Low Vision Aids for Reading
See also: Resources for the visually impaired
Finding a way to read comfortably is one of the most difficult challenges for visually impaired people. Many give it up altogether, because what used to be an enjoyable, effortless activity now requires thought, preparation and a lot of adjustment.
For some people in this situation, reading is just no fun anymore.
The most affordable are hand-held magnifiers, some of which contain small reading lamps for better illumination. Other magnifiers are mounted on height-adjustable stands or hang around the neck.
Video magnifiers project printed material on a closed circuit television (CCTV) monitor or regular television or computer screen; you can sit as close to the screen as necessary and adjust the magnification, brightness, contrast and color of the display to your liking.
Advantages of this system are that it doesn't add weight to your nose (as in the case of eyeglass-mounted scopes), and you can sit upright in a comfortable position, instead of leaning over a table.
The disadvantage is that it costs more than a simple magnifier or pair of reading glasses. But considering the quality of life benefits that video magnifiers offer a person with low vision, the cost is probably worth it for most people.
The Freedom Machine by Vision Technology has a high-definition flat panel monitor with fast auto-focus, high resolution and no glare. The monitor adjusts for height and tilt.
A more portable system is a device that rests on your reading material and magnifies it, projecting the image onto a pair of eyeglasses that you wear. You read the material on the glasses as you move the device across the page. You can also read curved surfaces, such as cans or pill bottles, so this device is useful for shopping.
Some reading devices require a prescription from your eye care practitioner because they are custom-made for your particular needs. But consult your doctor before buying even nonprescription magnifiers, because he or she can tell you which low vision devices will work best for you, based on your activities and the lens power you require.
Good Lighting Is Essential
For many people with low vision, increasing the amount and type of ambient light can greatly improve reading ability. If you know someone who is visually impaired, check the adequacy of the lighting in their home particularly in their favorite reading areas.
Use the brightest light bulbs recommended for light fixtures. Purchase lamps with three-way sockets that allow the use of bulbs that can be increased to 150 watts for reading.
Portable magnifiers such as these from Enhanced Vision (left) and Optelec (right) can enlarge print for easier reading. For close-ups, please click on the photos.
Natural sunlight is the best lighting for reading. Arrange furniture so the person with low vision can sit near a window for daytime reading. For artificial lighting, purchase "full-spectrum" light bulbs. These bulbs emit light that more closely mimics natural sunlight than regular incandescent bulbs.
Avoid harsh fluorescent lighting, which can cause glare especially for anyone with low vision. Replace fluorescent desk lamps or kitchen lighting with halogen task lighting or full-spectrum bulbs for better comfort and visibility.
Non-Optical, "Adaptive" Low Vision Aids
People who suddenly find themselves with low vision often are surprised at how essential good eyesight is not only for reading, but just to get through everyday life.
The student is using Optelec's ClearNote Portable video magnifier, which can connect to video screens and laptop computers. For close-up, please click on the photo.
For the visually impaired, something as simple as checking the time on their watch or being able to see the difference between a one-dollar bill and a ten-dollar bill can become a difficult chore.
In addition to low vision devices and good lighting, inexpensive non-optical adaptive aids can assist with routine daily activities. These devices include:
- Large-print cookbooks
- Large-numbered playing cards, clocks, telephones and watches
- Electronic "talking" clocks, kitchen timers, thermometers, blood pressure meters and even pill bottles
- Large felt-tip pens and wide-lined paper for writing notes
- Wallets that separate different bill denominations into different pockets
- Color-coded pill boxes
- Voice-recording electronic organizers
- Signature guides
Many of these items can be found at your local drugstore, discount store or bookstore. Your low vision specialist can recommend retail sources for non-optical adaptive aids.
For more information about the latest low vision aids for reading, visit our page on new low vision products.
[Page updated May 2014]