There are around 285 million people in the world with visual impairments, of whom 39 million are blind and 346 million have poor vision, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). Of these, 19 million people with visual impairments are children. Traveling by car might be an initially challenging task, especially if we are talking about sudden visual impairment or blindness.
The WHO indicates that 12 million children have visual impairment due to refraction errors, which are easy to diagnose and correct. However, it also notes that 1.4 million children under 15 have irreversible blindness and need vision rehabilitation interventions to support their full psychological and personal development.
It is during their very first journeys when a series of recommendations should be put into practice to ensure the journey is as straightforward as possible for the child and so they get used to the habit of traveling by car. With regard to the use of child restraint systems, "the safety systems in cars must be exactly the same as those used for any other children," states the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (ONCE).
It should borne in mind that the role played by society is crucially important when it comes to ensuring that these children feel integrated. The ideal is that the child can do exactly the same things as other children of their age, just in a slightly different way. This means that at older ages they need to be given an incentive to get into the car on their own, strap themselves into the child seat, fasten the seat belt, etc.
The causes of blindness or severe visual impairment include hereditary diseases (congenital cataracts, retinitis, degenerative myopia, etc.), congenital diseases (atrophy of the optical nerve, loss of visual acuity, rubella during pregnancy), and disorders of traumatic origin or those caused by tumors, viruses or toxicity.
ADVICE ON TRAVELING BY CAR
-During the first few months of life and until the child reaches a certain age and level of autonomy, it is advisable for them to travel with an adult who can accompany them and provide assistance when necessary.
-Children with visual problems need to identify exactly where they are before getting into and alighting from vehicles. As reflected in the report ‘report "Children with special needs and their safety in cars", prepared by Fundación MAPFRE if an adult tells the child where they are in relation to the vehicle, the child can get into it on its own without additional help. It is important that the car always stops in the same place where the child gets in or out of it, whether this is at home, at the nursery or school, or any other familiar destination.
Everyday objects such as fences, mailboxes or litter bins are generally used as a reference for knowing where they are. Once they are in a familiar environment these children can normally move about with ease, which enhances both their safety and their sense of independence.
-It is important that the child is fully aware of how the child restraint system works. If the child is old enough, they should be encouraged to get into the seat and fasten the straps themselves. You can then check to see that they have done it correctly.
- Developing the senses of touch and hearing is important. Try to engage the child in conversation, especially during long journeys.
-Sunlight can easily dazzle children with visual difficulties. Some curtains over the windows or a sun visor for the child can be helpful.
-We recommend that the driver describes the route they are taking or what is going on outside. If the child uses special transport, it is also important that the driver provides information on the route they are following and if there is anyone else in the car sat with the child who can give them details of the journey this will help them to feel safer and more comfortable.