Low vision refers to permanent vision impairment that cannot be corrected with regular eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, or eye surgery. It affects around 12 million adults aged 40 and above in the United States. This can manifest in various ways, including blurred or hazy vision, reduced central vision, difficulty seeing in low light, loss of peripheral vision, and distorted vision.
While low vision may not be curable, it can often be managed with assistive devices, accommodations, and technologies. People with low vision can continue participating in their usual hobbies, activities, and tasks with the right solutions.
Understanding Low Vision
Low vision arises from conditions affecting the eyes themselves or the optic nerves and visual pathways leading to the brain. Common causes include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and retinitis pigmentosa. Hereditary disorders, eye injuries, stroke, brain tumors, and side effects of certain medications can also contribute to low vision.
The key hallmarks of low vision include:
– Blurred or hazy vision – images lack sharpness and detail
– Reduced central vision – loss of clarity in the central visual field
– Difficulty seeing in low light – reduced ability to see at night or in dark settings
– Loss of peripheral vision – missing visual inputs from the outer visual field
– Distorted vision – warped perception of straight lines and shapes
The effects can range from mild visual inconveniences to near-complete blindness. Low vision rehabilitative services, including low vision exams and assistive devices, help people make the most of their remaining sight.
A Spectrum of Solutions
Many solutions can help people with low vision perform everyday tasks and activities. These include handheld and wearable visual aids, adaptive technologies, accessible media formats, workplace accommodations, mobility devices, and more.
The right mix of tools depends on the individual’s specific needs and goals. An occupational therapist specializing in low vision rehabilitation can recommend appropriate options.
You can discover low vision device solutions that fall into the following categories:
Optical and electronic magnification systems are among the simplest and most versatile low vision aids. They enlarged the text and images to make them easier to see. Types include handheld, stand, spectacle-mounted, electronic video magnifiers, smartphone and tablet magnification apps, and computer screen magnification software.
2. Low Vision Glasses
These specialized prescription glasses for low vision feature telescopic or microscopic lenses to enhance visual clarity. While standard lenses merely refract light, low-vision lenses also dramatically magnify images. Available options include single-vision glasses, bifocals, trifocals, progressive addition lenses, and prism lenses.
3. Text-to-Speech Devices
Text-to-speech technologies convert words into audible speech for those with limited ability to read printed text. Handheld reading machines, smartphone and tablet apps, and computers equipped with screen reading software can all read text aloud, enabling “reading” through the ears instead of the eyes.
4. Smart Devices and Apps
Smartphones and tablets offer many accessibility features for the visually impaired, often at no cost. Accessibility settings allow users to increase the text size, switch to high-contrast modes, magnify the screen, have text read aloud, and more. Apps offer even more helpful functionalities.
5. Assistive Technology for Daily Living
Special devices aid people with daily tasks requiring good vision, such as reading mail, timekeeping, medication management, cooking, personal finance, home maintenance, transportation, shopping, personal care, and mobility. Talking watches, large display clocks, money identifiers, liquid level indicators, audible glucose meters, and other products promote independence.
Discovering the Right Tools
With so many low vision solutions now available, choosing the right options for your needs can feel confusing. Follow these essential tips to create your custom assistive technology toolkit:
Schedule Comprehensive Low Vision Evaluations
It all starts here. Book appointments with both an ophthalmologist and an occupational therapist specializing in low vision rehabilitation.
The ophthalmologist thoroughly examines current visual capabilities, prescribes appropriate optical devices like specialty magnification glasses, and recommends the next steps.
Occupational therapy focuses on practical, everyday living. The therapist observes how you perform routine tasks, pinpoints challenges, and suggests assistive technologies to address struggles with reading, walking, cooking, shopping, personal care, home maintenance, hobbies, work duties, and more. The therapist also arranges device trials and provides training.
Consider Your Specific Goals and Activities
Take time to reflect deeply. List your typical daily activities and roles. Then, note the frustrations and barriers you encounter.
For example, do you need help to read medication labels and financial documents? Do you have difficulty identifying faces? Do you feel unsafe walking outside at night? Can you no longer pursue a beloved hobby like sewing, golf, or woodworking? Do you feel isolated and homebound?
Be very detailed and honest with yourself. This careful introspection crystallizes exactly which tasks you need help with through assistive tools. The best solutions directly align with real-life priorities.
Try Before You Buy
Never purchase vision assistive technologies sight unseen. First, schedule in-person visits with low vision occupational therapists or assistive device suppliers to demo products extensively before ordering.
Hands-on testing gadgets reveal how they perform for your unique needs and reveal design aspects you love or hate before buying. Bonus tip: Many suppliers even offer short-term loans of certain products to test drive at home.
Ask for Personal Training
Maximize the usefulness of new assistive technologies through proper training. Quality suppliers offer this service for free or very affordably. Use sessions to master all settings and features. Learn tricks to tweak and customize tools to your needs. Upgrade accessories for enhanced functionality. Review user maintenance so gadgets perform reliably long-term. Be bold and request detailed help.
Secure Financial Assistance
Although indispensable, many assistive devices have hefty price tags not reasonably affordable out-of-pocket. Multiple resources provide financial relief:
– Health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, often partly or fully cover tools deemed “medically necessary.” Preauthorization paperwork is required.
– State vocational rehabilitation agencies assist working-age residents with disabilities to remain employed. Some programs issue assistive tech to improve job capacity.
– Veterans Administration benefits furnish devices for visually impaired former military members.
– Charitable groups like Lions Clubs fund vision assistive tech in underserved communities.
– Many states have assistive technology loan programs that allow you to “try before you buy.” You can temporarily borrow devices and then return them or purchase them at a discount.
Explore all options to substantially lower acquisition costs. Support is out there if you dig!
Stay Patient Yet Persistent
Being comfortable with altered vision capabilities proves an ongoing journey of small wins. Frustrations happen! Stay determined in spirit during down moments. Support from your eye doctor, low vision rehab team, device suppliers, and family community encourages you to keep trying new solutions.
Though low vision causes significant lifestyle challenges, a vast spectrum of assistive devices and adaptive technologies makes it possible to read, move around independently, pursue hobbies, work productively, and enjoy everyday activities.
With guidance from eye care professionals coupled with your self-advocacy and patience, you can discover just the right set of tools customized to your needs and priorities. Support networks, including doctors, occupational therapists, assistive technology suppliers, and family/friends, also smooth the journey to low vision independence.