7 Ways to Live Better With Low Vision

Make your day-to-day living easier with these home and lifestyle tips.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 14 million Americans over age 12 live with visual impairments. Diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and blindness are just a few eyesight problems affecting millions, though many more people develop conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, which may worsen as they progress.

While diagnosis and treatment are key in preventing the loss of eyesight, there are steps you can take on your own to avoid injury and make day-to-day living easier. Read on for smart home and lifestyle tips for people living with low vision.

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Injury-proof your home

To get around easier and prevent falls, it's important to first remove tripping hazards. Do away with throw rugs and slippery bathmats, errant cords and clutter; designate places for everyday items like shoes and toys; clear paths from room to room, and sell or donate low-lying furniture like ottomans and magazine racks. 

Once those are cleared, modify your home for visibility and maneuverability:

  • Mark steps, thermostats and outlets with colorful tape
  • Install grab bars along stairs and in the bath
  • Purchase appliances with large buttons and knobs

When you buy home items like towels or dishes, look for items that color-contrast with tables, walls and counters; they'll be easier to see.

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Light up your life

Ample light is crucial for people with low vision to move freely and enjoy activities at home. For general lighting, try overhead fixtures with strong bulbs and easy-to-access switches; open shades to let in natural light when you can. Pay special attention to dimly lit corners and stairs, especially after dark; motion-sensor nightlights are great for evening hours.

For lighting close-work tasks like reading or cooking, make sure there's a direct source of illumination nearby. Reading lamps and under-cabinet fixtures can brighten without glare, an issue for folks with low vision. To cut glare, use shades or angle lights so they don't shine directly on surfaces. 

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Organize and label your stuff

Once your home is laid out and lit, it's time to organize. First and foremost, experts suggest designating a spot for medication, and labeling bottles in big, bold letters; your pharmacist may even provide large-print labels upon request. Food labels can also be helpful, particularly for items that look similar, like sugar and salt.

Next, make sure everything in your home has a designated spot or container. Separate small objects—like jewelry—into bags or shoeboxes, and use drawer dividers for clothing; install a key hook; reorganize cabinets and closets to place oft-used items in front. Knowing where to find things prevents loss and eliminates confusion—vital for people with low vision.

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Invest in magnifying lenses

Perhaps the single most helpful item for a person with low vision to own is a magnifying lens, which aids in reading and detail work. There are several kinds, including:

  • Hand magnifiers, like the detective-style magnifying glasses you've likely seen in movies 
  • Stand magnifiers, hands-free lenses that rest near or on top of an item
  • Spectacle magnifiers, which clip to eyeglasses
  • Video magnifiers, cameras that project type and small images onto a larger screen

Magnifiers come in different sizes and strengths, and many have lights or glare-blocking filters. Large-print books, newspapers, calendars and playing cards are inexpensive and easy to find, and can also help with reading.

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Get the gear

Every day, more and more high-tech solutions to vision problems appear in the marketplace. Talking clocks, audiobooks, GPS systems, E-readers and software that reads screen text aloud are already popular among the visually impaired, while apps—like those that identify money, delineate colors and customize your smartphone for voice—are being developed daily.

Still, you don't necessarily need to buy new gear; your home computer, for instance, can be modified with a few tweaks. To improve visibility, increase the text size or use your computer's zoom function. Experts also suggest upping contrast, and, if possible, switching your text to black and your background to white while you're typing.

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Look into services

You're familiar with guide dogs, the canine pals trained to help the visually impaired, but services don't stop there—and they're often free. 

  • The National Federation of the Blind offers Newsline, a 24-hour phone number where newspapers, magazines and websites are read to callers; it's also available as an app.
  • The National Library Service offers the Talking Book program, which mails out audio books and periodicals—plus equipment—for free.
  • US National Parks offer free entry if you qualify.

Hundreds of government and non-profit organizations provide similar benefits. Call your local government offices for more, or read this rundown from the American Foundation for the Blind to start.

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See your specialists

As you continue to make improvements to your home, it's important to keep up with doctor's appointments, and assemble a healthcare team to address your needs. This can include an ophthalmologist, social worker, occupational therapist and more.

Depending on the severity of your impairment, you could also be eligible for vision rehabilitation, where specialists provide therapy and strategies to improve eyesight and assist day-to-day living. In one study, researchers found it lead to significant vision improvement among veterans with macular diseases.

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