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Low vision and low vision services

If your vision is causing you difficulties with your day-to-day activities, despite having the best spectacles or contact lens correction, then you have low vision.

Your vision does not need to meet the required level to be eligible for registration as sight impaired to be considered low vision.

What are low vision services?

Low vision services are provided by the NHS to help you make the most of your vision, by investigating the difficulties you are having, and recommending equipment or techniques that can help overcome these difficulties. This might be with magnifying glasses or devices, or by helping you learn ways of using your vision, called vision strategies.

The low vision service will include a low vision assessment with a low vision practitioner, who will assess your needs and your level of vision.

It will also include a wider network of support to link you with emotional support, rehabilitation services such as mobility training, local sight loss charities and services.

Where you live in the UK will determine who provides your service. In Wales, the service is provided by Low Vision Service Wales.

Elsewhere in the UK, the service is commissioned locally, and you can find out who provides it by calling us on 0303 123 9999 or searching on the Sightline Directory.

Alternatively, you can contact your eye doctor, optometrist (optician) or GP to ask for a referral to the low vision service in your area.

Low vision practitioners can be optometrists, orthoptists, dispensing opticians, or low vision therapists.

What to expect at a low vision assessment

When you attend your appointment at the low vision service, you will have a low vision assessment. This varies depending on your local provider, but it will include:

  • A detailed discussion about what you are finding difficult to do, what support you have day-to-day and about your health. This is used to plan how best to help you.
  • An assessment of how well you see in the distance and for reading.
  • A measurement of what magnification works best for you in the distance and for reading.
  • Demonstration of magnifying devices to find the best one for you. Sometimes a decision is made that this doesn’t help you and another plan is made such as using technology instead.
  • You will have help to learn how to use any magnifying device that you are being prescribed.
  • A discussion about what other services and support you might need.

How does a low vision assessment help?

The low vision practitioner will put together the information you have given them and on how well you can see and recommend an action plan to help you do the activities you want or need to do.

There are five ways to help you overcome the difficulties your sight is causing. A low vision assessment will help you find the best options for you.

1. Bigger

Making things bigger, for example by using large print books, enlarging the font on a computer screen, or using optical lenses such as magnifying glasses or telescopes. Magnifiers can be difficult to use because as the power of the lens increases the working distance gets shorter. It is very important that you have magnification prescribed by a low vision practitioner rather than purchasing magnifiers in shops or online for the first time. It is also important to know that you are entitled to magnifiers funded by the NHS, so if you need a magnifier, you do not need to purchase it yourself.

The practitioner will work out the minimum magnification you need for your task and teach you how to use the magnifier to get the best results. For some people, using mobile devices and electronic magnifiers are easier because of their longer working distance, larger range of magnification levels and flexibility. Sometimes you need a different magnification power for different tasks, such as reading medicine packets or reading for pleasure.

2. Brighter

Most people with sight loss need and benefit from enhanced lighting, and good lighting can allow you to make the most of your sight. A general rule of thumb for lighting your home is to have a consistent, even, diffused light throughout the house so that your eyes do not need to keep adjusting to different light levels.

However, when you have a task or activity such as chopping vegetables or reading, you may benefit from additional light known as task lighting. Find out more about how you can improve the lighting in your home.

As part of the help you may be eligible for from social services, rehabilitation officers can visit your home to carry out a lighting assessment.

Some people find that light causes their vision to be worse or more uncomfortable. Using glare shields in situations that cause you problems can be helpful. Glare shields are wraparound glasses that are tinted to reduce the light. They protect from light all around, unlike normal sunglasses. There are lots of colour options and the only way to know which helps you is to try different options in the situation that causes your difficulties. Find out more about light sensitivity and how to choose glare shields.

3. Bolder

Using contrasting colours can really help. Black on white is the strongest contrast, but there are other colour combinations that can also provide the same benefit.

Contrast can be used in different ways – such as, using cups or coloured glasses which contrast with your table or dark coloured chopping boards to help with preparing vegetables. Door frames which contrast with the door or your walls, or a duvet which contrasts with the carpet are also good examples. Some people may find that removing different patterns in a room can help or perhaps even using just one strong pattern instead.

Using a bold felt tip pen to write with will make the text bigger and bolder. A notebook with thick lines will help guide your writing and can help when taking notes too.

4. Audio

If you find using magnification is too tiring or too difficult at times, it can help to use an audio alternative, such as Talking Books. You may also benefit from kitchen appliances and medical devices that have audio options such as talking microwave ovens or talking glucose monitors.

5. Tactile

Tactile alternatives are better for some tasks if you need lots of magnification, such as a tactile aid on a cooker dial so that you don’t have to come too close to a hot service to check the settings. You may find it helpful to learn about tactile aids that can help you out and about, such as tactile paving slabs at crossings, and the use of long or guide canes. The low vision practitioner can discuss this with you and refer you to social care services for mobility training with a rehabilitation officer.

Further information

We have lots more useful tips for making the most of your sight in our downloadable guide: