Purpose. To assess the degree of participation of the visually impaired elderly and to make a comparison with population-based reference data. Method. This cross-sectional study included visually impaired elderly persons (≥55 years; n = 173) who were referred to a low-vision rehabilitation centre. Based on the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) participation in: (1) domestic life, (2) interpersonal interactions and relationships, (3) major life areas, and (4) community, social and civic life was assessed by means of telephone interviews. In addition, we assessed perceived participation restrictions. Results. Comparison with reference data of the elderly showed that visually impaired elderly persons participated less in heavy household activities, recreational activities and sports activities. No differences were found for the interpersonal interactions and relationships domain. Participants experienced restrictions in household activities (84%), socializing (53%), paid or voluntary work (92% ), and leisure activities (88%). Conclusions. Visually impaired elderly persons participate in society, but they participate less than their peers. They experience restrictions as a result of vision loss. These findings are relevant, since participation is an indicator for successful aging and has a positive influence on health and subjective well-being. © 2010 Informa UK, Ltd.