Roadmap to Living with Vision Loss: What Kinds of Services Will You Need to Maintain Independence?

a man seated on a couch, showing an iPad to a senior couple

If you have experienced losing sight due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes, or another eye condition, many services and devices can help you continue to live independently in your home and community. Vision rehabilitation services can help you regain self-sufficiency, improve your quality of life, and help you function independently, just as occupational and physical therapy restore the ability to function after a stroke or other injury.

Step 1: Start with Your Eye Care Professional

The best place to begin the vision rehabilitation process is to make an appointment with your eye care professional:

  • An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic physician specializing in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and preventing eye disease. An ophthalmologist treats eye diseases, prescribes medications, and performs all types of surgery to improve or prevent the worsening of eye and vision-related conditions. An ophthalmologist will have the initials M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) after his or her name.
  • An optometrist is a health care professional specializing in function and disorders of the eye, detection of eye disease, and some types of eye disease management. An optometrist is trained to examine the eyes for visual defects, diagnose vision problems or impairments, prescribe corrective glasses and contact lenses, and, in some states, perform specific surgical procedures. An optometrist will have the initials O.D. (Doctor of Optometry) after his or her name.
a doctor and patient during an eye exam

Step 2: Have a Low Vision Examination

If your vision cannot be entirely corrected by your regular eye care professional, a low vision specialist can conduct the needed low vision examination and help you make the best use of your remaining vision.

Think about what you enjoy doing. Do you like to read? Do you need to pay your bills? Do you watch TV, cook, exercise, walk, or shop for groceries? These tasks often involve the use of different types of low-vision devices.

Low-vision optical devices use lenses to magnify images so that objects or print appear larger to the eye. Examples include reading glasses, stand magnifiers, hand-held magnifiers, and small pocket-sized telescopes. These unique optical devices are different from regular glasses and magnifiers.

man reading with video magnifier

Non-optical devices and modifications do not use lenses to magnify images. Instead, they increase lighting levels, improve contrast, decrease the effects of glare, or increase the print size to make objects and print more easily visible. Examples include high-intensity table or floor lamps, large print reading materials, electronic video magnifiers, and iPads and tablets. Absorptive lenses are sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet and infrared light, reduce glare, and increase contrast. Non-optical devices can also be combined with magnifiers and other low-vision optical devices.

Adaptive daily living equipment includes devices that simplify everyday tasks with little or no vision. Examples of such equipment are clocks and timers with large numerals, writing guides, needle threaders, large print or talking watches, large print and tactile labels, and talking pill bottles.

Adapting Emotionally

You, your eye care specialist, and other providers of low vision services, such as social workers and specially trained therapists, will also discuss how you are coping emotionally with your vision changes, whether you are motivated to learn a different way of doing things, and whether you have family and friends to support you.

Prepare for your examination by considering what you will need to take with you and what you want to know. During the examination, be sure to ask questions.

Step 3: Investigate Additional Vision Rehabilitation Services and Resources

Making Life More Livable book cover, and an older man talking on his phone, with icons depicting a remote control, a table setting, and task lamp

Vision rehabilitation services can help you function safely and independently in critically important daily living areas:

  1. Independent movement and travel include getting around indoors, walking with a guide, using a long white cane, crossing streets, using public transportation, and using electronic travel devices.
  2. Continuing to read and write
  3. Independent living and personal management include preparing meals, managing money, labeling medications, making home repairs, enjoying crafts and hobbies, and shopping.
  4. Learning about using a computer or tablet, using a phone, and telling time
  5. Job training and vocational rehabilitation services such as vocational evaluation, job training and placement, workplace adaptations, and workplace technology
  6. Counseling and peer support groups to help you and your family members adjust to vision loss and manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

What Types of Benefits Are Available to Me?

If you are legally blind, you may be eligible for some disability benefits, such as income tax exemptions and Social Security. Other benefits, such as property tax exemptions and accessible public transportation, may vary from state to state. Still, every state offers vision rehabilitation services (blindness skills training) that can help with independent living and/or employment. You may also qualify for the free Library of Congress talking book program and receive free audiobooks and a player.

Don’t Give Up

The types of vision changes described here can affect how you get around and go about your everyday activities. Although a vision change can involve complex emotional reactions and adjustments, people who have experienced a vision loss can continue their lives and activities and remain independent in their homes. Read personal stories about how people like you are coping and going about life with vision loss.

Excerpted from Making Life More Livable: Simple Adaptations for Living at Home After Vision Loss by Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT