Over the years, I have received a large volume of messages from people all around the world who are learning to adjust to newly acquired vision loss. Details such as their level of usable vision, the circumstances behind their sight loss, and their age can vary greatly, but my core advice about learning to live with acquired temporary or permanent vision loss remains the same, with a heavy emphasis on education and adapting existing tools. Here are my tips for adapting to newly acquired vision loss, or a new low vision diagnosis.
It’s hard for someone to know what to ask for when they aren’t sure what is available. If I could go back in time, I would teach the younger version of myself and all of my teachers and family members about different assistive technology terms and tools that would help me tremendously as someone with low vision, as I never heard the term “assistive technology” until I was in high school, and even then I thought it was only for people who had vision worse than mine. I have a post with common assistive technology terms for low vision linked below.
One of the common assumptions about people who are blind or have low vision is that they are unable to use devices such as smartphones, tablets, or computers. This isn’t the case at all, as many consumer technology companies have invested in accessibility so their devices can be used by as many people as possible. I recommend going through the Accessibility section of the Settings menu and experimenting with large print, screen magnification, color filters, screen readers, and similar tools.
With my vision loss, a lot of objects appear to be blurry or run into each other, which can impact how I organize items or spaces that I spend a lot of time in. Some examples of adaptations I have made to items that I frequently use include:
There are so many awesome free applications and services available for people with visual impairments that can help with accessing information independently. For example, visual assistance apps can connect users to a live assistant or use machine learning tools to help with identifying a product or reading short text, while simplified reading displays can help to reduce the clutter on a display so that it is easier to read. Users can also choose to install third-party apps that can change the display of features on their devices such as the font size, keyboard, or home screen- in fact, my first ever post was on this topic!
It’s common to feel frustrated over not being able to use a certain technology or to complete a specific task, and one of the main pieces of advice I have for people who are new to the world of vision loss is to be patient and not try to learn everything at the same time. While it is helpful to have a basic understanding of lots of different tools, it is unrealistic to try and learn how to use all of them simultaneously. I recommend choosing one task or tool and learning several different ways it can be completed or used- for example, if I wanted to be able to browse social media I would look at using on-demand screen reading tools, large print, simple screen magnification, and adjusting settings within the app.
Whether people are experiencing short-term or long-term vision loss, it’s helpful to apply for school or workplace accommodations as soon as possible, as it is much better to be proactive about getting services instead of being reactive and trying to figure out what services are needed after there is already a problem. It’s also worth noting that accommodations aren’t set in stone and can be adjusted as vision changes over time- for example, my accommodations from high school versus college were drastically different as my vision changed and I became better at self-advocacy and figuring out what I would need in the classroom.
For people who have long-term vision loss that need to learn how to do different tasks related to their job or independent living, vocational rehabilitation services can be an incredibly helpful resource, as they provide training and educational resources related to going to school and gaining meaningful employment. Many states have their own programs, so I recommend running a web search for vocational rehabilitation programs available in different regions.
When adjusting to newly acquired vision loss, one of the most important things a person can do is focus on their usable vision and understand what they can see, instead of thinking about what they can’t. This is especially important for older people who are experiencing vision changes, as they are at a higher risk of depression and isolation related to vision loss, but it is important for people of all ages to be able to explain what they see in a brief and easy-to-understand way. It’s not enough to be able to just name a diagnosis, as many eye conditions can affect people in drastically different ways, or interact with each other to cause unpredictable vision loss. I have an entire post about developing explanations for usable vision linked below.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
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