Our Information & Resources team receives many inquiries throughout the year. Here are a few of our most frequently asked questions and answers.

Have a question or concern about your vision? We’re here to offer help, hope and resources! Fill out our contact form or call us at 1-800-829-0500 for the answers.

Technology

Q: My mother has age-related macular degeneration and is looking to supplement her audiobooks on cassettes with a digital format. We’ve found the iPod hard to use for someone who is blind. Are there any other digital players that we can use?

A: The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is currently distributing a digital player that is designed to look and operate much like the standard cassette player does. It has large, tactile buttons that are fairly intuitive. You may consider contacting a local NLS library to see if they can provide one of these for purchase, or direct you to the manufacturer. In New York City, the NLS Library is the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library.

The iPod can be used by someone with vision loss. The more recent productions of the iPod, such as the Nano, have a setting for audio menus. That may not be the ideal solution for your mother, understandably, but it is an option.

Q: I’m having some trouble seeing the title bars, menus and some other parts of the computer screen because of the colors.  Everything seems to be set to a dark blue or black, which I have a hard time distinguishing.  Is there a way to fix this on a Windows computer?

A: You should be able to remedy this issue by changing some of the display settings in the Windows Control Panel.  Windows allows you to change color schemes, select a high contrast display, and make window borders thicker, and so on.  Microsoft.com has some great instructions.

We also offer some general suggestions for improving your computer experience in our tip sheet "Make Your Computer Vision-Friendly”. 

Q: Which e-Readers are best for people with low vision?

A:  Ultimately, the choice of which e-reader is best for a person with low vision has to be made by that person.  We recommend always trying the device out before buying. What works and what doesn’t can be surprising.

Having said that, the Kindle and the iPad, two of the most popular wireless reading devices, are also the favorites of many of our low vision patients.

The Kindle (from Amazon) allows you to increase font sizes up to 40 points in e-books.  Many (but not all) users also find its e-ink display to be easier on the eyes. The Kindle offers a Text-to-Speech feature which makes it possible to listen to your e-book (when authorized by the publisher) and to partially access menus. There is help available at Kindle Support (866-321-8851), where specialists can remotely access your Kindle to resolve any issues you may encounter.

The iPad (from Apple), through its multitude of “apps,” gives you access to
e-books, audio books, newspapers, magazines and much more.  The iPad’s big, bright screen can be adjusted for contrast preferences, and text can be increased up to 56 points.  In addition, its built-in Accessibility Settings include VoiceOver, a feature that reads everything displayed on the screen to you.  The iPad is fully usable for people with low or no vision.

For more reading options consult our Guide to Reading Options tip sheet on this subject.

Q: Is there a mobile phone that can be fully voice activated?

A: Not quite but hang in there, we’re confident that it’s on the horizon!

The closest and best option at the moment is the iPhone 4S with Siri. There are no short cuts, however -- even with your computerized personal assistant Siri, you still must learn to navigate the touch screen.

There are degrees of speech enabled features in more and more mobile phones. For instance, the Samsung Haven from Verizon includes voice dialing, speech enabled menus and a feature that reads you the text messages you’ve received.

For the totally a-technical, we like the Jitterbug phone. It comes with a live old fashioned operator that you can basically tell what to do, 24/7.

Q: Do you know of a really inconspicuous video magnifier that will actually fit in my pocket.

A: You’ve come to the right place. Here are two video magnifiers that really fit in your pocket:

Aukey-- $295; 3.5 inch screen, magnifies from 1.5z to 17x. Purchase it at the Lighthouse Store!

Compact Mini from Optelec-- $395; 3.5 inch screen, magnifies from  2x  to 11x. Purchase it at the Lighthouse Store!

Q: A colleague is experiencing difficulty seeing the words on his computer at work. What can he do immediately to deal with this and not interfere with his job?

A: There are many simple ways to make your computer easier to read beginning with increasing font size, using zoom features, and personalizing display settings. A change in monitor size can also make a big difference.

Get some assistance from an IT specialist, if you can.

It is also very helpful to consult our Make Your Computer Vision-Friendly tip sheet.

All About Low Vision

Q: I have been recently diagnosed with Stargardt's Disease. This condition has been the main reason why I have been terminated from positions, because I am unable to see.  I'm now losing another job, because I keep making errors from things I don't see.  I'm afraid that if I bring this issue up to an employer that I will not be hired.   So I take jobs, and then fail at them.   I don’t know what to do, I just feel frustrated, angry and discriminated against.  Please help.

A:  It is completely understandable why you feel the way you do.  We want you to know, though, that there are resources and options available to you, and you do not have to just try to get by in a job and hope that nobody notices.  The truth is, if you walk into a new job without the right tools and accommodations in place, you are essentially setting yourself up for failure.  Or, at the very least, for an exceedingly frustrating experience.

We would suggest that you set up a consultation with a low vision specialist.  This is an optometrist who focuses on prescribing the right optical and non-optical tools for people with vision loss.  Such tools may be magnifiers, high-powered glasses, electronic devices, software for the computer, and so on.  A low vision doctor will be able to assess your current visual function (what and how you can see now) and recommend the right things for you.  In essence, they help you learn to make the most of the vision you still have.  Acquiring and learning to use these tools will restore your ability to function in a work environment.

We can provide this service at one of our Low Vision Centers in either New York City or White Plains, NY.  If neither of these locations is convenient, you can find other providers in our Help Near You search tool, or by calling our Information & Resource Team at (800) 829-0500.

We would also urge you to consider setting up a case with your state's department of services for people who are blind or visually impaired.  This agency can help you acquire the right tools and skills, and ultimately help you find long-term employment.  They will pair you up with one of their counselors, who will help you navigate the various programs and services that can help you along this journey.  Again, visit Help Near You or give us a call if you need assistance finding this agency.

There are many great online resources for information and tips (including our Resources section here!).  You might also check out the information available from the Foundation Fighting Blindness which is a group that focuses on research and support for people with retinal diseases.

Be well and good luck!

Q: My mother has macular degeneration and recently has been experiencing tired and strained eyes after reading for a while, even in good light with her glasses on. She does not want to give up her love for books, but fears that the strain may cause her vision loss to progress. Is it true that eye strain can accelerate conditions like macular degeneration?

A: Macular degeneration causes distortions and blind spots in the central vision.  As a result, people with macular degeneration will experience reductions in their reading fluency, reading speed, and quality of vision.  Prolonged reading may create fatigue and eye strain but it does not accelerate the progression of macular degeneration. – Linda Pang, OD

Q: Why is a low vision evaluation necessary if I have recently been examined by my ophthalmologist?

A: The exam your ophthalmologist performed, while still very important, is not the same as a low vision evaluation

An ophthalmologist assesses a patient’s visual health, diagnoses eye diseases and provides medical treatment where possible. The objective of a low vision exam, on the other hand, is to determine how the patient can best maximize the vision they have remaining. It includes an analysis of useable visual function, contrast sensitivity function, and the exact fixation of the eyes.  The low vision specialist will also determine the distance, intermediate, and near vision corrections.  Based on this assessment, the doctor can recommend or prescribe the best low vision devices for the patient’s unique visual needs.  In short, you should keep seeing your ophthalmologist, but a low vision specialist can help you make the most of the vision you have now. 

Recreation and Travel

Q: My wife and I are visually impaired and visiting New York City. What is the safest and easiest way to travel around the city and view the attractions?

A: New York City is filled with enjoyable and accessible attractions for tourists and residents alike. Quite a few museums in New York have verbal description and touch tours, but that is only the beginning. To get started with some ideas, have a look at two of our tip sheets, “Museums in the Big Apple” and “Broadway & Beyond.”
The NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities also published a helpful reference, Official Accessibility Guide to New York City (PDF).

You may want to check with Big Apple Greeter. They pair you, as visitors, with volunteer New Yorkers who will take you on tours of their own neighborhoods. The group welcomes tourists with visual impairments and other needs.
In case you need any help planning your trip, Echevarria Travel is a multi-service travel agency in the New York area that has specific services for travelers with vision impairments.

Q: I’ve been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and I’m thinking about moving to New York City. Can you help me find housing arrangements? Are there subsidized apartments available for the visually impaired?

A: Unfortunately, housing assistance is not a service offered by the Lighthouse. There are housing programs that are regulated by the City of New York which specify a preference for applicants with vision impairments (in most cases, for 2% of available units).

We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the resources available on the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development website.

Keep in mind, though, that these programs take time, and are not guaranteed. In addition to the vision impairment preference, there is also a general preference for current New York City residents. Income and other eligibility requirements apply.

Also, at least for an initial period, you may have to acquire housing through standard means, such as by working with a rental broker or finding a roommate. Your new employer may offer relocation assistance. You may also check with your alumni association to see if they can assist or connect you with a fellow alumnus in the city.

Financial Assistance

Q: My brother lost most of his vision due to cataracts and needs a lens replacement. He doesn’t have medical insurance and is close to losing his job since he cannot drive anymore. Is there any way for him to get help?

A: There is a national program called Mission Cataract USA. Coordinated by the Volunteer Eye Surgeons’ Association, they provide free cataract surgery to people of all ages who have no other means to pay. Surgeries are scheduled annually on one day, usually in May. You can also read through the Lighthouse guide, Financial Aid for Vision Services.

Your brother may also be eligible for services either to prevent him from losing his job or to help him find a new job. These services may include training, purchasing assistive equipment, transportation options, etc. Check with a local agency for the visually impaired for more information. If you need help finding one, please contact us.

Your brother may also be eligible for services either to prevent him from losing his job or to help him find a new job. These services may include training, purchasing assistive equipment, transportation options, etc. Check with a local agency for the visually impaired for more information. If you need help finding one, please contact us.

Q: My friend lost her vision and has not been able to use the computer. How can she obtain a screen magnifier at little or no cost?

A: Does your friend already have a computer? If so, check to see if she can use it with its existing magnification and zooming features. On a PC, you can usually find the magnifier program in the “accessibility” section under “accessories” in the “start menu.” On a Mac, zoom can be initiated in the universal access section of the settings menu. Keep in mind that newer computers, with more recent operating systems, have comparably better versions of these programs than their older counterparts. For more information and demonstrations, visit the Windows website and the Mac website.

If she does not have a computer, and if it would be a financial hardship to purchase one, you can contact the Texas Center for the Visually Challenged. For a $100 donation, they provide a refurbished computer, with all necessary equipment, as well as assistive software such as a screen magnification program. You do not have to live in Texas to qualify.

AI Squared, the manufacturer of the screen magnification software ZoomText, also offers a payment plan option when you purchase its product directly.

 

 

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