Navigating with low-vision

by | November 30, 2016

Some tips and community resources for persons with low-vision.

BY: Tan Yanwen

Magnifying glass over a newspaper classified section

There are a number of strategies to help those with low-vision.

Many who are dealing with vision loss may not be aware of the scope of the professional community dedicated to rehabilitation, or simply do not know how to tap into these resources. So how can they better manage on a day-to-day basis and get help?


Common challenges

We rely on our sight to navigate and understand the world around us. Most persons with low-vision are able to manage basic daily activities like showering and dressing. However, activities that require visual input can bring potential challenges. These challenges depend on the type of vision loss.

Activities such as reading and recognising the faces of loved ones are affected if the vision loss happens in the centre of the visual field. Moving around in unfamiliar and dark environments can be a safety hazard when the sides of the visual field are affected. In the event that a person’s visual field is affected as a result of a stroke, it may cause them to overlook the food on their plate or apply uneven makeup on their face.

For persons who can only see with one eye because of cancer or lost their sight entirely in one eye, activities involving depth perception and eye-hand coordination becomes challenging. Some examples of these activities include climbing stairs, playing sports and pouring a cup of drink.


3 ‘b’s to dealing with daily life

There are three main strategies to help persons with low-vision:

  • Bigger – There are two ways to make objects or words bigger. Get closer to the object of interest or make use of magnification, either a traditional magnifier or electronic magnifier.
  • Bolder – There are a few ways to increase the contrast. Use light and dark objects together. For instance, having a dark cloth beneath pale-coloured medication pills. Using clear, bright colours such as having bright markings on switches of appliances. Decrease visual clutter by organising a workspace or having a simple meal setup helps to increase the contrast too.
  • Brighter – For many with low-vision, having brighter lighting with even distribution is better. Apart from having enough lighting, some people may prefer a certain lighting colour. It could be white or yellow lighting and this depends on each individual. It is important to ensure that there is no glare by having blinds or curtains, and covering shiny floor or tabletop surfaces.brighter

It is also essential to position the light source to avoid glare and shadows. This can be done by placing the desk lamp with an adjustable neck on the opposite side of the writing hand, just below the eye level during writing, reading and activities involving fine details.


Where to seek help

If you find yourself having difficulty performing any daily, productive or leisure activities due to decreased vision, get professionally evaluated by an eye doctor. Your eye doctor will advise on whether you need to see other healthcare professionals to meet your needs. The other healthcare professionals could include:

  • Optometrist: Looks into spectacles and optical aids prescription to optimise your near, intermediate and distance reading ability.
  • Occupational Therapist: Provides an individualised therapy programme that can include learning visual strategies, modifying daily activities, home assessment, prescribing assistive aids, and caregiver and patient education.
  • Medical Social Worker: Provides counselling and psychosocial support.

There are also a number of community resources that you may find helpful depending on your needs:

Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped

–  Hotline: 6251 4331

–  Website:

Guide Dogs Association for the Blind

–  Hotline: 6339 7900

–  Website:

Specialised Assistive Technology Centre

–  Hotline: 6473 0446

–  Website:


Tan Yanwen is an occupational therapist and certified low-vision therapist from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). She recently spoke at a forum on low-vision rehabilitation at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC).





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