By Daniel J. Vance 


  The movie Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo indirectly changed our boy's life for the better and led to a great discussion on the definition of "disability."

  A few weeks back our 6-year-old Patrick was watching Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (one of the Love Bug movies) when my wife began wondering about his eyes: he had been watching this video and all others three feet from the screen. My wife wears glasses for her nearsightedness, so she quietly slipped hers on him.

  The result: He could see clearly! Soon his life was changed for the better. The next day an optometrist said Patrick had 20/200 vision, and he fitted him for glasses.

  Back home, my wife read somewhere on the Internet that persons with 20/200 vision were considered legally blind. Was our boy legally blind? Did he have a disability? To arrive at an answer, I called family friend and ophthalmologist Dr. John Shepherd. And that began the great discussion.

  I gave John information from one of my old "Disabilities" columns. The U.S. doesn't have one definition for "disability," but many, I remembered. The U.S. Supreme Court has its definition, and the U.S. Census, Social Security and state programs have theirs.

  In the legal case Toyota v. Williams the U.S. Supreme Court defined disability in relation to the Americans with Disabilities Act, in short, as a physical impairment that "substantially limits" one or more "major life activities."

  So I said that "baseball" was a major life activity for our Patrick, and that due to his poor eyesight he had been "substantially limited" in his ability to play. Did that mean he legally had a disability?

  John said, "Patrick doesn't have a disability because his nearsightedness was corrected to 20/20 with glasses. A person is deemed legally blind, and therefore possibly disabled, only if he or she has 20/200 vision after glasses."

  "Besides," he said of Patrick, "a legally blind child can't see well at any distance. Without glasses, at least Patrick could read and see things close up."

  Most adults losing their eyesight realize it because they had good eyesight at one time, he said. But a child growing up nearsighted has nothing to compare. All they have seen is a "blur" and therefore think that everyone sees a "blur."

  If you'd like more information about blindness, visit the National Federation of the Blind at www.nfb.org. [Contact Mr. Vance: www.danieljvance.com]