Low Vision Magnifiers and
Other Low Vision Products
Low vision is vision loss that is so severe, it cannot be adequately corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. It can result from many eye diseases, including undiagnosed or poorly controlled glaucoma.
People with low vision aren't completely blind, but they do have significant vision problems, even to the point of legal blindness. They can't see well enough to drive, and other daily activities become very challenging.
Glaucoma-related vision loss tends to start at the edges of the visual field, so peripheral vision tends to diminish over time, with vision possible only in the central visual area. If glaucoma continues to worsen, even that central vision dims, so stronger and stronger low vision aids are required for the sufferer to see anything at all.
Since vision loss from glaucoma is permanent, it requires a lot of attitude and lifestyle changes, including counseling from a mental therapist and training from a low vision specialist, typically an eye doctor who is an expert at low vision aids and how they work.
Below are some typical low vision products that can help with the various tasks that visually impaired people want and need to do each day, to take care of themselves and to lead an independent and fulfilling life.
High-prescription reading glasses are one type of low vision aid that can work well for those who are in the early stages of legal blindness and want more power to read books. Large-print books and magazines, as well as extra-bright lighting, will enhance the effectiveness of these reading glasses.
Handheld low vision magnifiers may seem low-tech, but they can be very helpful for looking in a mirror, telling the time on a watch, and other quick viewing tasks. And the low vision magnifiers that are mounted on a stand are great for reading books and doing close-up work such as needlepoint and quilting.
Desktop electronic magnifiers are low vision aids that display reading material that is placed on a tray. The person with low vision moves the reading material as needed and views it on a screen at eye height, above the tray. Most of these magnifiers come with a dedicated monitor, but others allow for connection to a TV or computer monitor. Often these devices are a bit heavy and therefore are impractical to take to a different location at will.
Portable low vision electronic magnifiers come in two main types.
The handheld ones can usually be carried in a pocket or handbag, and are used to read labels in a grocery store or pharmacy, menus in a restaurant, credit card slips, price tags, and more. They are meant for quick reading tasks, and the newer models even have a camera that takes a still image of the reading material so it can be viewed either later or at a more convenient angle. Some of these handheld magnifiers resemble an iPhone, in that they are rectangular screens and little more. Others have a handle so they are easier to hold without dropping.
The larger portable low vision electronic magnifiers are used for situations where a table is available for static viewing, but the device must be lighter in weight and smaller than the desktop magnifiers typically used at home. One example of this kind of situation is a classroom setting. These devices are placed on top of the reading material, which is displayed on a screen.
Another example of an electronic low vision magnifier is a camera that is mounted on an adjustable stand. It can be aimed near or far, so the person with low vision can view himself, reading material on a table, a distant blackboard, or a TV that is across the room, on a monitor that is attached to the camera. Some units can be hooked up to a TV or laptop computer instead of a dedicated monitor. These units may be portable, if they are light enough in weight.
Since more people have laptop computers now, many of these electronic low vision aids have been integrated with the computers with special software, so the user can view reading material and objects using the laptop screen, and even use the mouse to control some or all of the display settings.
Typical features of all the electronic low vision magnifiers are: the ability to switch from color to black and white or to a different two-color scheme; rechargeable batteries; various resolution and magnification settings; and auto-focusing.
Some low vision devices are meant for close-up viewing, such as reading a magazine, while others are better for distance viewing, such as watching TV. There are so many of these products, and at many different price points, that it can be confusing to choose the right combination of them that will take care of all the viewing needs of a person with low vision. But the right low vision specialist can be of great assistance, since he or she will know the pros and cons of the various devices and which ones are worth the price.
For more information on low vision and low vision products, please visit the Consumer Guide to Low Vision.