• Low Vision Rehabilitation and Low Vision Aids

    Losing vision does not mean giving up your activities, but it does mean applying new ways of doing them. Is it difficult to read newspapers and price tags, set dials, or manage glare? There are many tools, techniques and resources for people with low vision.

    If your family member or friend has vision loss, he or she needs to learn to do as much as possible independently. Recognize the challenges of vision loss, but don’t take over their tasks. Instead, help identify the adjustments they need to make to maximize their independence.

    Make the most of your remaining vision: find and use your "next-best spot"

    When you have a blind spot (scotoma) in the center of your vision, it is helpful to locate your "next best spot." You may hear this referred to as your preferred retinal locus or PRL. To find your PRL, imagine that the object you want to see is in the center of a large clock face. Move your eyes along the clock numbers and notice when you see the center object most clearly. Use that same viewing direction for other objects.

    Vision rehabilitation: using the vision you have

    Vision rehabilitation is when people with low vision learn how to do things in new ways. You can learn new ways to read, write or do tasks at home. Or you can learn to use certain low-vision aids.

    Vision rehabilitation professionals may work with you as a team

    This team may include:

    • An ophthalmologist
    • A low-vision specialist
    • An occupational therapist
    • A rehabilitation teacher
    • An orientation and mobility specialist (helping you move around better)
    • A social worker
    • A counselor

    Ask your ophthalmologist to find vision rehabilitation programs and specialists for you in your area.

    Important things you should look for in vision rehabilitation services

    When checking out low vision rehabilitation services near you, ask if services include:

    • A low vision evaluation by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
    • Prescription for devices: Are some devices loaned before purchase, or returnable?
    • Rehabilitation training: reading, writing, shopping, cooking, lighting and glare control
    • Home assessment
    • Mobility services
    • Resources and support groups

    It is important to ask if services are free, or if they are billed to Medicare or other insurance. If not, what is the charge? (Note: Medicare covers most services, but not devices.)

    Low vision aids

    There are many low vision aids and devices to help you with your daily activities. Talk with your ophthalmologist or vision rehabilitation team about solutions for your specific needs. What do you want to be able to do that you can not? From talking watches to tablet computers, there are lots of low vision tools. Also ask if you will need training in how to use the devices.

    Here are some low vision aids that may be useful:

    Optical low vision aids. These use magnifying lenses to make objects look larger and easier to see.

    Photograph of an illuminated hand magnifier, used by people with low vision, lying on an open book.

    • Magnifying spectacles. Magnifying spectacles are worn like eyeglasses to keep your hands free. They can be used for reading, threading a needle or doing other close-up tasks.
    • Stand magnifiers. These magnifiers rest above the object you are looking at. This helps to keep the lens at a proper distance. Being on a stand also is helpful to people who have a tremor or arthritis. Some stand magnifiers have built-in lights.
    • Hand magnifiers. There are magnifiers designed to help with different amounts of vision. Some models have built-in lights.
    • Telescopes. These are used to see objects or signs far away. Some telescopes can be attached to eyeglasses. Others are held like binoculars.

    Non-optical devices. These are designed to help with everyday tasks.

    • Talking items such as watches, timers, blood pressure cuffs and blood sugar machines.
    • Large-print books, newspapers, magazines, playing cards and bank checks.
    • Telephones, thermostats, watches and remote controls with large-sized numbers and high contrast colors.
    • Needle threaders, magnifying mirrors or tactile labels can also be useful.

    Electronic devices

    • Video magnifiers. These electronic devices are available in portable and desk formats. They combine a camera and a screen to make printed pages, pictures or other small objects look bigger. You often can adjust them to meet your special vision needs. For instance, with some magnifiers you can add contrast to make printed words darker. There are a lot of new video magnifiers. Talk with your ophthalmologist about which ones can help you.
    • Audio books and electronic books. With audio books, you can listen to text that is read aloud. With electronic books like Kindle®, Nook® and others, you can increase word size and contrast.
    • Smartphones and tablets let you change word size, adjust lighting and use voice commands. There also are many apps to choose from, such as programs that read material aloud (SeeingAI), magnify, or illuminate. Another app, EyeNote, is free for Apple products. It scans and identifies the denomination of U.S. paper money.
    • Computers that can read aloud or magnify what is on the screen.

    New advances in consumer technology are not a cure-all for those with low vision. Many people will need other devices and aids as well. They will also need vision rehabilitation to achieve their best possible vision. But for many people, these digital devices and apps offer more options for portable, lower-cost low vision aids.

    Low vision techniques

    Use these low vision techniques to help with everyday tasks.

    • Increase the amount of light in your house. Replace light bulbs with higher watt bulbs and add more lamps in lower-light areas.
    • Reduce glare inside and outside. Adjust lights inside so they don’t create glare. Shield your eyes by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or wrap-around sunglasses outside.
    • Create more contrast around your house. Use a colored tablecloth with white dishes, for instance. Or put black contact paper on a desk where you have white papers.
    • Use heavy, bold felt tip markers when you write shopping lists or take notes.