Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

Last month AccessWorld celebrated the birthday and life's work of Louis Braille. I hope everyone had a chance to visit The Louis Braille Museum on the AFB website, and read The Reading Fingers, the full text of Jean Roblin's classic 1952 biography of Louis Braille, and Braille, the Magic Wand of the Blind, Helen Keller's essay on Louis Braille. If not, I encourage you to take a look at these great works.

As we move from celebrating the achievements of Louis Braille to recognizing February as Low Vision Awareness Month, valid questions are "Who experiences low vision?" and "What exactly is low vision?" "Low vision" is a term commonly used to mean partial sight, or sight that isn't fully correctable with surgery, medications, contact lenses, or glasses. In the United States, the most common causes of low vision are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. Some people are born with conditions such as albinism or optic nerve damage that can result in low vision. People of all ages, from infants to seniors, can experience low vision, most often due to eye disease, but also due to eye injury.

The largest population of Americans who experience low vision is seniors over the age of 65. This is why, for the month of February, AccessWorld is focusing, so to speak, on topics and technologies that may be especially relevant to seniors. At times, seniors may be hesitant to adopt the use of technology, especially access technology, and in this issue of AccessWorld, we want to help break down barriers, remove the uncertainty of what technology and access technology can do, and demonstrate how access technology can help improve independence and daily life.

People with low vision can use magnification devices, electronic devices, computer-access software, and other access and mainstream technologies to maximize their remaining vision, or they can learn alternative ways of doing things, such as using their senses of touch and/or hearing. As our regular readers know, AccessWorld regularly reports on many technologies used by people with low vision. For additional information on living with low vision, please visit the AFB VisionAware Low Vision resources page.

We at AFB are, once again, very pleased to be partnering with the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University to bring you this special AccessWorld issue on aging. The NRTC received a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration to provide training and technical assistance to programs serving older adults with blindness and low vision. This aging issue is part of our joint emphasis to encourage and prepare service providers to introduce seniors to technology they can utilize in their everyday lives. We also intend for information in this issue to be useful to persons who are themselves aging with vision loss.

In observance of Low Vision Awareness Month, I encourage everyone to have a complete eye exam from a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. Getting a yearly exam increases the chances of early detection and diagnosis of conditions that may lead to vision loss. If you or someone you know has experienced significant vision loss, I encourage you to have a low vision examination.

A low vision examination is quite different from the basic examination routinely performed by primary care optometrists and ophthalmologists. A low vision examination includes a review of your visual and medical history, and places an emphasis on the vision needed to read, cook, work, study, travel, and perform and enjoy other common activities. The goals of a low vision exam include assessing the functional needs, capabilities, and limitations of your vision; assessing ocular and systemic diseases; and evaluating and prescribing low vision therapies. Education and counseling of family and other care providers; providing an understanding of your visual functioning to aid educators, vocational counselors, employers and care givers; directing further evaluations and treatments by other vision rehabilitation professionals; and making appropriate referrals for medical intervention are all a part of a low vision evaluation.

The low vision examination takes much longer than a typical eye exam, but the information gained can be invaluable. No matter what your visual acuity, it is important to understand any diagnosis you may receive and to keep your eyes as healthy as you possibly can.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind readers of the "Comment on this article" link at the bottom of each article. This link allows you to provide direct feedback on an article to the author and me; we want to hear your thoughts, questions, comments, or concerns. As a publication, being responsive to you, our readers, is our priority.

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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