Low Vision FAQs

What is low vision care?

Low vision care, also known as vision rehabilitation, is a service provided by an eyecare or vision rehabilitation professional that helps maximize the remaining vision of an individual who has a vision impairment.  Low vision care typically involves an evaluation by a professional to determine the most appropriate low vision aids based upon the individual’s level of vision and their goals. Rehabilitation training and as well as other appropriate techniques are also considered.

How can low vision care help a visually impaired person?

Low vision care can help make the most of the remaining vision that a person has in order to gain back as much independence as possible with the goal to increase their quality of life. With appropriate low vision devices and training in their use, many people with a vision impairment can continue to read, watch television, manage their finances, maintain their homes, shop, travel, and socialize.

What kind of visual impairments can low vision aids help?

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, myopic degeneration, among many others.

What low vision device is best for macular degeneration? Diabetic retinopathy? Cataracts?

Unfortunately, there is no one device that is ideal for any particular eye disease or condition. The appropriate device(s) will depend on the individual’s level of vision and their goals. This is why an evaluation by a low vision specialist is so valuable to determine the low vision aids that will work best for the individual’s specific 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 saw, or a chisel. Likewise, a visually impaired patient may use a magnifier to read a medicine bottle or package label, a telescope to see signs, watch television, and recognize people, and a video magnifier to read a book.  Each low vision aid has its own ideal purpose, and many people benefit from using different devices for different activities. Low vision aids can be divided into several categories—optical aids, non-optical aids, electronic aids, and mobility aids.

How do low vision devices help those with vision impairments?

Low vision devices are usually designed to make an image larger– the equivalent of being able to read the large print of a newspaper headline but not the small print of the article. Digital versions can provide a range of magnification powers and can also increase contrast.  Individuals with tunnel vision may benefit from image minifiers—similar to peephole door viewers that allow the user to see more at one time. Individuals with side-vision loss (hemianopsia) may benefit from specially prescribed prism eyeglasses.

What are CCTVs? How do they help?

Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), now more commonly referred to as video magnifiers or electronic magnifiers, are available in a variety of designs—handheld, tabletop, and wearable (video headset) versions. The classic desktop CCTV magnifier can be compared to a microfiche machine often seen in a public library. Reading material is placed beneath a camera and an enlarged image appears on the monitor screen above.  Video magnifiers act similarly to other low vision devices in that they enlarge the image, but the user can also vary the amount of magnification and control contrast and other functions to make the image on the screen easier to see.

What are spectacle microscopes? How do they help?

Spectacle microscopes are eyeglasses that contain a high-powered magnifying lens for use by one eye.  They allow the user to hold the material very close to their eye to achieve a high level of magnification (similar to a Jeweler’s loupe). They are typically used for near tasks when the hands need to be available.

What are blue blockers sunglasses? How do they help?

Blue blockers―also called contrast-enhancing glasses, filters, tinted filters, absorptive filters, anti-glare glasses or glare control eyewear―block certain wavelengths (colors) of light to improve contrast and reduce glare making it easier to see an object against its background. They are available in a variety of colors including yellow, amber, orange, plum and gray. These glasses are often designed to fit over prescription eyewear.

What are bioptic telescopes? How do they help?

Bioptic telescopes (also called bioptics) are special eyeglasses that include a miniature telescope. They come in a variety of designs and are usually mounted toward the top of the eyeglasses allowing the wearer to alternate their vision between the regular eyeglass lens (the carrier lens) and the telescope eyepiece with just a tilt of the head. When a user looks through the telescope at a distant object, the image is enlarged making it easier to see. For instance, if the user can only see a target clearly no further than 20 feet away, a 2 power bioptic will let them see it as clearly at 40 feet. Some bioptics can be focused for different distances to see packages on store shelves, print on the TV or computer screens, or music on a music stand. Most states in the US offer opportunities for eligible individuals with low vision to obtain a special driver’s license using a bioptic telescope.

How can I purchase a low vision device?

Some types of low vision products are available directly from manufacturers or their distributors. Other products are available only through eyecare or vision rehabilitation professionals (low vision specialists) who can determine and prescribe the most appropriate device(s) for the individual. Success with low vision aids is a combination of using the proper device and the training involved in using it effectively.

How much do low vision devices cost?

Costs of low vision aids vary widely by the type of product and their complexity. Many low vision devices cost no more than a pair of eyeglasses, while others may range 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 only pay for a low vision exam by an eye doctor, but currently it does not cover nor reimburse the cost of purchasing the low vision device(s). Some private insurance companies do reimburse for both the low vision exam as well as the device. As part of the Aid to Disabled Americans (ADA), some employers will cover the acquisition cost of devices if they will be helpful to the individual at work. Check with your individual insurance company or employer for more details.

What is the warranty policy on low vision devices?

Warranties on low vision devices vary by the product and the manufacturer. Some come with a limited lifetime warranty while others have a 1 or 2 year warranty. You can also request coverage on your homeowner’s insurance

Will I be able to drive again?

In the US, 47 states allow a visually impaired person to be eligible to receive a special driver’s license using bioptic telescope eyeglasses. These devices contain a miniature optical telescope mounted toward the top of the eyeglass lens allowing the driver to see further up the road to read signs, see signals, and identify other traffic and road obstacles sooner to give them more time to adjust their driving appropriately. Most of the time the user will drive while looking through the regular eyeglass lenses and will dip their head slightly to look through the telescope when necessary to see further up the road. They are used intermittently similar to the use of the side and rearview mirrors. The process and regulations regarding obtaining this special bioptic driver’s license vary from state to state and must be done in conjunction with a low vision specialist (usually an optometrist) familiar with prescribing bioptic telescopes. The specialist will determine if the individual complies with the state’s bioptic vision requirements and how likely they would be successful in using the device.