Northside Health Library

Living with vision loss

Alternate Names

Diabetes - vision loss; Retinopathy - vision loss

Low Vision and Blindness

Low vision is a visual disability. Wearing glasses or contacts does not help. There is no medical or surgical treatment for low vision.

Legal blindness is when your vision test result is 20/200 or worse. But many people that are legally blind still have some low vision.

When you have low vision, you may have trouble with driving, reading, or doing small tasks, such as sewing or crafts. But you can make changes in your home and routines that help you stay safe and independent. Many services are available for you to get the training and support to function independently.

Use Low-vision Aids

Many low vision aids are available.

  • Magnifiers
  • Technology aids to make it easier to use cell phones and computers
  • Watches made for low vision, or talking watches and clocks

Maximize Lighting

  • Maximize your overall room lighting.
  • Use a table or floor lamp that has a gooseneck or flexible arm. Point the light directly on your reading material or task.
  • Use incandescent or halogen bulbs in lamps to give a focused light. Be careful with these lights. They get hot, so don’t use one too close to you for too long.
  • Get rid of glare. Glare can really bother someone with low vision.

Organize Your Home

If you are a very organized person, you may have to make only small changes to your home. If you are not naturally organized, you will want to develop routines that make life easier with low vision.

Everything has its place:

  • Keep things in the same place all the time. Put items in the same drawer or cabinet, or on the same table or counter space.
  • Put things back in the same place every time.
  • Store things in different size containers, such as egg cartons, jars, and shoe boxes.

Get familiar with common things;

  • Learn to recognize the shape of items, such as egg containers or cereal boxes.
  • Use a phone with large numbers, and memorize the keypad.
  • Fold different types of paper money in a different way. For example, fold a $10 bill in half and double fold a $20 bill.
  • Use Braille or large-print checks.

Label your things:

  • Make labels. Use a simple form of Braille called uncontracted Braille.
  • Use small, raised dots, rubber bands, Velcro, or colored tape to label items.
  • Use caulking, raised rubber, or plastic dots to mark the "on," or certain settings for appliances, such as temperature settings on the furnace thermostat and dial settings on the washer and dryer.

Keep Your Home Safe

Remove things that you can trip on. Make changes to decrease your risk of falling.

  • Remove loose wires or cords from the floor.
  • Remove loose throw rugs.
  • Do not keep small pets in your home.
  • Fix any uneven flooring in doorways.
  • Put handrails in the bathtub or shower and next to the toilet.
  • Place a slip-proof mat in the bathtub or shower.

Organize Your Clothes

  • Group your clothes. Keep pants in one part of the closet and shirts in another part.
  • Organize your clothes by color in your closet and drawers. Use sewing knots or clothing pins to code for color. For example, 1 knot or pin is black, 2 knots is white, and 3 knots is red. Cut rings out of cardboard. Put Braille labels of colors on the cardboard rings. Loop the rings onto hangers.
  • Use plastic rings to hold pairs of socks together, use these when you wash, dry, and store your socks.
  • Use large ziplock plastic bags to separate your underwear, bras, and pantyhose.
  • Organize jewelry by color. Use egg cartons or a jewelry box to sort jewelry.

Organize Your Kitchen for Cooking and Eating

  • Use large-print cookbooks.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse where you can get these books.
  • Use caulking, raised rubber, or plastic dots to mark the "on" and "bake" on the dials of your stove, oven, and toaster.
  • Store food in specific containers. Mark them with a Braille label.
  • Use a high contrast placemat so you can see your plate easily. For example, a white plate will stand out against a dark blue or dark green placemat.

Taking Medicines

Keep medicines organized in a cabinet so you know where they are. Follow these tips to make sure you are taking the correct medicine and the correct dose:

  • Label medicine bottles with a felt tip pen so you can read them easily.
  • Use rubber bands or clips to tell your medicines apart.
  • Ask someone else to give you your medicines.
  • Read labels with a magnifying lens.
  • Use a pillbox with compartments for days of the week and times of the day.
  • Never guess when taking your medicines. If you are unsure of your doses, talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.

Getting Around

Learn to use a long white cane to help you get around on your own.

When walking with someone else's help, learn to follow their movement. It helps to:

  • Hold their arm just above the elbow.
  • Walk slightly behind them.
  • Make sure that your paces match each other.
  • Ask the person to tell you when you are approaching steps or a curb. Approach steps and curbs head-on so you can find them with your toes.
  • Ask the person to tell you when you are going through a door.
  • Ask the person to leave you at a specific place. Don’t be left in open space.

Review Date: 6/11/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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