Low Vision FAQs

What is low vision care?

Low vision care, also known as vision rehabilitation, is a service provided by an eye care or vision rehabilitation professional that helps maximize the remaining vision of someone who has a vision impairment.  Low vision care typically involves an evaluation by the professional and the use of low vision devices (also called low vision aids), rehabilitation training and other techniques.

How can low vision care help a visually impaired person?

Low vision care can help make the most of the remaining vision that a visually impaired person has in order to gain back independence and increase quality of life. With the low vision devices and the training provided by eye care and vision rehabilitation professionals, many people with a vision impairment can continue to read, take care of their own finances, view photographs and watch television―all on their own!

What kind of visual impairments are low vision products for?

The major eye diseases and conditions for which low vision devices are used are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, retinitis pigmentosa, albinism, Stargardt’s disease and retinopathy of prematurity, among others.

What low vision device is best for macular degeneration? diabetic retinopathy? cataracts?

Unfortunately, there is no one specific device that is ideal for any particular eye disease or condition. The device needed depends on a number of variables and varies even among people with same eye disease, which is why a low vision patient should be evaluated  by a low vision specialist who can demonstrate different devices to determine which one(s) work best for that individual’s needs.

Why are there so many different types of low vision devices?

Low vision devices vary for the same reason a carpenter carries so many different tools:  each is good for a different task. Depending on the job, a carpenter may use a hammer, a wrench or a screwdriver. Likewise, a visually impaired patient may use a magnifier to read a pill bottle, a telescope to watch television, and a video magnifier to read a book.  Each low vision device has its own set of tasks for which it is ideal and many people often use multiple devices.

How do low vision devices help those with vision impairments?

Low vision devices make the image of an object appear larger and easier to see on the back of the eye in order to better focus on the image.  The magnification that is provided by low vision devices allows the vision impaired individual to be able to see around the scotomas (dark spots) that are associated with low vision. The devices improve the contrast of the object so it can be more easily separated from its background.

What are CCTVs? How do they help?

Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) are now more commonly referred to as video magnifiers or electronic magnifiers and come in a variety of designs. The classic desktop magnifier can be compared to a microfiche machine often seen in a public library; an object (the film) rests under a camera and an enlarged image of it appears on a monitor above.  Video magnifiers act similarly to other low vision devices in that they enlarge the image of an object so that it is easier to see.

What are spectacle microscopes? How do they help?

A spectacle microscope is a pair of glasses that has a high-powered lens on one side and a clear lens on the other side.  The glasses have to be used monocularly (one eye at a time) because of convergence issues. Spectacle microscopes are typically used for reading or other near tasks because in order to work properly, the object must be held very near to the eye.

What are blue blockers? How do they help?

Blue blockers―also called contrast-enhancing glasses, filters, tinted filters, absorptive filters, anti-glare glasses or glare control eyewear―block a certain range of light and are available in a variety of tints, the most popular being yellow, amber, orange, plum and gray. The glasses are usually designed to fit over prescription eyewear and improve the viewer’s visual contrast making it easier to see an object against its background.

What are bioptic telescopes? How do they help?

Bioptic telescopes (also called bioptics) are small telescopes attached to a pair of glasses.  They come in a variety of designs (attached to the top of a pair of glasses, drilled into the lens itself, etc.). When a user looks through the telescope at a distant object, the image is enlarged making it easier to see.

How can I purchase a low vision device?

Some low vision products are available directly from manufacturers or their distributors. Other low vision products are available only through eye care or vision rehabilitation professionals (usually called low vision professionals) who are trained in being able to determine which device is best for an end user and can then fit the device and provide training to ensure success with the product.

How much do low vision devices cost?

The cost varies widely by the type of product and the brand.  As a general guideline, most low vision device costs about the same as a new pair of eye glasses, though they can cost anywhere from less than $25 to several thousand dollars.

Does Medicare or other insurance pay for low vision devices or the exam with a low vision professional?

Medicare typically will pay for a low vision exam by an eye doctor, but it does not reimburse for any low vision devices. Some private insurance companies do reimburse for both the low vision exam as well as the advice. Check with each individual insurance company for details.

What is the warranty policy on low vision devices?

Warranties on low vision devices vary by manufacturer.  Some come with a limited lifetime warranty while others have a 1 or 2 year warranty.

Will I be able to drive again?

26 states allow a visually impaired person to drive with telescopes. The device used is called a bi-optic telescope, which is small and usually mounted in the top of the lens. The user can use the glasses normally or tip their head to read street signs, etc., with the telescope. The process to obtain a bioptic device must be done in conjunction with an optometrist. He/she can determine if the patient would be successful with the telescope. The restrictions as to when and where a person can drive are significant.