Career Paths Where Eyesight Matters
Perfect vision, also known as 20/20 vision, is a term used to describe the clarity and sharpness of your eyesight. 20/20 vision can be simply explained as normal vision acuity measured at a distance of 20 feet, meaning if you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. Although there are countless career paths around the world where you do not need perfect vision, there are a select few specific job roles where perfect, or near-perfect visual acuity is a critical requirement due to the nature of the work and the need to ensure the safety of individuals.
Some professions have strict requirements relating to vision for example:
The most obvious career choice where excellent vision is a must-have! Pilots and air traffic controllers are required to have exceptional vision to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and the aircraft itself. They are required to read instruments, recognise landmarks, identify other aircraft and make split-second decisions based on visual cues. Interestingly you do not need to have naturally perfect vision, but your vision needs to be perfect once corrected.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) state
An applicant may be assessed as fit with hypermetropia not exceeding +5.0 dioptres, myopia not exceeding -6.0 dioptres, astigmatism not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, and anisometropia not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, provided that optimal correction has been considered and no significant pathology is demonstrated. Monocular visual acuities should be 6/6 or better.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States has set specific vision requirements for pilots, which include:
Distant Visual Acuity: Corrected or uncorrected vision must be at least 20/20 in each eye.
Near Visual Acuity: Corrected or uncorrected vision must be at least 20/40 in each eye.
Colour Vision: The ability to differentiate between colours necessary for the safe performance of duties.
Air traffic controllers are also subject to stringent vision requirements to ensure that they can effectively monitor and manage air traffic. They must possess normal colour vision and have a corrected visual acuity of 20/20 in each eye.
Military personnel, especially those in combat roles or extremely specialised positions, often require excellent vision to perform their duties effectively. This includes snipers, fighter pilots and special operations forces. The specific vision requirements vary depending on the branch of the military and the role; however, many positions require a minimum uncorrected visual acuity of 20/40 or better, with the ability to correct the vision to 20/20 using glasses or contact lenses. Colour vision and depth perception requirements vary quite a bit depending on the position.
Law enforcement officers, such as police officers, sheriffs and state troopers, need to have good vision. Their job often requires them to drive at high speeds, pursue suspects on foot, and accurately use firearms. The specific vision requirements for law enforcement officers vary by agency but typically include a minimum uncorrected visual acuity of 20/100, correctable to 20/20, as well as normal colour vision and depth perception.
Firefighters need excellent vision to safely navigate through hazardous environments, operate equipment and assess any potential emergency situations. Many fire departments require a minimum uncorrected visual acuity of 20/100, correctable to 20/20, with normal colour vision and depth perception. Some departments may indeed accept applicants with slightly worse uncorrected visual acuity if their vision can be corrected to 20/20 using glasses or contact lenses.
Maritime professionals, such as ship captains and deck officers, rely heavily on their vision to navigate and safely operate vessels. They must be able to read charts and instruments, identify navigational aids, and spot hazards on the water. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has set vision standards for seafarers, which include a minimum uncorrected visual acuity of 6/60 in metres (20/200 in feet), correctable to 6/6 in metres (20/20 in feet), with normal colour vision (which means you must pass an Ishihara test) and depth perception.
Astronauts require exceptional vision to perform their duties effectively, both in space and during training on Earth. They must be able to read instruments, conduct scientific experiments and operate spacecraft systems. NASA has very specific vision requirements for astronauts, which include a correctable visual acuity of 20/20 with normal colour vision and depth perception. These requirements ensure that astronauts can perform their tasks safely and effectively while in space.
In other professions whilst not having a strict vision requirement, it can not be denied that perfect vision or great visual acuity is definitely an advantage:
Some medical professionals, particularly surgeons and ophthalmologists, require excellent vision to perform delicate procedures and accurately diagnose eye-related conditions. While there aren’t any specific vision requirements for all medical professionals, those in surgical and diagnostic fields often need exceptional visual acuity and hand-eye coordination to perform their duties effectively.
Many professional athletes rely heavily on their vision to excel in their chosen sport. Each sport will require different eyesight duties however as a general rule, the ability to track fast-moving objects, and accurately assess distances and trajectories are usually required, so pretty much every sport has several famous players that wear contact lenses in every game they play. Tennis player Novak Djokovic, Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and Basketball player LeBron James all wear contact lenses on a regular basis whilst playing. Although perfect vision isn’t a strict requirement for all professional athletes, having excellent visual acuity can provide a competitive edge and improve overall performance.
Photographers and Cinematographers
Photographers and cinematographers depend on their vision to compose, frame and capture visually stunning imagery or videos. Having perfect or near-perfect vision can be beneficial for professionals working in these fields, as it allows them to assess focus, exposure, and colour balance accurately. Although some aspects of photography and cinematography can be adjusted through technology, having excellent visual acuity can significantly enhance an individual's ability to produce high-quality work but of course, is not a requirement.
Wildlife biologists and conservationists often work in the field, observing and monitoring animal behaviour, conducting research and implementing conservation measures. Excellent vision is crucial for these professionals to accurately identify and track wildlife, assess habitat conditions and detect within seconds any potential hazards in the field. While perfect vision may not be a strict requirement, having exceptional visual acuity can significantly benefit those working in wildlife biology and conservation and help ensure the safety of the individual or team.
In many professions, perfect or near-perfect vision is a critical requirement to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the individual and others. Aviation professionals, military personnel, law enforcement officers, firefighters, maritime professionals, medical professionals, professional athletes, photographers, cinematographers, astronauts, and wildlife biologists all benefit from having exceptional visual acuity. Other professions such as train drivers, London underground drivers and HGV drivers also require stringent vision standards. While most of these career paths allow for you to be able to correct your vision using glasses or contact lenses, having naturally excellent vision is always an advantage.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 30 May 2023, Last modified: 5 Jun 2023