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Types of Lighting for the Visually Impaired

People who struggle with low vision disorders like macular degeneration -- or even the natural changes in vision due to aging -- are greatly helped by the right lighting. As the eyes become less able to see in low light, basic tasks can become frustrating. The solution to this problem is not just more light, but using light sources that maximize your ability to see.
  1. Brightness

    • The first strategy people with low vision often use is to increase the brightness of existing lights by using higher wattage bulbs. However, Vision Aware, a self-help resource center for the vision impaired, points out that putting a brighter light in a ceiling fixture may not increase the amount of useful light. In fact, brighter bulbs can increase shadow intensity and glare, making it harder rather than easier to see.


    • Macular Degeneration Support, a nonprofit group supporting the macular degeneration community, recommends moving a light closer rather than using a brighter bulb. If one eye is stronger, then place the lamp on that side of the body. Place it so no shadows fall over the illuminated area and so the light doesn't reflect off the surface itself. One way to check the latter is to turn the lamp off and put a mirror flat on the viewing surface. The light should not be visible in the mirror.


    • Glare is light that shines directly into your eyes, either from the light source or reflected off some other object. Glare is not useful light and interferes with normal vision. To minimize glare, cover light bulbs and windows with shades to diffuse the illumination. Move portable light sources so they do not reflect off surfaces. If these options are not possible, then you can use polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and improve vision.

    Task Lighting

    • Rather than trying to brighten the whole room, another option is to add lighting focused on a work area. Swivel or gooseneck lamps direct light onto specific surfaces, and you can adjust the lamps for different tasks. You can supplement overhead lights with undercabinet lighting for better counter illumination. Since task lighting is closer and more focused than general lighting, it uses lower wattage bulbs, which generate less heat and use less power.