Vision aids

Find out about the many techniques and tools you can use, if you are blind or have sight loss, to make your everyday life easier, from use of lighting and traditional hand-held devices to more high-tech solutions.

On this page, we’ll going to cover:

How Sense can help

We offer free and impartial information about living with complex disabilities, including deafblindness.

Get in touch by phone, email, post or through a BSL interpreter.

Lighting

If you have vision impairment, the way you light your home and workplace can improve things greatly and help you to live more independently.

So, think about the areas you use most and how best to light them:

  • Keep windows clear of plants.
  • Use blinds to control the direction of light and strong sunlight.
  • Arrange your seating to make the best of natural light from windows.
  • Use shades and dimmers switches to reduce glare.
  • Use daylight bulbs in rooms with less natural light. You can use these for specific areas of a room.
  • Use timers to light certain areas automatically at specific times, e.g. set your bedroom light to switch on ten minutes before you go to bed, or your hallway and living room lights for ten minutes before you get home.
  • If you are less mobile, you can use a remote control, your smartphone or other smart home devices to control your lighting.
  • Avoid shiny, high-gloss kitchen units or other furniture, as light can bounce off these and distract you.

Task lighting

Use task lights, such as adjustable lamps, for activities such as reading and writing.

The best position for an adjustable lamp is below your eye level, between you and what you want to look at.

This reduces the amount of glare you experience when doing close work. It also makes tasks such as reading less tiring.

Also, ideally, you want to be able to adjust the lamp to any height, and move the head freely, sideways and up and down.

Magnifiers

Magnifiers are helpful if you have low vision, because they simply make things bigger.

Depending on what you need, there are a number of types on the market:

  • Handheld magnifiers – fairly cheap, easy to carry in a pocket or bag, and handy for reading labels, menus or short letters.
  • Illuminated hand magnifiers.
  • Handsfree magnifiers – wearable, like glasses.
  • Electronic magnifiers – with video screens.
  • Stand magnifiers – useful for larger blocks of text, documents or anything you need to look at for a long time.
  • Illuminated stand magnifiers.
  • Line magnifiers – these have a coloured line across them to help you to scan text more easily and are good for longer pieces of text.
  • Folding magnifiers – small and easily carried around.
  • Bar and brightfield magnifiers – provide magnification and a large visual field.
  • Technical magnifiers – for close extended tasks, such as quality control or hobbies such as viewing stamps, coins or insects.
  • Mini telescope (monocular magnifier) – can be focused on objects, in some cases as close as 1m and beyond as far as needed.
  • Compact binoculars – these can be useful if you’re partially sighted with useable sight in both eyes.

You can find out more about the types of magnifiers available from Associated Optical, Magnifico, Optima Low Vision Services, Vital Tech, RNIB’s online shop and other online suppliers.

You can also use:

  • Smartphones’ built-in magnification ­– for occasional use only.
  • Screen reader – also, occasionally, you can use your smartphone to take a photo of some text and use a screen reader to read it.

Top tips for using magnifiers:

  • One magnifier cannot solve all your problems: you may need a hand magnifier when you’re out and about, and a stand magnifier at home.
  • The higher the magnification, the smaller the lens, so the closer you need to hold it to your eye.
  • If you hold a magnifier too far away from your eye, the image will be upside down.
  • If you can, shine a lamp directly onto what you are looking at.
  • Hold the magnifier close to your eye and bring what you want to see up to the magnifier.
  • Magnifiers usually work best with spectacles:
    • For close work, use your reading spectacles.
    • For distance, use your distance spectacles.
  • If you use a magnifier to make print bigger you can often only see one or two words or letters at a time. To keep your place:
    • Use your finger to mark each line.
    • As you finish a line, return your finger to the beginning of the line and then drop it down to the next line.
  • If it’s easier, move the book or page from side to side, not the magnifier.
  • When reading in a chair, put your book or newspaper on a clipboard to keep the page flat and still.  Use a cushion or tray for support.
  • Keep your magnifier clean with the lens cloth provided.
  • If your eyes get tired, take a break and start again later.

Get a low-vision assessment first

Before you choose or buy a magnifier of any kind, you should have a professional low-vision assessment.

You can get a free NHS assessment through your local hospital eye clinic. Speak first to your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist for a referral for an appointment.

At the assessment, a qualified low-vision practitioner will check your vision and decide whether low-vision aids such as magnifiers are right for you.

If they do recommended a magnifier, or magnifiers, you can get them free of charge on the NHS.

They may recommend different magnifiers for different tasks. Always follow their advice.

Magnifiers can be difficult to use at first, so low-vision professionals will help you to get the best out of the equipment they prescribe.

If you have problems using any of your magnifiers, get in touch with your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Wearable technology

Many different types of smart glasses, head-mounted cameras and visors are now available.

Cyber Eyez and Vuzix M400

This smart glasses app for blind and partially sighted people works on devices like the Vuzix M400 smart glasses.

Find out more about Cyber Eyez at Cyber Timez and Vital tech.

Find out more about Vuzix M400.

NuEyes Pro glasses

These lightweight, wireless smart glasses have a magnification range from 1x to 12x, and are suitable for distance and near viewing.

Find out more about NueEyes Pro at VisionAid.

OrCam MyEye

This voice-activated device attaches to almost glasses. It can instantly read to you text from a book, smartphone screen or any other surface, and recognise faces.

Find out more at OrCam and Vital tech.

OrCam Read

For people with mild low vision, this hand-held device with a smart camera reads text from any printed surface or digital screen.

Find out more at OrCam and Vital tech.

Oxsight glasses

These smart glasses can help if you have central vision loss or peripheral vision loss.

Find out more at: Oxsight and Vital tech.

IrisVision Live

The first-ever, all-in-one wearable smart device for low vision.

Find out more at IrisVision and Vision Aid.

eSight 4

This visor-style headset has a very modern design, and is light and comfortable to wear for long periods. It can connect to a TV, computer or a games console.

Find out more at esightwear and Vision Aid.

SightPlus

SightPlus™ is a headset for people with untreatable sight loss.

Find out more about SightPlus™ at GiveVision.

Accessibility: Windows and Apple operating systems

If you are blind or have sight loss, Windows and Apple operating systems now have accessibility features on a wide range of devices such as computers, tablets, smartphones and more.

Windows

With Windows accessibility features for vision, you can:

  • Use the built-in screen reader Narrator to navigate your PC.
  • Adjust text size and colour.
  • Know where you’re pointing (cursor and pointer adjustments).
  • Magnify what’s on your screen.
  • Use colour filters.
  • Use shortcuts to save time.
  • Access braille in Narrator.
  • Use high-contrast themes to see every detail.
  • Hear descriptive audio everywhere.
  • Sign in without passwords.

To find out more about all of these features, go to Windows 10 Accessibility Features and follow the links for instructions.

Apple

With Apple’s accessibility features for vision, you can:

  • Hear what’s happening on screen with built-in screen reader VoiceOver.
  • Get descriptions in braille with VoiceOver and a refreshable braille display.
  • Magnify using the built-in camera.
  • Go from written word to spoken word.
  • Use Zoom to magnify what’s on screen.
  • Hover over a piece of text and make it bigger.
  • Make things less tiring for your eyes with Reduce Motion.
  • Enjoy audio descriptions of movies.
  • Use colour filters.
  • Change button shapes.
  • Change the cursor size.
  • Change transparency levels.
  • Adjust text size.
  • Make it easier on your eyes with Dark Mode.
  • Use shortcuts to save time.
  • Talk instead of type with Dictation.
  • Get things done by asking the talking assistant Siri.

Not all of the above features are available on all Apple devices.

To find out which devices these features are on, and more about how to use them, go to Apple’s Vision: For every point of view and follow the links for instructions.

Screen readers

If you are blind or have very limited vision, screen readers can help you to use digital technology to explore the internet and use apps.

Nearly all computers, tablets and smartphones now have built-in screen readers.

How do screen readers work? 

Screen readers read out loud what’s on the screen you’re looking at. Some screen readers also work with braille displays.

You can adapt them to suit your needs, e.g. by changing the language and speed.

When you’re starting out with a screen reader, you’ll need to learn some shortcut keys or touch gestures.

With time and practice, you can learn the more advanced features. You might also want to get some training.

Find out more about home support and training from AbilityNet.

What screen readers are available? 

The most popular screen readers are:

JAWS (Job Access With Speech) for Windows

This paid-for desktop screen reader works well with Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. Get a 40-minute trial version of JAWS.

NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access)

This free, open-source screen reader for Windows computers works well with all popular browsers. Download NVDA here.

Narrator for Windows

Narrator is the screen reader built into Windows. This works well with Microsoft Office and the Edge Browser. You can find the Microsoft Narrator training guide here.

VoiceOver

VoiceOveris the built-in screen reader for Apple’s Mac computers, iPads, iPhones, the Apple Watch and the Apple TV. 

It is very popular on the iPhone, working well with millions of apps and the internet, using the Apple browser Safari.

You don’t need to install VoiceOver. On your Apple device, just go to settings and click or tap on Accessibility to find VoiceOver and other options.

TalkBack for Android Devices

Found on Android devices, TalkBack is widely used. It works well with most apps and the internet using the Chrome browser. 

You don’t need to download TalkBack on most Android devices. On some, you will have to install it from the Google Play Store.

To enable TalkBack, go to your device’s settings and tap on Accessibility .

On some devices, TalkBack may be called Voice Assistant or Accessibility Suite.

TalkBack works best on phones from Google or Samsung.

Get a helpful overview of Android accessibility settings and apps.

VoiceView for the Amazon Fire tablet

The VoiceView screen reader lets you use gestures to navigate your Amazon Fire tablet (FireOS 5 and higher) and use speech output for content.

Learn more about how to turn on VoiceView, basic use, settings and gestures.

Other screen readers include:

  • ChromeVox – built into Chromebooks.
  • SuperNova.

Easier-to-use keyboards

To make it easier to see the keys on your keyboard, you could use:

  • A keyboard with larger keys.
  • A keyboard with high-contrast colours, e.g. black and yellow.
  • Helpikeys – with five overlays and five personalised layouts you can programme.
  • Maltron expanded keyboard – a metal keyguard helps to prevent accidental key presses.

Find out more about making your keyboard easier to use from AbilityNet.

Typing without keyboards

You don’t have to use a physical keyboard. You now have a number of options.

Onscreen keyboards

Onscreen keyboards are standard on most tablets and smartphones. But you can also use them on most computer operating systems, including Windows and Apple.

Learn how to use the Windows onscreen keyboard, and find out more about Apple’s accessibility keyboard.

For more about onscreen keyboards visit the AbilityNet website.

Voice recognition (speech to text)

With voice recognition, you speak to your device and it converts what you say to text. 

Learn how to use the Windows voice-recognition software, and find out more about Apple’s Voice Control (and other helpful accessibility functions).

For devices using Windows, you can also use Dragon Individual Professional voice recognition software.

Download Dragon here, and read all about how to use it.

Google speech recognition is now also available for Android devices, in Google apps such as Keep, and in Google docs using the Add-ons Speech Sound writer.

Find out more about how Google speech recognition works.

Braille

Computers, fonts and translation software

To see braille dots on your computer screen, you’ll need to have a braille font installed.

Check for braille in the font list in your word-processing software, e.g. Microsoft Word or Word for Mac (other packages are available).

Find out more about downloading, installing and using braille in Microsoft Word for Windows.

On a Mac, look also in the Font Book software. Apple braille is available on Macs with the operating systems macOS Catalina and Big Sur.

Find out more about using braille displays with VoiceOver on Mac.

If you don’t have a braille font, you can download one from the internet. There are lots to choose from, many of them free.

But remember – as with everything else, you download for free from the internet at your own risk.

If you’ve installed braille translation software on your computer, you might already have a braille font.

The most commonly used braille translation software is Duxbury Braille Translator. It is available in the UK from the RNIB, Sight and Sound Technology and Vision Aid.

Find out more about other braille software packages, such as Send to Braille, iBrailler Notes and MBraille, as well as Braille Tutor for learning Unified English Braille on the Vital tech website.

Refreshable braille displays

Refreshable braille displays are braille keyboards that also feature a tactile area, where the contents of screens can be presented in braille.

A number of devices are now available:

  • Braillant BI 40.
  • Orbit Reader.
  • Braille Me.
  • BrailleSensePolaris.
  • BrailleNote Touch.
  • iniseOne.
  • Blitlab.

Find out more about all of these refreshable displays on the Vital tech website

See also

This content was last reviewed in April 2022. We’ll review it again next year.