I've worked extensively with individuals with vision loss. I hold an M.S. degree in rehabilitation counseling from East Carolina University.
What Is Low Vision?
Although recognized as the most common visual impairment, confusion persists over what it means to have low vision. Most professionals recognize the condition of low vision as any loss of eyesight which significantly impacts activities of daily living. In addition, the visual impairment which exists cannot be corrected to 20/20 eyesight through surgery, contacts, medications, or eye glasses. The vision loss is permanent. Millions of people globally have low vision, but there are ways they can remain independent.
Yet, the causes of low vision are numerous. For instance, injuries can reduce a person’s eyesight. Factors such as birth defects can also contribute to low vision. Without question, genetic influences can determine if a person will have low vision later in life, but low vision is not related to normal aging of the eyes.
How to Determine If a Person Has Low Vision
A comprehensive eye examination by a trained physician can help an individual determine if he/she has low vision. The eye doctor can also refer people to professionals to aid with the adjustment to the loss of vision. As a rehabilitation counselor, I assisted people with low vision in finding or maintaining employment. In addition, I have worked with students with low vision. Inevitably, these individuals want to learn to succeed while living with their vision loss. Below I've provided information about diseases which are common causes of low vision:
1. Diabetic Retinopathy
This disease impacts the retina, a light sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. Damage to the retina occurs because of high blood sugar levels. Diabetic retinopathy is the main cause of vision loss for people with diabetes. About 40 percent of Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes have the eye condition.
Glaucoma occurs when fluid pressure builds up in the eye, resulting in damage to the optic nerve. Usually, vision loss is gradual. The condition can result in a total loss of vision if not treated. Presently, approximately three million Americans over 40 have glaucoma.
3. Retinitis Pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa causes progressive loss of vision in cells of the retina. Although rare, retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the most common inherited eye condition. This disease causes the retina to degenerate with total blindness resulting over time. Treatments are being developed, but the first sign of RP is night-blindness. Currently, about one in 4,000 people have the eye condition in Europe and the United States.
4. Macular degeneration
This eye condition occurs primarily in older people. It impacts the central part of the retina, which is called the macula. The eye condition is degenerative. The main impact of this eye condition is loss of central vision, but Macular degeneration can also cause visual distortions. The number of people with macular degeneration is expected to increase as the population ages.
Learning to Live With Low Vision
Living with low vision requires adjusting to doing many tasks in a different manner as a result of vision loss. Adjustment factors include: age of the individual at the onset of the visual impairment, extent of vision loss, and the type of visual impairment. These and other factors are considered by specialists who work with individuals with visual impairments. They particularly look at the individual’s ability to do various tasks of daily living (shopping, reading, travel, etc.). Solutions are put into place once they are found to work.
Reading and Writing With Low Vision
Reading and writing are unquestionable essential tasks of daily living which specialists consider when assisting individuals with low vision. Many people with low vision read large print, with or without magnification. Others may use large print and Braille. Still, some individuals with low vision prefer a combination of audio books, large print, and Braille to read. The choice is individualized based on the person’s needs and the task.
For people with low vision who use magnification to read and write, there are handheld and electronic devices available. An eye doctor must prescribe optical aids for people with low vision. These optical devices may be mini-telescopes, monocular devices, or special lenses. But there are technological options as well.
Reading and Writing Aids for People With Low Vision
There are many options a person with low vision may use to read and/or write. devices such as a VisoBook, is a machine a person with low vision may use. Produced by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), this machine is portable. The National Library Service (NLS) provides digital book players (like the one shown in the photo) to individuals with visual impairments and other disabilities. NLS also provides books and magazines for free. As governmental agencies, NLS and APH have extensive information on the internet.
Likewise, there are different options for writing available for a person with low vision. Some of these options are low tech, like heavy lined paper. Others require more advanced technology. For example, people with low vision may utilize magnification technology on laptops or cell phones to read and write. Another choice for writing braille is the braille writer. Or they may prefer the portable slate and stylus when writing braille.
Nevertheless, the choice to write or read text is highly individualized. What one person may prefer another may not. The important point is comfort and confidence with the available options to perform tasks of daily living. In order to help these individuals make appropriate choices, evaluations must be conducted by professionals who understand how low vision impacts a person's life. In conclusion, living with low vision successfully can be achieved when approached properly.
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Corn, A. L., & Koenig, A. J. (1996). Foundations of low vision: clinical and functional perspectives (2nd ed.). New York: AFB Press.
D'Andrea, F. M. and Farrendopf, C. (Eds). (2000) Looking to Learn, promoting literacy for students with low vision. New York, USA: AFB Press.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.