Negative impacts of childhood visual impairment worsened for BCS70 generation

Man walking up stairs with visually impaired man

Visual impairment in childhood can have a lasting impact on people’s lives, with long-term consequences for qualifications, employment, health, and mental health.

And now researchers have found that many of these inequalities worsened for people in your age group compared to earlier born generations, despite the introduction of policies designed to reduce them.

What we asked you

When you were age 16, trained nurses and health visitors tested your eyesight.

Then at age 42, we asked you a series of questions on several topics to see how you were getting on in midlife. These covered:

  • qualifications
  • employment
  • physical health
  • mental health and wellbeing
  • housing, and
  • social activities.

Using the data from BCS70 alongside information collected from two other similar studies of people born in 1946 and 1958, a team of researchers from the UK and Greece analysed the impact of visual impairment on people’s lives across the generations.

Visual impairment is when someone’s sight cannot be corrected, for example with glasses, and ranges from complete absence of vision to conditions such as blurred vision or not being able to see certain colours.

What the research found

Government policies and legislation were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s to improve the educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, such as visual impairment.

However, the researchers discovered that many of the adverse impacts associated with childhood sight loss had either not improved or had worsened for people of your age group compared to earlier generations.

People in your generation who had experienced childhood visual impairment were at greater risk of being unemployed, having worse physical health, and experiencing anxiety or depression than their earlier born counterparts. They were also more likely to live in overcrowded housing and to be unhappy with their home.

Education policies came into force when you were growing up to provide appropriate schooling for children with special educational needs. Despite this, people in your generation who had childhood visual impairment were no more likely to attend college or university than their predecessors and were less likely to obtain qualifications during adulthood.

But in some other areas of their lives, people in your age group who had childhood visual impairment seemed to be doing better than their earlier born peers. They were more likely to see friends and socialise regularly, and to receive Disability Living Allowance.

Why this research matters

The researchers said that changes to the education system and policies to tackle disability discrimination should have improved the prospects of children with visual impairment over time. Yet adults in your age group who had childhood sight loss were unable to surpass their predecessors academically and were twice as likely to be unemployed in their early 40s compared to their counterparts born in 1946.

The study’s authors said their findings show that much remains to be done to tackle the inequalities that can result from childhood-onset visual impairment.

Nevertheless, they said it was encouraging to see adults who experienced childhood sight loss become more socially active over time. They explained that this important development may reflect improving attitudes, acceptance, and engagement with disability across society.

Read the full research report

Trends in the long-term impact of childhood visual impairment on health and social outcomes in the UK: a cross-cohort study across three decades of disability-related legislation and policy implementation, by Vasiliki Bountziouka, Lisanne Andra Horvat-Gitsels, Mario Cortina-Borja and Jugnoo Sangeeta Rahi was published in the European Journal of Public Health in 2023.