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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Optical Aids to Help You Cope with Low Vision

By Maureen Cook |

Low vision aids come in all shapes and sizes and serve a multitude of different purposes. A one-size-fits-all approach just won't do when it comes to choosing these devices, especially when you consider that a very wide range of eye problems can cause low vision.

Age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, head trauma and stroke can all result in reduced visual acuity, reduced contrast sensitivity and glare sensitivity. It should be remembered that these eye conditions often involve impaired color vision, and that the majority of sufferers are over 60.

This is why many of the more high-tech low vision aids now coming on to the market offer customised viewing modes (magnifiers, for example, which allow material to be viewed in black and white, blue and yellow or black and yellow) or adjustable image brightness.

Customisation need not always be high-tech, however. It can be as simple as fitting a magnifier with a flexible, adjustable arm so obviating the need to look upward at an uncomfortable angle. The tilting screen of a video magnifier or simply a stand magnifier can make for greatly increased ease of viewing when arthritis is as much of a problem as low vision.

Of course, not everyone requires a high-tech solution to their eye problems. Various small, hand-held magnifiers are available from your local drug store which can often be of some assistance in the early stages of failing eyesight.

With hand magnifiers it is usually the case that practice makes perfect. Often a bit of a struggle at the outset, best results can be achieved by holding these low vision aids straight. Your eye, the magnifier and the particular material you're looking at should all be exactly aligned. Distortion will result from tilting the magnifier.

If you use a stand magnifier, keep the magnifier on the paper and break yourself of the habit of raising the magnifier to your eyes. Again, distortion of the material and the need to constantly refocus, will tire even more aging eyes with a low vision problem.

A professional consultation should be sought, though, if and when they prove to be less helpful in reading and writing. Specialists in low vision will assess the degree of your visual impairment. They might prescribe special lenses which incorporate a miniature telescopic unit. These will enable you to resolve fine details through the telescope while using the regular lens for peripheral vision.

Or, perhaps, they will show you precisely the type of lighting you need to use in order to maximise the vision that remains. Reading lamps are now available which filter out damaging, blue light radiation and deliver optimal contrast for sufferers of low vision.

When greater magnification is needed, the newest low vision aids offer features which will give you a true independence in carrying out daily tasks. Many combine portability with choice of viewing modes to suit your individual needs.

One of the more popular high-tech aids is the video magnifier or closed circuit television. Free-standing units consist of a stand-mounted video camera which projects magnified images on to a video screen. They are very useful for reading and writing, as well as doing craftwork. For many people, with hobbies requiring intricate, close-up work, this is a quality of life issue.

However, CCTVs, which are portable, provide you with the greatest flexibility of all. Advances have been made on the older type of portable video magnifiers. These could be plugged into a television, and by rolling a device about the size of a computer mouse across the reading material, you would see a magnified image appear on the TV.

Today, truly portable CCTVs are now being designed where a similar mouse-like device is used, but no TV is needed to view the magnified image. Instead it appears in a pair of goggles you wear.

More convenient still if you're out and about, the wonders of miniaturisation have made it possible to develop a new generation of very small, light-weight video magnifiers. These are ideal for letting you read grocery labels, restaurant menus and receipts. Some also come complete with a folding writing stand which will allow you to write as well.

For distance viewing, portable telescopic devices allow you to follow the game better at sporting events or to watch a theatre production. These aids carry many features which promote ease of use - low light compensation, high levels of magnification and contrast enhancement, for example.

Many people, though, prefer to use another sense for reading: their hearing. They use reading machines (scanners with voice output) to transform written material into the spoken word. For avid readers, and those who want the ultimate in comfort, these low vision aids offer an ideal solution to their low vision problems. Hooked up to a computer, and using specially-designed software, your PC can instantly be turned into a "reading machine".

Unfortunately, whatever you choose, you will not be able to turn back the clock. Low vision aids will not replace vision that has already deteriorated or been lost. Fortunately, however, we live in a world where new devices are being designed all the time enabling us all to optimise the vision we have left and enjoy life to the fullest.

Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

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