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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 5

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Illuminating Thoughts on Popular Low Vision Task Lamps

Proper illumination is vital to the success of persons with low vision for near tasks, such as reading, writing, and crafts. One study revealed that persons with visual impairments need four times the amount of light to read and do other near tasks as do persons with normal vision. There are many kinds of lamps that may help: incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, and total spectrum (replicated sunlight). This article reviews specific lamps that I have found most helpful and that are popular at Low Vision Services in Salt Lake City. Since many people with low vision report difficulties with glare and other problems with fluorescent lighting, I review one lamp from each of the three remaining categories: total spectrum, incandescent, and halogen.

Low Vision Services sees approximately 1,100 people per year in formal clinic evaluations after a referral from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, as well as approximately 500 people who walk in to get help with improved lighting or to purchase sunglasses for glare reduction or large-print and talking nonoptical devices. I have been a low vision therapist at the clinic for over 12 years. The recommendations that I offer in this article are based on my experiences trying out numerous table and floor lamps with hundreds of people and noting their likes and dislikes.

The Ott-Lite

Most types of artificial light cast color shifts. Fluorescent bulbs, for instance, have blue- or green-colored shifts, and tungsten bulbs are yellow. Generally, when technicians need good color rendering, they turn to halogen lights—a very bright, hot- light source that indeed gives high color rendering, but simultaneously reduces contrast and visual acuity. Photobiologist Dr. John Ott blended rare earth phosphors to develop a "total- spectrum" bulb that produces high color rendering, while retaining excellent contrast and visual acuity.

For persons with low vision, the implications for a light that provides enhanced contrast, sharpened clarity, and lower glare while it increases illumination and offers true color rendering are obvious. In addition, because the bulb is cool to the touch, it provides a more comfortable work space.

Hobbyists use the Ott-Lite lamp for a variety of tasks, such as quilting, sewing, painting, and woodworking, for which color matching and accuracy are important. These users often report that with the Ott-Lite lamp, they are able to see the color of fabrics, paints, and materials more accurately. I have found that visually impaired individuals often like the light for reading, writing, and doing other near tasks because of the enhanced contrast and sharp clarity it provides.

The Ott-Lite lamp has a radiation shield to counteract x-rays that are emitted from all fluorescent tubes and reduces the amount of positive ions that are normally found in a work area. Many report that the lamp reduces glare that can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches, and stress. One person described almost a restful clearness when sewing or working near the lamp's light.

The Ott-Lite uses a 13-watt bulb for its desk lamp and an 18-watt bulb for its floor lamp. The 13-watt bulb provides the light of a conventional 75-watt bulb but burns cooler and is rated for 10,000 hours, compared to a long-life incandescent bulb's 1,000 hours. The 18-watt floor lamp is equivalent to a 130-watt incandescent bulb and provides 40 percent more light than the desk lamp.

For the 13-watt desk lamp, the light is activated by opening and closing the arm against the desk base, rather than using an on-off switch. This arrangement also protects the bulb when the lamp is not in use. When the hinged hood (arm) is closed, the lamp shuts off and the tube is completely hidden. A built-in handle allows the user to carry the lamp from one site to another, such as to and from work. All other models, except the desk lamp with the attached magnifier, use a conventional on-off switch instead of a hood-arm that lifts.

Before the Ott-Lite desk lamp is first used, the tension on the arm-hood must be adjusted, otherwise it may fall down, and the light will not stay on. There is a turn screw on the arm-hood to allow for this adjustment. The operating instructions included with the lamp do not mention the need for this adjustment or highlight this turn screw on the arm-hood. The instructions should be amended to give this information.

The FlexArm lamp and FlexArm Plus lamp can rotate 360 degrees at the base and, if desired, can accept a 3x magnifier attachment. The magnifier attachment for these two models has a telescopic extension of 16-22 inches, and the head rotates 360 degrees. However, I thought that the optional magnifier attachment was quite pricey (about $100). In comparison, a Big Eye table or floor lamp (which uses a tungsten 40-watt high-intensity bulb) has a high-quality optical-grade magnifying lens for about $15 and can accept an add-on booster lens of an extra +3.5 D (for only about $18), which is not true of the Ott-Lite.

Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp

The Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp is an incandescent floor lamp with adjustable heights from about 31 inches to 59 inches. It has a 12- inch flexible arm, which enhances the ability to position the light exactly where it is needed, and an aluminum reflector inside the lamp shade that increases the apparent illumination. It is also well vented, keeping the outside of the shade cooler to the touch. The Reizen lamp has a heavy-duty, grounded cord. It is fairly lightweight and is easy to move from one site to another.

The on-off switch of the Reizen lamp is large and easy to handle. It is the largest, easiest switch of any comparable lamp that I have seen. Conventional lamp switches on most incandescent floor or table lamps are much smaller and require greater finger and motor dexterity and strength. The Reizen floor lamp is also easier to assemble, with fewer parts, than other comparable floor lamps (like the Brandt Low Vision Lamp). It is rated for a 100-watt incandescent bulb, but it can also use a chromalux natural lightbulb, which is considered a full-spectrum bulb.

The Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp is available for approximately $60. Low Vision Services sells many less expensive floor and table lamps than the Reizen. However, with these cheaper lamps, more light may be emitted from the slots used to vent the lamp, which creates distracting glare, and the lamps are often bulkier. Some people also report greater difficulty controlling the positioning of the light with these other lamps. The Reizen lamp is a high- quality unit with excellent features, such as its large, easy-to- turn switch; the inner reflector; and its outstanding positioning possibilities. It is a durable lamp with top-quality parts.

The FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp

Many people with low vision like the light offered by a halogen lamp because of its bright, white illumination. The relatively new FD-100 halogen table lamp, made by the Grandwich Corporation, is a 50-watt adjustable-arm table lamp of metal construction, with a satin silver finish. Heavy-duty metal turn screws (as opposed to common plastic ones) adjust the tension at the elbow and neck of the swing-arm lamp. A U-shaped handle on the lamp shade allows you to adjust the light without touching the potentially hot lamp shade.

I often tell people that positioning the light can make more of a difference than the wattage or kind of light provided. Those who have measured available light with a light meter when reading or writing note that a few inches difference in the position of the lampshade or its height can sometimes make a huge difference in illumination. The 22-inch (approximately 56 cm) height and spring- balanced adjustable arm of the FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp make it possible to adjust the position and level of lighting as desired when reading, writing, or doing crafts. For people who like a bright, white light offered by a halogen lamp, the FD-100 is a good choice because of the specific positioning provided by its adjustable swing arm and the directed illumination given by the lamp shade, which is often not the case with most halogen lamps.

One of the drawbacks of any halogen lamp is that it can become hot to work under. On this lamp, the on-off toggle switch is located on the cord, which may be inconvenient for some people. Because of the shape of the bulb, the light emitted tends to produce a rectangular illumination, so you have to position your reading or working materials within the pattern of illumination. When the reading or working material is not inside the rectangular pattern of illumination, performance may be diminished. The illumination level of this 50-watt halogen bulb is roughly the equivalent of the light produced by a 75-watt incandescent bulb.

Lights Out

I have reviewed three lamps, representatives of three categories of lighting, to assist a person with low vision to read and do near tasks more easily. They represent (1) a total-spectrum lamp, which mimics natural sunlight in the same composition and balance as natural sunlight and affords bright light output, yet retains high contrast and clarity; (2) an incandescent lamp, with minimal glare and a warm hue; and (3) a halogen lamp, with excellent brightness. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but the lamps I selected are, I believe, the finest-quality and affordable models for these types of lamps.

Product Information

Ott-Lite

Caption: Ott-Lite.

Product Information

Product: Ott-Lite.

Manufacturer: Ott-Lite Technology, 1214 West Cass Street, Tampa, FL 33606; phone: 800-842-8848; e-mail: www.ott-lite.com. Price: The 13-watt Ott-Lite is available in the following models: Desk lamp: Model OTL13TCG, with an optional swivel base, $80. Desk lamp: Model OTL13MAG, with a 2x magnifier stored in an attached case and a swivel base, $120. FlexArm lamp (13 watt): Model OLFTC13, which clamps to a flat surface, $120. Clamp (easel) lamp: Model OLT13ETC, with an expandable shaft and flexible neck, $150. The 18-watt Ott-Lite is available in the following models: FlexArm Plus Lamp: Model OLFX18TC, an 18-watt clamp-on model, $170, and a floor lamp: Model OLF018TC, with a weighted base, an adjustable height from 4 to 5 inches, and a flex-neck, $170. Replacement tubes are available for both the 13-watt (about $25) and the 18-watt ($30) lamps. Models OTL13TCG (desk lamp) and OLF018TC (floor lamp) can also be purchased from Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, P.O. Box 3209, Farmingdale, NY 11735; phone: 800-522-6294, for about $20 less than from the manufacturer.

Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp

Caption: Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp.

Product Information

Product: Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp.

Distributor: Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, PO Box 3209, Farmingdale, NY, 11735; phone: 800-522-6294. Price: $59.95, plus shipping and handling; order number: 6701686.

FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp

Caption: FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp.

Product Information

Product: FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp.

Manufacturer: Grandwich Corporation, 16215 Marquardt Avenue, Cerritos, CA, 90703-2357; phone: 800-348-7399; e-mail: grlacorp@aol.com. The lamp can also be purchased from local lighting or hardware stores; phone the manufacturer to locate a dealer in your area. Price: approximately $25.

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