Moving forward with low vision starts with taking control of the situation. This involves acquiring knowledge, understanding the potential impacts of any diagnosis and knowing the options available to you to deal with the challenge.
Different eye diseases or conditions will result in varying effects on vision so it is important to pursue support services and aids and technologies which cater to individual requirements.
Below is a simple flow chart guiding you through the steps involved in accessing low vision aids and technologies.
Step 1: Information and guidance
Gather information and guidance on how low vision aids and/or technologies can improve quality of life and level of independence. A call to Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s Helpline on 1800 111 709 can be a good starting point. Additionally, you can talk to your ophthalmologist, optometrist, orthoptist, occupational therapist or a low vision rehabilitation service about your needs.
Step 2: Assess personal needs
Take time to assess the areas in your life that are important for maintaining independence yet proving difficult. Is it daily living with cooking and housekeeping? Reading for work commitments? Are you an avid gardener? Perhaps you simply want to move freely and safely in your home. This personal assessment will help match aids and technology for your individual requirements.
Step 3: Prioritise the list
Sometimes the list of needs can be quite extensive. Prioritising your top three needs will make the starting point easier. Work through your list by priority and build upon your successes as your confidence increases.
Step 4: Undertake an assessment
Some people purchase low vision aids or technologies without a low vision assessment. While the purchase may help the situation, without a formal assessment the best outcomes cannot be assured. The hearing-impaired seek expert advice on the right hearing aid; the same should apply for a low vision aid.
Macular Disease Foundation Australia provides a free low vision advisory service in Sydney in partnership with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. Across Australia low vision assessments are provided by low vision agencies, as well as several major hospitals, universities, and some optometrists. Search here to find a low vision service provider near you.
Step 5: Gather current information
A low vision assessment will help identify the best aids and technologies to suit an individual’s needs. For example, a person with low vision may require a simple magnifier or a stronger magnification with an electronic magnifier. They may need better lighting and daily living aids like a talking watch. Obtaining accurate information on the aids and technologies currently available to meet needs is critical to a positive outcome.
Step 6: Make an informed decision
A person with low vision should consider all aspects of their situation before selecting aids and technologies to buy. Choices will determine whether or not the purchases can be used immediately and whether training is required. For example, a low vision aid such as a simple hand held magnifier is not likely to need a trial period. However a higher magnification and technology-based item, such as an electronic magnifier, may require training, a warranty and a trial period.
When decision making, consider the following questions:
- What is the most useful and cost effective choice for my needs?
- Can I view a range of aids and technologies?
- Is it necessary or possible to trial prior to purchase?
- Is the product practical, affordable and manageable?
- Does it come with a warranty and/or service support?
- Are subsidies available or does my health insurer provide a rebate?
- Does the aid or technology come with clear instructions?
- Is second hand equipment available?
Step 7: Trial equipment
If possible, technology-based equipment should be trialled at home for a period before a purchasing decision is made. This is especially important when considering a higher cost item. Before undertaking the trial, understand any conditions of the trial and find out whether telephone support is available.
Step 8: Access training
Access to training is an important consideration, especially when purchasing more complex technology. Many suppliers of low vision services and products will offer this. If possible, a person with low vision should ask a friend, carer or relative to attend the training with them for ongoing backup support.
Step 9: Check the warranty
Before purchasing any product, especially more costly items, check the conditions of warranty and ensure there is a clear agreement related to all aspects of after sales service. For example, if a repair is required, especially for larger pieces of technology, find out whether it will be collected from, and delivered to, home after servicing. Additionally, determine whether this is included in the warranty.
Step 10: Regularly review your options
Undertake regular personal reviews of the benefits provided by all aids or technologies being used, or ask for professional advice. This will help identify whether the aid is being used correctly and whether it is meeting expectations.
Over time, your vision may change, or the equipment may no longer serve your needs. Minor adjustments may be necessary to make the aids and technologies more helpful, or extra aids and technologies may be required in order to attend to priorities.
If difficulties with using technologies persist, it may be time for another formal low vision assessment, to review and evaluate vision and needs. Whatever the issue, do not ignore the problem.