February is Low Vision Awareness Month. Low vision is defined as impaired vision that cannot be corrected by glasses, surgery, or medication. The most common causes of low vision include Macular Degeneration and Diabetic Retinopathy. The most common signs of low vision include difficulty or inability to read print, especially small print clearly;
find common items like the TV remote or other items that might just get laid around; bumping into people or things; and difficulty recognizing people. These might be attributed to other age-related issues or diseases, however, it is important to rule out vision impairment as the cause. Early diagnosis can increase access to treatment that prolongs vision and can help an individual develop important coping strategies and resources. Although there is no treatment, vision rehabilitation training and the use of low-vision aids may help.
Low vision often has a significant impact, with implications for safety, daily independent living, medication management, transportation, and employment. However, it is so important to know that a person with low vision, and even those who experience more severe vision loss, can learn strategies to safely and independently perform daily tasks, as well as continue to work.
AFB has several employees who have low vision or who are blind. In addition, many people with low vision or who are blind participate in AFB programs, such as the AFB Blind Leaders Development Program. All of these individuals demonstrate every day that a person can live a life of no limits.
The following are some strategies to maximize visual access, as well as resources to help locate services to help anyone with low vision or blindness learn the skills to maximize their independence and confidence.
Organize and de-clutter.
Organization is probably the most important thing a person with low vision or blindness can do to maximize their vision and more effectively cope with visual impairment. Everyone benefits from a clutter-free organized space, but none more than a person with vision loss. Everything should have a specific place and always be put back in that location.
Use lighting effectively.
Individuals with low vision often benefit from maximizing lighting. However, there is no one “right” source of light. It is essential to try a variety of lighting options while performing various tasks, such as reading, preparing food, navigating in your home or work, etc. Also, The source of natural light available also will contribute. For example, suppose an individual can use a desk lamp in their office to read print materials but notice on cloudy days they have more difficulty. In that case, it is apparent that the combination of the natural light and the lamp contributes. In this situation, they may need a different light source on cloudy days.
This may change over time.
Difficulty seeing clearly can result from the glare caused by natural sunlight or artificial light. Glare can often be controlled by wearing sunglasses, a hat, or a visor; closing shades; adjusting or changing lighting sources, such as using dimmer switches; or turning screens, such as the computer, television, etc. away from the light source.
Use contrast and color to enhance vision.
Low vision often results in reduced color vision; however, brighter colors are often easiest to see. Using bright or contrasting colors to mark or label can provide information about the location or help find household items. For example, put a dark rug on a light-colored tile floor at the location where a step is; use a light-colored coffee mug for coffee; put a dark-colored place mat under the plate at the table.
High-contrast labeling and markings can also increase the visibility of items. For example, put a small rubber band around the conditioner if the shampoo feels/looks the same, put a bright-colored raised dot on the 350 degrees of the oven knobor on the start button of the microwave, There is no rule, except don’t over the label or over the mark. Be creative and find adaptations that work in your home and work setting.
Most print can be magnified or made larger. Print can be manipulated to make it larger, such as increasing the font size on the computer, tablet, or documents to be printed. More and more large print books are available. In addition, a hand-held magnifier can be used. It is imperative that a person with a trained professional, such as a low-vision therapist, t0 identify the most appropriate magnification. No magnifier will provide access to all information. Often people need several magnification strategies to maximize their low vision. For example, someone might use a hand-hold magnifier to find a file folder but use an electronic magnifier to actually read the print document that is in the file folder. When this individual attends a meeting they may increase the font size on a meeting agenda and print it out, yet use
Either built-in magnification or magnification software to access their computer, tablet, or mobile phone.
Low vision aids, including magnifiers, high contrast/tactile marking systems, a white cane, and software for the computer and mobile phone, all can be very helpful, but it is important to know that a trained professional should help you identify the right aids and devices and teach you to use these for maximum safety and independence.
There are also many non-visual strategies that can be learned and used to manage daily living, employment, and recreation.
Vision rehabilitation provides a professional assessment of needs and goals, resources, and individualized training in the use of low vision aids, software, and independent living skills. To find low-cost and often free services visit www.TimeToBeBold.org to link to a list of resources available in your community or contact the APH Connect Center at 1-800-232-5463.