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Home » General Information » Stereo Blind…when you can’t see Avatar in 3-D means more than missing out on a good movie

Note: This is our first guest post. It was written by Dr. Dan L. Fortenbacher, an optometrist who practices in Michigan. Not only is he an outstanding vision therapist and optometric leader, he is a visionary when it comes to social media. Enjoy! - Dr. B.

The ability to see in stereo. What does that mean? Basically, stereo-vision is the ability to see depth in our visual space. That is, the ability to tell that space exists between objects in the environment.  In essence stereo vision is your 3-D vision. It is the ability to judge depth because you actually see depth. This is accomplished through normal binocular (two-eyed) vision.

Most of us relate to this as we see 3-D pictures or 3-D movies. However, it is much more than that...stereopsis provides a quality of vision that is much like color vision. To those who are color blind, the ability to "see" exists, but the color deficient individual lacks a quality of vision that can only be described as a phenomenon of see the world with a quality of color perception. The world of color can not be easily put into words. The same is true with stereo vision. Until you see it you don't know what you are missing. But, to be sure the stereo-blind are missing a lot!

Stereo blindness occurs when the two eyes do not work together in a normal way. If a person has only one eye they are truly stereo-blind with no hope of gaining stereopsis. However, most patients who are stereo blind have two eyes, but just lack the ability to use the two eyes together in a normal way. Examples of this are those individuals with strabismus (crossed or turned eyes), amblyopia ( lazy eye) and another more common condition, non-strabismic binocular vision dysfunction. This later condition is where the individual has some ability to use their eyes together but, they just do it poorly.

Unlike color blindness, the good news is stereo blindness in the patient with a binocular vision problem, is usually curable with office based vision therapy. The other good news is for those who have a non-strabismic binocular problem the treatment time is much shorter!

To hear more about stereo blindness, the following Podcasts may be of interest.

Dr. Sue Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze...A scientists journey into seeing in three dimensions

Joe Palca of NPR radio...Learning to see in stereo

How can you tell if  your child has stereo blindness? One good way is to see if they can see the depth or "float" of the images in the 3-D movie Avatar (or other kid friendly 3-D movies). If a child says it just looks "smeary"or "blurry like" and not really "coming out" you should  suspect a problem with their binocular vision. Contact your family eye care provider for an appointment to check their vision including their "stereo-vision"! If there is a problem, make sure that your doctor will be able to prescribe treatment or make a referral to a specialist in treating binocular vision problems with office-based vision therapy. If you need assistance finding a doctor who can treat stereo blindness go to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development website at and click on the Doctor Finder. There you should look for those Doctors who are Board Certified Fellows.

Dan L. Fortenbacher, O.D.,FCOVD

12 responses to “Stereo Blind…when you can’t see Avatar in 3-D means more than missing out on a good movie”

  1. jaysargos says:

    I think they should make sure 3-d has been a little more tested to see how it really affects the brain!

  2. jaysargos says:

    I think they should make sure 3-d has been a little more tested to see how it really affects the brain!

  3. Bryan B says:

    I think there's more to it than is being discussed so far. My stereo vision has been tested as being fine by eye doctors, but I see 3D movies as more like flashing images that give me a headache. I have to concentrate and focus too much to see the image coming out at me at all. It doesn't feel natural.

  4. Natebw says:

    Bryan, you have a valid point. 3D movies are NOT natural. Even the best 3D movies are more like tricks than real life 3D.

    And while the issues here are being over simplified, one point to remember is that not all eye doctors test 3D in the same way. You may have demonstrated excellent “stereopsis” or ability to detect fine detail in 3D, but the ability for your eyes to work together in a consistent, easy manner may not have been evaluated thoroughly.

  5. sad says:

    i couldnt see stupid avitar so i went to the eye d. apparently i have never experienced ANY depth perception and have never seen 3d (am completely stereo blind) there is nothing physically wrong with either of my eyes and the dr told me there is NO hope of ever being able to experience 3d vision.

    do yourself a favor – dont find out if you have this. ignorance is bliss. i am beyond devastated. im 30 years old.

  6. Excellent! Great article, I already saved it to my favourite,

  7. Anthony C. says:

    Hope it's not expensive to treat. I was disappointed that Tron 3-d was just quadruple vision 2-d for me no matter what I tried. I'll be pissed if I can't play the 3DS.

  8. Myrtonos says:

    “Unlike color blindness, the good news is stereo blindness in the patient with a binocular vision problem, is usually curable with office based vision therapy.”

    If it is congential and genetically determined, it may well be no more curable than colour defficincy.

    But no mention is made of stereoblindness and driving. Typicall, when viewing traffic directly, such as traffic coming towards you, or approaching at right angles, one can tell by comarping the ground they have covered, but stereopsis can help check for vehicles behind the one facing you and without stereo depth cues, it can be harder to judge the distance of traffic behind *your* vehicle because you don’t see as much ground in the mirror.

  9. Domenico says:

    This is absolutely not true. Stereo blindness IS very often perfectly treatable, at any age, with optometric vision therapy. The trouble is that eyes specialists (which are NOT optometrists) often simply ignore this. It sounds incredible, but it’s plainly true.
    Just go on the internet and check for Sue Barry, for her book “Fixing my gaze”, and for COVD.
    I’m personally undergoing vision therapy for vertical strabismus and diplopia, and almost total stereo blindness (my stereo perception was very gross and only perypheral). I was even diagnosed with “horror fusionis”, one of the most untreatable conditions. After 6 months, there’s no trace of horror fusionis anymore, my diplopia is vastly reduced and I’ve a stereopsis not so far from normal. My optometrist now thinks I could even get normal vision in some more months.
    I’m 43 years old, and till few months ago every eye doctor was telling me me that no cure was available at this age. I find it just unbelievable, and I’m very angry with eye doctors, who wasted my money and decades of my life. In fact, I’ve now realized that my condition is PERFECTLY treatable, with the aid of a good optometrist and with enough determination.

  10. Liz says:

    Who did your treatment and what type of treatment was done to correct your problems?

  11. Jason Starvetsky says:

    I live in the Denver area. Where can I find a doctor that can identify and treat whatever condition/s I have? Every I doctor I’ve seen just tests my eyes separately, then tries to sell me glasses.

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