Low Vision Aids and Devices
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Low Vision Solutions
Most people use multiple low vision aids because each is designed to serve a very specific purpose. It's not unusual for someone to have five or more vision aids.
Visit our new website, whatislowvision.org to learn more about low vision caused by macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and other eye conditions.
The following are the basic categories of available devices.
Used for improving near sight: viewing tasks within 20"
Used for improving vision at arm's length: viewing tasks 20"-40"
- Computer work
- Cards or board games
- Playing music
Used for improving far sight: tasks usually beyond 6'
- Watching TV
- Sporting events
- Spotting street signs
Used for improving near and far sight: control glare and contrast
- Enhance environmental features
- Control visual fatigue
Things to Do Before You Buy
Seek Proper Care
Be sure to speak with a low vision specialist or call our hotline at 1-877-457-0536.
Set Achievable Goals
Work with a professional to set realistic goals. Look for a device that fits your specific vision goals.
Know the difference between store-bought magnifiers, whose low price matches the quality of their optics, and high-quality ones.
Be sure to receive enough training for you to be comfortable with your new purchase.
Standard video magnifiers offer the benefits of distance and close-up viewing. They are electronic devices, and typically consist of a camera and viewing screen to aid people in tasks including reading, writing, grooming or even cooking.
Material placed under the camera is magnified and displayed on the video magnifier's monitor. Video magnifiers exist as desktop units, which use a closed circuit television for viewing, as well as portable or handheld video magnifiers for use on the go or during short tasks.
Handheld magnifiers, including products called stand magnifiers, are designed for short-term near-vision tasks such as reading menus, price tags and pill bottles. These helpful devices are very portable, versatile and economical. Product options are available as electronic devices or not, and can be purchased with and without light sources for better control and ease of use. Loupes, page magnifiers, bar magnifiers and visolettes are common names for small and convenient text magnifiers.
A low vision specialist can customize the combination of magnifiers and eyeglasses to provide the best possible results. It is important to note that the stronger the magnification, the smaller the viewing area. This makes the intended use of the product very important to making the right purchasing decision.
Desktop or Table Top Magnifiers
Desktop magnifiers or table top magnifiers are stationary magnifiers are perfect for extended periods of use, including reading and writing or even sewing and crafts.
Illuminated stand magnifiers provide additional light to the object being magnified, helping to reduce eye strain and fatigue. These magnifiers are often portable and lightweight.
Video magnifiers consist of a camera, closed circuit television monitor and movable XY table, which are used to help locate and orient content that the user is trying to view. Important benefits of these devices include the large viewing screen and extra controls such as brightness and contrast that you would expect when using a television or computer monitor.
Head-worn, or hands-free magnifying devices allow wearers to see magnified images through a pair eyeglasses, visor or other lens type. These aids are intended for near viewing activities that may require both hands to be free such as sewing, crafts or small household repairs.
Hands-free magnifiers are available in any number of comfortable fitting options, including items worn around the head, neck or clipped on to glasses. While this group of aids is portable, they are not necessarily convenient for use on the go.
Magnifying Eyeglasses or Spectacles
Specialty eyeglasses or magnifying spectacles are a common type of head-worn magnifiers available for people with low vision. There are magnifying spectacles available that can improve vision regardless of whether the desired field of vision is near or far away. Additionally, optical technology continues to advance, allowing lenses to be thinner and more comfortable, therefore making them a less obtrusive vision care option.
Magnifying spectacles for low vision patients can be made to use as bifocals or purely as high-level magnifiers. They also are available with a number of treatments and options to help with glare control, including anti-reflective coating and photochromic treatments.
Microscopes and Microscopic Spectacles
In cases where wearers need very high levels of magnification at extremely close distances, microscopes or microscopic spectacles are the best choice. Microscopes allow people to see smaller details but are intended for short periods of use.
Spectacles have also been developed as both single vision microscopes and bifocal microscopes, with the rear of the lens incorporating a regular prescription and the microscopic lens attached to create a doublet microscope.
Telescopes and Telescopic Spectacles
Telescopes and telescopic spectacles are primarily designed to magnify distant objects (bioptic for moving vision such as spotting signs, full diameter for stationary vision such as watching television), but they can be combined with other magnifiers to achieve better near vision.
Telescopes can also be handheld and designed as monocular or binocular, meaning altering the vision of one eye or two. Telescopic spectacles are eyeglasses into which magnifying optical systems have been integrated, resembling a pair of miniature binoculars mounted in a pair of eyeglasses. They are best used on the go, when continuous changing from near focus to distant focus is necessary. Examples include window shopping or locating house numbers.
There are three main functions that lens filters perform to aid in vision improvement. Blue light filters can absorb short wavelength, high-energy light, which causes discomfort to light-sensitive eyes and reduces contrast. Photochromic lenses are designed to lighten or darken based on the surrounding atmosphere's brightness, also protecting light-sensitive eyes. UV protection can also be achieved with lens filters, which can shield the eyes from 100% of UV rays.
Filters are available and can be applied to a number of low vision aids and multiple filters may be applied to the same item for increased performance.
The Vision Council’s guide, Low Vision Solutions (pdf), will help you learn more about low vision devices.