February Is Low Vision Awareness Month

woman using lighted magnifier to read bottle. Image says "Don't give up on things that you enjoy doing." Learn how vision rehabilitation can help you keep doing what you love at www.nei,gov/lowvision." from NEHEP

According to the National Eye Institute, “Low vision can make it hard to do things like reading, shopping, cooking, or writing.  Vision rehabilitation can help people with low vision stay independent and make the most of their sight. During February help raise awareness about low vision and spread the word in your community about vision rehabilitation services.”   

Often people are not aware of these services and how they can help. They may not think of themselves as having “low vision” and do not understand the term. 

Questions You May Have

1.What is low vision? 

“Having low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery, you may find it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as reading your mail, shopping, preparing meals, and signing your name.” 

2. What are some signs that you have low vision?

Even with wearing your eye glasses, do you have difficulty doing the following?

  • Recognizing faces of your friends and relatives? 
  • Performing tasks that require you to see well up close? 
  • Performing tasks because lights now seem dimmer? 
  • Reading street and bus signs, or the names of stores? 

3. How does low vision compare to legal blindness? 

Legal Blindness is a legal definition used for determining eligibility for services. It is not a functional term, like “low vision,” in terms of describing what a person can/cannot see to carry out tasks such as those spelled out above. Legal blindness is based on visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better-seeing eye with best correction or a visual field (the total area an individual can see without moving the eyes from side to side) of 20 degrees or less (also called tunnel vision) in the better-seeing eye. You can have low vision and not be legally blind. However, some states require legal blindness to be able to provide vision rehabilitation services. 

4. What causes low vision?

Low vision can occur from eye conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, from a stroke, or from many other eye conditions.  

5. What devices are available to help with low vision? 

Low vision optical devices include many different types, such as stand and hand-held magnifiers, magnifying reading glasses, loupes, and small telescopes. Bryan Gerritsen, in his Overview of Low Vision Devices, discusses these devices in detail and how they can be used for carrying out different tasks such as reading or getting around. He also discusses low vision specialists and low vision exams, which are different from a regular eye exam in that they focus on how a person’s vision impairment affects his or her day-to-day living. 

6. How do I find low vision services? 

Ask your doctor about a referral.  The American Academy of Ophthalmology has made referral to low vision services a standard of care. Also, you can find services through the VisionAware Directory of Services  or call the APH ConnectCenter at 1-800-232-5463. 

7. What do people have to say about living with and adapting to low vision? 

Lynda Lambert, VisionAware Peer: “Vision loss can come gradually over a long period of time, or it can be quick and final. Regardless of how it progresses, our first reaction is to think our creative life is over and that we will be a different person because of it. We will encounter new challenges and learn new ways of working and thinking. My sudden sight loss was over a decade ago; I thought I would never be able to write or make art again. I was in shock. In fact, I spent the first five months wondering how I would carry on with my life. Fortunately, I met another … person who became my mentor, and she gave me advice and information that gave me hope for my future. I will provide my three steps that worked for me. This information can provide a bridge to seeking help and learning how you can continue on with your own creative life goals.”  

A very important part of Lynda’s rehabilitation process was learning to use adaptive aids and equipment which she uses for her everyday life as well as her creative life of writing and making art. Find out more about Lynda in Maribel Steel’s Inspire Your Heart Interview.