Low or limited vision can make it very difficult to do many of the things that those with standard vision take for granted. Reading a book, working on hobbies, and writing to-do lists are all things that require a high degree of visual capability, and as such can present a major challenge for those with vision limitations.
Optical and non-optical devices for low vision are designed to make activities like reading, learning, and everyday tasks more accessible for people with limited vision. They range from technologically-advanced devices like portable magnifiers to simple things like flexible-arm lamps. To help you choose the right ones, we’ve compiled this helpful guide to some of the best devices available on the market. But first, let’s break down the difference between optical and non-optical devices.
What Are Optical Devices for Low Vision?
Optical devices work to optimize a user’s existing eyesight. They interact directly with the eyes themselves, and may magnify what an individual is looking at to a high degree or improve optics by bending or refracting light differently. In some cases, these devices are not available in stores, and may require special prescriptions as well as training in how to use them safely and correctly.
What Are Non-Optical Devices for Low Vision?
Non-optical devices are adaptations that make visual activities easier to perform. Unlike optical devices, they don’t interact directly with the eyes. Instead, they optimize the task itself. For example, bendable lamps that can be positioned just right for an individual with low vision to illuminate what they’re doing, and absorptive sunglasses that reduce glare and light rays when an individual is outside.
Many people with limited vision use both optical and non-optical devices, and often in tandem with each other. So which devices offer the most benefits? Here are six of the best products to consider if you’re dealing with low vision.
1. Telescopic Spectacles
Telescopic spectacles are optical devices that bring the power of telescopes right onto a pair of eyeglasses. They can be used to improve limitations on focus for seeing both near and far, though they’re especially well-suited for distance vision.
There are quite a few different varieties of telescopic spectacles, including those that have telescopic enhancements on both lenses and those that have them on just one. Because they work with an individual’s existing eyeglasses and eyeglass prescription, those with low vision should speak to their optometrist if they are interested in purchasing them.
2. Magnifying Reading Glasses
Magnifying reading glasses — sometimes referred to as microscopes — are a mainstay of the pharmacy department. These optical devices look similar to normal reading glasses, but rather than providing a specific prescriptive strength, they provide varying degrees of magnification. Many individuals with low vision prefer these to handheld magnifiers, since they are hands-free and less conspicuous.
Keep in mind that you may need to work with a health professional in order to choose the correct magnifying strength and to get trained in how to properly use magnifying reading glasses. Certain things like holding something you are trying to ready unsteadily or too far away will limit the effectiveness of these glasses, and could cause headaches or dizziness.
3. Absorptive Sunglasses
Being outside can present difficulties for those with limited vision due to glares and ultraviolet light interference. There are added health concerns too, such as the presence of high degrees of blue light, which can cause or worsen ailments like macular degeneration.
Absorptive sunglasses are non-optical devices that serve a few key purposes. In addition to blocking out ultraviolet rays and neutralizing blue light with amber, yellow, or plum-colored lenses, absorptive sunglasses also serve to enhance and/or clarify vision outside, and most can be fitted directly over an individual’s existing eyeglasses. Some people choose to use them indoors as well.
4. Flexible-Arm Lamps
It may be surprising that something as simple as a lamp could offer such big benefits to those with low vision, but flexible-arm lamps are non-optical devices that quickly and easily take care of visual difficulties in low light.
Flexible arms, which can be found available on both table and floor lamps, can be positioned to shine exactly where an individual needs light. This is ideal for tasks like reading, paying bills, and doing crafts. In addition to positioning the angle of the light, individuals can also vary how close the light is to the task at hand, bringing it closer for tasks that need heavy illumination and putting it further back for tasks that don’t.
Flexible-arm lamps are easy to find in stores and catalogs, and come in a wide range of styles to fit anyone’s home aesthetic.
Though their name is reminiscent of something you’d hear in a science fiction book, typoscopes are incredibly basic non-optical devices that help people read by focusing in on specific lines of text and blocking out the rest. They are typically made of plastic, and come in a sheet with a rectangular cutout to accommodate various types of text.
Typoscopes offer a lot of value for being such a simple device. Their biggest benefit is that they take care of the “noise” on a page that can make it difficult for people with low vision to focus in on what they’re reading. They can also be useful for writing.
6. Reading Stands
When you have low vision, any unsteadiness on a piece of paper you are trying to read can make it nearly impossible to process and retain information. That’s why non-optical reading stands are so helpful — they allow individuals to optimally position reading and writing materials and keep them entirely in place.
Reading stands can be angled to prevent the user’s head from blocking out the light while reading, or they can be kept level but raised to bring the paper closer to the eyes when writing. When combined with other optical and non-optical devices, they can make a world of difference.
Optical and non-optical devices are incredibly useful for those with low vision, and can allow people to return to activities they once enjoyed. Try out the devices listed above and see what works best for your individual needs.