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What is low vision?
What causes low vision?
Are there different types of low vision?
What is a low vision device?
Optical low vision devices
Is lighting important for people with low vision?
What services are available for low vision patients?

What is low vision?
If ordinary eyeglasses, contact lenses or intraocular lens implants can not give you clear vision, you are said to have low vision. You should not confuse this condition with blindness. People with low vision still have useful vision that can often be improved with visual devices.

Whether your visual impairment is mild or severe, low vision generally means that your vision does not meet your needs. Using visual devices to improve your vision usually begins after your ophthalmologist has completed medical or surgical treatment or determined that such treatments will not improve your vision.

What causes low vision?
Though most often experienced by the elderly, people of all ages may be affected. Low vision can occur from birth defects, inherited diseases, injuries, diabetes, glaucoma, cataract and aging.

The most common cause is macular degeneration, a disease of the retina, the inner layer of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Macular degeneration causes damage to central vision. It does not cause total blindness, because side (peripheral) vision is not affected.

Are there different types of low vision?
Yes. Although reduced central or reading vision is most common, low vision may also result from decreased side (peripheral) vision, or a loss of color vision. Or, your eye might lose the ability to adjust to light, contrast or glare.

Different types of low vision may require different kinds of assistance. For example, people born with low vision have different needs from those who develop low vision later in life.

What is a low vision device?
A low vision device is an apparatus that improves vision. There is no one device that restores normal vision in all circumstances, so you may need different devices for different purposes. If possible, try a device before you buy it to see if it is useful for you.

Optical low vision devices
Optical low vision devices use lenses or combinations of lenses to provide magnification. They should not be confused with standard eye glasses. There are five main kinds of optical devices:
  • Magnifying spectacles
  • Hand magnifiers
  • Stand magnifiers
  • Telescopes
  • Closed-circuit television
Is lighting important for people with low vision?
Correct lighting is as important as a low vision device. With no eye disorder, a 60-year-old person may need twice the illumination he or she needed at 20 to comfortably perform the same task. Some lighting tips:
  • Place the light source close to your reading material for greatest visibility. High intensity lights with adjustable arms work well for this purpose.
  • Visors and hat brims block annoying overhead light;
  • Absorptive lenses are useful in controlling glare.
What services are available for low vision patients?
Governmental and private agencies provide social services for people with low vision. These include talking books, independent home-living instruction and, in some cases, orientation and mobility training.

For additional information contact:

National Association for Visually Handicapped
22 West 21st Street
New York , NY 10010
(212)889-3141
www.navh.org
email: staff@navh.org

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20542
(800)424-8567
www.loc.gov/nls

The Lighthouse National Center for Vision and Aging
111 East 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
(800)334-5497
www.lighthouse.org

Braille Institute
741 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323)663-1111
www.brailleinstitute.org

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