbility have produced four key public health messages from the research to raise awareness about sight difficulties in the population of people with learning disabilities. RNIB is currently involved in further projects relating to sight difficulties in children with learning disabilities and it is hoped that the findings will be available by the end of 2011.