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Tools and Techniques for Visual Impairment

by Connie Kleinbeck, RN, BSN, CDE

Tools and techniques
There are many special devices — as well as creative ways of using ordinary household items — that can help a person with visual impairment read, communicate, cook, and perform other tasks at home or at work. The rehabilitation specialists you work with can help you choose tools that suit your needs and learn how to use them.

Lighting. The lighting in your home should be evaluated to see that it meets your needs. For some people, bright light from a 100-watt lightbulb or a halogen light is best. Others may benefit from a filtered or tinted light to reduce eyestrain, while others use window shades or blinds to block harsh sunlight and decrease glare. For close work, the light source should be behind the person to decrease potential glare. Directional lighting (such as a gooseneck lamp) lights a task without shining light into the person’s eyes. Dimmer switches allow varying levels of lighting. Motion-activated lights may help prevent accidents in dark environments.

Magnification. Magnifiers, strong bifocals, closed-circuit television systems, large print, and computer screen magnification programs are some examples of tools that can provide effective magnification for low vision. Small pocket magnifiers can be used to read labels or menus. Standing magnifiers can be used to read or view items at home or work. A closed-circuit television can help with reading the newspaper, mail, or medicine labels. Seek professional guidance before purchasing a magnifier so you don’t get one that is too low in power or too heavy or one that provides improper light.

Computer adaptations. There are numerous ways to modify a computer to make it usable by a person with visual impairment. For example, software programs can change the text size, screen background color, or text color. Some people find they can read better with a dark background and bright yellow or white print. Screen magnifiers work like a magnifying glass for the computer screen. Screen readers speak everything on the screen, including text, graphics, control buttons, and menus in a computerized voice. Some programs are available in basic, free versions and other programs have free trial periods so that users can give the software a try before making a purchase.

Writing aids. Felt-tipped markers create lines that are bolder and easier to see than lines created by ballpoint pens. (However, ballpoint may be required for certain legal documents.) Black print on yellow or ivory paper reduces glare and improves visibility. Use paper with bold lines to help you write in a straight line.

If bold lines aren’t enough, plastic guides can be purchased to help you sign documents, write letters, fill out checks, and write addresses on envelopes more easily. Some banks will provide large-print checks, check guides to help fill in the correct spaces, and statements in large print or Braille or on cassette. Contact utility companies and others you deal with to request bills in large print or Braille.

Home safety. Falls can be avoided in the home by making some relatively small changes. For example, place strips of reflective tape or paint 2- to 3-inch stripes of fluorescent yellow or orange paint on stairs to make each step more visible. (Some people may see black paint more easily than yellow or orange.) Remove throw rugs or use non-skid rubber-backed rugs. Use a rubber mat in the bathtub or shower. Have grab bars professionally installed in the bathroom; towel racks are not strong enough to support you if you slip.

Some other ways to stay safe include painting dots of silicone, fabric paint, or nail polish on household appliances to mark temperatures used or start buttons. Painting the 9 and 1 numbers on the phone can make dialing 911 easier in an emergency.

Cooking is a complex task that can make use of many adaptive tools and techniques. For example, mobility and orientation training may be necessary for grocery shopping. A magnifier may be necessary for reading package labels or recipes. Some cooks may need cookbooks in large print or Braille or on audiocassette. Extra light or special task lighting in the kitchen may make cooking safer. And there are many specially made kitchen utensils that can make preparing and handling food easier for a person with low vision.

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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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