Living With Visual Impairment: Tips and Tricks for Everyday Tasks

Coping with Geographic Atrophy An Inspiring Story of One Woman's Approach to Daily Life with the Condition

My Approach to Specific Tasks With Geographic Atrophy

By Joan Kathryn, as told to Keri Wiginton

I’m 79 now, and my doctor diagnosed me with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2008. Over the past 15 years, I’ve developed wet AMD in my left eye and geographic atrophy (GA) in both eyes. While I may not look like I have vision issues, there are blank spots that make it harder for me to recognize faces from a distance, read fine print, or locate small objects. Despite the challenges, I’ve learned some valuable tips and tricks to tackle everyday tasks and continue living a fulfilling life.

How I Cook With Vision Loss

GA affects my central vision, making it difficult to see things directly in front of me. This can be frustrating when cooking, as it often requires time sensitivity. However, I have found ways to work around my blank spots in the kitchen.

First, I lay out all the tools and ingredients I’ll need in the order I anticipate using them. This includes measuring spoons, cups, spatulas, wooden spoons, tongs, forks, as well as spices, vanilla extract, sugar, and flour. By organizing everything, it becomes easier for me to navigate the cooking process.

To enhance contrast and visibility, I use a black cutting board for chopping vegetables like onions or garlic. The dark surface helps me see the light-colored ingredients more clearly. Additionally, I have a small OttLite on my kitchen countertop. This task lamp boosts contrast and brightness without causing glare. It also has a magnifier, which aids in reading fine print on recipes, medicine bottles, prescriptions, receipts, and other important documents.

Tips for Recognizing People

While I can make out facial details of people within talking distance, things become a bit cloudy when I try to recognize individuals who are farther away. However, there are strategies that help me better identify people in such situations.

One trick I use is relying on jersey numbers when my grandchildren participate in sports. These numbers are usually well-defined on their uniforms, making it easier for me to identify them from a distance. Of course, I often wish I had earbuds to give me a play-by-play, so I wouldn’t have to repeatedly ask if it was my grandson who made the winning basket.

Another way I distinguish people is by paying closer attention to body language. For example, I can typically recognize my son among his teammates in an adult soccer league based on his unique movements. However, certain social situations can still feel awkward.

During my oldest grandson’s black-tie wedding, I found myself facing a dilemma. I spotted a group of people about 20 feet away but wasn’t sure if they were part of our wedding party. Not wanting to appear strange or rude, I decided to avoid them altogether. Navigating such situations can be challenging, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to handle these uncertainties.

How I Put on Eye Makeup With GA

For a black-tie wedding, I wanted to wear eye makeup, even though GA makes it difficult to see fine details. Permanent eyeliner tattoos or eyelash extensions were tempting options, but I deemed them too risky given my eye condition. Instead, I decided to practice applying regular makeup.

When it came to liquid eyeliner, I found it challenging to create a straight line. So, I switched to an eyeliner pencil, which is more forgiving. By feeling my lash line with my finger, I could determine how low to apply the liner. Then, using a magnifying mirror, I connected the dots into a line. I focused on the outer edges and my lower lash line, rather than applying the liner across my whole eyelid. Although the difference may be subtle, even a little eyeliner can make a big impact on my overall look.

Getting From Place to Place

Fortunately, my right eye maintains a 20/40 vision, allowing me to continue driving. However, I tend to avoid freeways and try not to drive at night or in the rain. To ensure clear vision, I wear a combination of corrective lenses — a pair of 3.0 magnifying readers over my regular contacts. I generally feel safest staying within a 5-mile radius of my home, although I am legally able to drive anywhere.

For longer trips, such as visits to the doctor’s office or shopping excursions, I plan accordingly. If I prefer not to drive alone, I have used rideshare services, but I find it more enjoyable to have my husband accompany me. We turn these outings into mini-adventures, having lunch together or bringing something for him to read while he waits.

Let People Know About Your Sight Challenges

Recently, during a flight across the country with my husband, a mishap at the airport revealed the importance of openly discussing my vision impairment. I had accidentally downloaded the wrong boarding pass to my phone, with my husband’s name displaying on the mobile version. Unbeknownst to me, the small print prevented me from noticing the error.

Panic set in as I realized the necessity of finding a physical copy of the correct boarding pass. Concerned about frantically searching for my glasses or struggling to navigate my phone, I approached the desk attendant and explained my visual impairment. Instantly, her attitude shifted from indifference to attentiveness and assistance. It surprised me how quickly she adapted to my needs and resolved the situation. This experience taught me the power of advocating for oneself and not hesitating to disclose visual challenges when necessary.

Q&A Content

Q1: Are there any technological aids or devices that can assist individuals with visual impairment in daily activities?

Technological advancements have brought forth a range of devices and aids aimed at assisting individuals with visual impairment. From magnifying glasses with built-in lights to smartphone apps that can read aloud printed text, these tools provide valuable support. One example is the OrCam MyEye, a portable device that reads text, recognizes faces, and identifies objects in real-time. Additionally, smart home systems like Amazon Echo or Google Home can be programmed to perform voice-activated tasks, such as setting timers, reading audiobooks, or providing weather updates. These advancements offer newfound independence and accessibility for individuals with visual impairments.

Q2: What types of accommodations can be requested in social settings to alleviate some of the challenges faced by those with visual impairments?

In social settings, there are several accommodations that can make interactions easier for individuals with visual impairments. Firstly, well-lit environments with minimal glare help improve visibility. Avoiding overcrowded spaces allows for easier navigation and reduces the risk of accidental collisions. Additionally, providing clear verbal descriptions of surroundings and introducing people by name can help individuals with visual impairments feel more at ease.

Encouraging open communication and understanding among all attendees goes a long way in creating an inclusive environment. On a broader scale, implementing universal design principles, such as ensuring braille signage or audible announcements, can dramatically enhance accessibility for all individuals with disabilities.

In Conclusion

Living with visual impairment has its challenges, but it doesn’t mean life can’t be fulfilling. By implementing practical tips and utilizing available resources, individuals can adapt and continue to pursue their passions. Remember, it’s essential to advocate for yourself and not hesitate to seek support when needed. Together, we can create a more inclusive society that embraces and accommodates the diverse needs of everyone.

Reference Links:American Macular Degeneration FoundationOrCam MyEyeUniversal Design Principles