Low Vision Affects Growing Number of Americans

Man with Visual Impairment

Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, Americans are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Nevertheless, aging is associated with the increased likelihood of acquired diseases and disabilities such as low vision. Though this condition can occur at any age, low vision disproportionately affects individuals over age 65. As Low Vision Awareness Month (February) comes to a close, Enabling Devices has compiled the following information and resources  pertaining to low vision. We’ve also highlighted some of the products we sell that are especially designed for individuals with low vision.

What is low vision?
According to the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, “Low vision is a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery.” Low vision can make many activities of daily life more challenging.

What are the causes of low vision?
There are many causes. Some of these include age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts. In younger people with low vision, injuries to the eye or certain birth defects or syndromes may be the cause of low vision.

What are the symptoms of low vision?
When glasses or contact lenses aren’t sufficient to help individuals to see their surroundings, recognize faces, do chores in their homes, etc. it may be a sign that vision loss is in progress. It is critical to diagnose vision loss as soon as possible, since early diagnosis is key to helping individuals maintain the vision they still have.

What resources are available to help people with low vision?
These days, there are many resources for people with low vision. These include technological advances such as screen readers and screen magnifiers; audio books; smartphone apps; tactile devices and smart glasses. Not sure where to begin? Check out the Low Vision Center at lowvisioninfo.org. You can also find resources at the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Low Vision Resource Guide.

What products are available through Enabling Devices?
For individuals with low vision who require a switch, Enabling Devices’ Tail Light Switch Say It Play It (#464) is a communicator with a large target area and bright yellow color that is easy to locate. Our Auditory Communicator for the Visually Impaired (#4399) is a great tool for those who have low vision and communication challenges. Alternatively our Talkable 2 for the Visually Impaired (#6056) is designed with bright yellow and red switches that are easy to see and activate. Our Musical Lightbox (#200) creates a bright backlight that makes any activity more visible. Younger users with low vision will appreciate our VI Shapes Puzzle (#9041). This puzzle teaches shape recognition. Or treat your whole class with our Kit for the Visually Impaired (#2047N). This kit includes everything a teacher needs to keep students with low vision engaged and learning.

February is Low Vision Awareness Month

Low Vision Awareness Month is an ideal time to learn about the causes and symptoms of low vision and about the many resources and technological advances that make living with this condition more manageable. Low vision isn’t the same as needing glasses or laser surgery. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it’s “a permanent loss of vision that won’t improve with eyeglasses, medicine or surgery.”

In many cases, low vision is the result of conditions and diseases found more commonly in older adults. Conditions such as macular regeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can all cause vision loss. Yet, seniors aren’t the only people affected by low vision. It can also be caused by conditions such as albinism, retinitis pigmentosa, traumatic brain injury or optic nerve damage.

Some conditions that cause low vision have no early symptoms and are hard to detect and diagnose. Therefore, it’s important to have yearly exams. Lee Huffman, editor-in-chief of AccessWorld, a publication of the American Foundation for the Blind says a low vision exam is far more comprehensive than the eye exams with which most of us are familiar. “A low vision examination includes a review of your visual and medical history, and places an emphasis on the vision needed to read, cook, work, study, travel and perform and enjoy other common activities,” says Huffman. Its goals “include assessing the functional needs, capabilities and limitations of your vision, assessing ocular and systemic diseases, and evaluating and prescribing low vision therapies.”

Follow-up from a low vision exam may include “education and counseling of family and other care providers; providing an understanding of your visual functioning to aid educators, vocational counselors, employers and care givers; directing further evaluations and treatments by other vision rehabilitation professionals; and making appropriate referrals for medical intervention are all a part of a low vision evaluation,” Huffman explains.

If you or someone you love is diagnosed with a disease or condition that causes low vision there are tools — some low-tech and some high-tech — that can help. Vision rehabilitation enables individuals with low vision to learn new ways to do the tasks they need and want to do. Sometimes a team of medical professionals will provide rehabilitation services. These services may include a home assessment to provide recommendations such as improving the lighting in your home, reducing glare and creating more contrast so it is easier to distinguish between objects. Your ophthalmologist or rehabilitation team will also teach you about tools that can make everyday tasks easier such as magnifying glasses, video magnifiers, audio books, smartphones and tablets, talking gadgets such as Alexa, and toys and devices with easily distinguishable textures and color-coding.

Enabling Devices offers a range of items for children and adults that can educate and improve quality of life for individuals with low vision. For a complete list of items, check out our online catalogue. For more information about getting involved in Low Vision Awareness Month, visit the National Eye Institute’s website.

What are your favorite tips and products for individuals with low vision? Share them with us on Facebook and Twitter.

7 Tips for Getting in Shape if You’re Visually Impaired

It’s January and the gyms are full. After all, there’s no more popular New Year’s resolution than getting in shape. Exercise is just as important for people with disabilities as it is for their non-disabled peers. Yet, creating an exercise routine when one has a disability can be complicated.

For example, people with blindness or visual impairment have unique challenges when it comes to maintaining their physical fitness.

Perhaps that’s why a new study by Dr. Keziah Latham, from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK found that visually impaired individuals are twice as likely to be inactive as sighted individuals. But that’s not the whole story.

The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes estimates that it has helped more than 100,000 men and women with vision loss become top athletes in the last 30 years. This figure is just for elite athletes. Millions more individuals with vision loss lead health-conscious, active lives, and they are participating in exercise programs, fitness groups, and activity clubs on a regular basis.”

With the right tools, and techniques, plus a healthy dose of motivation, the benefits of exercise are well within reach for most people with visual impairment and blindness. Here are some tips to help yourself or your loved one get into shape:

1. Discuss exercise options with your doctor
Prior to beginning an exercise routine, be sure to speak with your doctor. This is especially important for people with low vision says Vision Aware.org “since some medical and eye conditions can be affected by bending, lifting, straining, or rapid movement.”

2. Consider logistical issues
Transportation challenges, inaccessible fitness centers, safety concerns and financial constraints are among the obstacles people with visual impairment and blindness face when designing exercise regimens. Researching transportation options, accessible fitness centers, home-exercise programs and apps will help you determine what makes the most sense for you.

3. Consider personal preferences
Not everyone enjoys the same types of exercise. Investigate fitness options to find the activities you will enjoy. When fitness is fun, you are more apt to continue exercising.

4. Find a partner or coach
“When first learning fitness techniques, work with a trainer,” Vision Aware recommends. “Do not exercise alone, especially when beginning a program, using new equipment, learning new movements, or an unfamiliar environment. A sighted fitness professional or exercise partner ensures safety while providing motivation and boosting confidence.” Though trainers with expertise in training people with disabilities aren’t easy to find, it’s worth checking out the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability’s (NCHPAD) database of personal trainers who have such expertise. Perhaps there’s someone who works in your area.

5. Find fitness programs especially created for blind and visually impaired
Programs like Blind Alive, offer cardio exercise, weight lifting, body sculpting, yoga, pilates, and more. “BlindAlive also offers an Entry Level Bundle for those who have little to no experience with exercise, or want to finally get back into the flow.” Each activity is presented with multiple challenge levels. Other programs such as Eyes Free Yoga and the United States Association of Blind Athletes’ video on adapting judo for the blind also enable people with visual impairment to exercise independently in their own homes.

6. Investigate the availability of accessible equipment
Scifit creates fitness equipment for people with disabilities. Those with vision impairment or blindness will benefit from Scifit’s consoles which feature “high-contrast, non-reflective display that’s easy to read, tactile markings and tactile buttons and audible beeps to confirm selections.” If equipment at your fitness center isn’t accessible, you consider asking center employees to attach braille labels.

7. Set goals
Setting attainable, realistic goals is helpful to anyone seeking to become physically fit. Consult with a trainer or with online or print literature to create appropriate goals and objectives.

 

Visionary Inclusion Campaign

Inclusion graphic

In April, the Perkins School for the Blind launched a brand new social media and public relations campaign to promote the inclusion of those who are blind and have low vision. The campaign, Blind New World follows a nation-wide survey conducted by the school that “revealed the four barriers to blind inclusion: discomfort, pity, fear and stigma.” The study also found that 80 percent of respondents feel sorry for those who are blind, 74 percent believe they could not be happy if they lost their sight and more than half don’t feel comfortable when in the presence of someone who is blind.

Ironically, campaign advocates insist that thanks to educational opportunities and technological advances, “there has never been a better time to be blind.” According to Blind New World, “The biggest obstacle isn’t blindness. It’s a world that can’t see beyond it.”

Inspired by Corinne Grousbeck, chair of the Perkins School’s board and the mother of a student at the school, the campaign aims to “break the barriers to inclusion and connection, and to prepare the world to embrace today’s highly capable blind population.”

Enabling Devices offers a wide range of toys, adaptable technologies and other tools to help children and adults with blindness, low vision or complex sensory and communication needs to be fully engaged in the world.  Here are some of our most popular products:

 

#520
#520

1. Visually Impaired Activity Center #520

Specially designed for the visually impaired, this activity center teaches cause and effect, provides tactile stimulation, encourages physical movement, improves auditory memory, teaches sequencing, color and shape recognition and plays music. This learning toy can be used in games such as I Spy, Simon Says, Seek and Find and Memory Game.

2. Shapes Puzzle with Braille #9041

Reach blind or visually impaired learners to recognize, match and name shapes using eight colorful tactile pieces with braille markings. This toy also teaches hand-eye coordination, fine motor and perceptive skills.

3. Tactile Symbol Communicator #4040

Ideal for people who are totally blind or dual sensory impaired. This communicator stores six messages on six levels for a total of 36 six-second messages. The user can touch one of six removable tactile symbols to communicate his needs. Included are tactile symbols that alert caregivers or therapists when the user needs to use the bathroom, is hungry, thirsty, finished or when something is wrong.

 

#2046Y Totally Tactile Communicator
#2046Y

4. Totally Tactile Communicator # 2046Y

This bestselling item helps users to communicate through their recognition of texture. With six levels for a total of 36 seven-second messages, this communicator also has adjustable activation time.

5. Bright Switch for the Visually Impaired #2045

This switch uses bright yellow lights, vibration and music to help those with low vision find it.

6. Braille games kit

Your child will be busy all day long playing games like chess, tic tac toe, UNO Monopoly, Scrabble and more!

7. Kit for the Visually Impaired #2047N

The whole kit and caboodle includes toys, games, learning tools, communicators and switches