What are low-vision aids

What is low vision? (We’re not talking about being unable to see in the dark because we refused to eat our carrots when we were kids, either.) Low vision refers to significant vision loss – such as tunnel vision, blurred vision or blind spots – that can’t be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medication or eye surgery.

The most common, non-reversible causes of low vision are macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Other causes include retinitis pigmentosa, inherited eye conditions and eye injuries.

People at this stage need low-vision aids to help them with their daily lives. Thankfully, today’s options are more diverse and user-friendly than small magnifying glasses that look like a child’s science toy.

An example of normal vision on the left versus vision with cataracts on the right. Image / National Eye Institute

Low-vision aids

Magnifiers

Magnifiers can be illuminated, hand-held, standing or electronic. They increase the size of text and images at close working distance, to make it easier to read, cook, sew and use tablets. You have a few options here.

Hand-held magnifiers are basic magnifiers that enlarge images and text. The lens sits in a frame with a handle, and you can illuminate them for greater contrast.

These magnifiers are fairly cheap. There’s a variety of magnifications to choose from, although each device offers just one level of magnification. Hand-held magnifiers easily fit in a handbag or bag, but for people with limited dexterity, they can be difficult to hold.

Electronic magnifiers magnify objects both close-up and in the distance. Hand-held and desktop options both allow a wider variety of magnifications that can be easily changed. You can also alter contrast, glare and lighting. This level of awesomeness means they are a pricier option. But these low-vision aids also allow the user high magnification at a comfortable working distance.

Hand-held electronic magnifiers are ultra-easy to use: simply hold one over any object you need to enlarge. To use a desktop electronic magnifier, placing the object on a scanner projects an image of the object onto a screen. Desktop magnifiers create a wider field of view, which is more comfortable for people with low vision.

Stand magnifiers, whether illuminated or non-illuminated, work in a similar way to hand-held magnifiers. The lens is mounted on a standing support at a fixed distance from the object. You don’t need good hand control to use a stand magnifier, but the object and magnifier must sit on a flat, stable surface. These cost more than hand-held magnifiers, but less than electronic magnifiers.

Portable low-vision aids

Monoculars and binoculars enlarge images in the distance. They can be useful for looking while standing rather than walking. These aids are quite portable.

Bioptic telescopes are like miniature, hands-free binoculars. They attach to normal glasses, either for one or both eyes. These telescopes help users to see further away: while watching television or movie screens, driving, walking and shopping. However, they’re more expensive than monoculars or binoculars.

Where to learn more

If you or someone you know is experiencing vision loss – rest assured, you aren’t alone. These nationwide organisations offer resources, technology and support to people who are blind or have low vision. The aim? To help them live as independently as possible.