Winning Solutions for Failing Sight
Serving Our Community Since 1979

Quick Tips

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Quick Tips on Lighting

Lighting can make a big difference in how well you see.  Review the Lighting page on this web site for tips on how to use lighting to the best effect.

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Quick Tips for Everyday Activities
(from Summer 1999 Newsletter)

  • Carry return address labels with you and when you need to write your name and address on a form or paper, use the address label instead.

  • If you have trouble differentiating between two keys, use sticky-back velcro tape. Stick the rough part to the top part of one key and the smooth part to the top of the other key.

  • Have you ever bent over a kitchen counter only to encounter a cabinet where your head wants to be?  Try wearing a baseballl cap when working in the kitchen.  The brim will give you early warning before your head crashes into an obstacle.

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Quick Tips on Using a Magnifier
(adapted from Spring 2001 Newsletter)


  • To increase your field of view and increase the number of words you can see at one time, hold the magnifier very close to your eye. This is especially important for magnifiers that are 4x and higher.

  • Bring your reading material closer to your eye to again increase your field of view.

  • Move the paper, not the magnifier, as you read. Moving the magnifier will slow your reading speed and increase distortion and frustration.

  • Make sure the magnifier and your reading material are held at the same angle to prevent distortion. If your magnifier is straight up and down, your paper needs to be straight up and down. If your paper is at a 45 degree angle, your magnifier must also be at a 45 degree angle.

  • Use a lap desk or reading stand when you use your magnifier to prevent back strain, especially for magnifiers that have a short focal length.

  • If you wear bifocals, viewing the handheld magnifier through the "distance" part of the bifocals will usually give the best results.

Stand Magnifiers

  • Stand magnifiers are meant to lie right on the paper. Don’t pick them up and use them like hand held magnifiers.

  • To maximize your field of view, you must bring the magnifier very close to your eye. To get the magnifier near to your eye, bend over and put your eye right at the top of the magnifier. To prevent back strain, use a lap desk or reading stand.

  • Slide the magnifier across the page without lifting it up as you read.

  • If you wear bifocals, viewing the stand magnifier through the "near vision" part of the bifocals will usually give the best results.

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Eccentric Viewing

If you have a condition such as macular degeneration which affects your central vision, learn to look slightly above, below, or to the side of an object you're trying to see.  This is called "eccentric viewing," puts the object's image on a healthier part of your retina, and may let you see more detail.

In conversation, though, a person may feel uncomfortable or slighted if yu never appear to make eye contact.  Spend part of the time looking directly at the person with whom yuo're talking, even if you can't see their face that way.

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Getting Around by Bus and Metrorail
(adapted from Fall 2005 and Spring 2006 Newsletters)

The Washington Metro system has many features intended to aid those with low vision.  Call 202-962-1100 to get a free copy of Metro's brochure "Tips for Riding Metro for People with Disabilities and Senior Citizens".  Metro provides free bus and rail system orientations for people with disabilities. Call 202-962-1558 to schedule an orientation.  An 18-minute orientation video can also be accessed from the Metro web site.

As a Metrorail train enters each station, an automated voice or the train operator announces the train's line and destination on the train's P.A. system, so you can tell if the arriving train is the one you want.  En route, the automated voice or the operator announces each station.

Many Metrobusses now have automated audio announcements that let you keep track of where the bus is as you ride.

Some farecard machines have audio output to help you through the transaction.  Push the large button labeled "AUDIO" near the top of the machine's center panel.

Even if you aren't yet 65 years old, you may qualify for reduced fares if your vision loss constitutes a "disability."  Call Metro at 202-962-1245 or visit their web site for more information or to ask for an application for the Metro Reduced Fare Program for people with disabilities.

Metro also offers a free e-mail subscription service to notify customers of Metrorail elevator service disruptions. Customers may sign up to receive notification by e-mail or text message.  Visit elstat.wmata.com to register.

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Getting Around by Car
(adapted from Spring 2006 Newsletter)

If you can't drive safely, then obviously you shouldn't drive.  But low vision is not always a bar to safe and legal driving.  In Maryland, you may be eligible for a restricted driver's license with 20/70 vision or better, and under certain circumstances you can get a license with visual acuity of 20/100.  More details are on the Maryland MVA web site at http://mva.state.md.us/DriverServ/VisionScreen/default.htm.

Discuss your situation with your eye doctor to learn what special techniques and restrictions might help you drive safely.  The Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore offers an evaluation program to help you understand how (or if) you can safely drive with your particular vision; call the Hopkins Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at 410-955-0580 for more information.

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Audible Pedestrian Signals

Some intersections in Montgomery County are equipped with audible pedestrian crossing signals.  On some models, if you hold the button in for five seconds while it is beeping, it will announce the location of the crosswalk -- for example, "WAIT! ... to cross FREDERICK ROAD at REDLAND ROAD."  This might be helpful if you are looking for a particular cross street and have trouble reading the street signs.

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Montgomery County Transportation Reimbursement Program

The Montgomery County government issues an annual grant to Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind to provide a limited amount of free transportation (e.g., taxi fare) to allow visually impaired County residents to attend social activities.  Advance approval is needed.  Follow this link to more details.

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Reach-a-Ride web site

If you have special transit needs, try searching the Reach-a-Ride web site for a company or agency that can meet them.

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Low vision should not deter you from using ordinary public transportation.  If, though, there are additional issues which prevent you from using Metrobus and Metrorail, then follow these links to learn about MetroAccess and Transport DC.

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Taxi tip

If you're riding in a taxi with a video display in the back seat, try tapping the screen rapidly several times.  On some models, this will cause it to report trip information intended for the visually impaired.

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At the Restaurant

Large-print Menus: Some restaurants have large-print menus available; all you have to do is ask.  Besides having larger text, such menus may be in simple black and white for improved contrast and be formatted in a single column to make them easier to scan with a hand magnifier.  Some restaurants also have Braille menus available if you ask.

AllMenus.com: Many restaurants post their menus on the Internet, on their own web sites and at www.AllMenus.com.  You can check the menu before going to the restaurant or, with a web-enabled cell phone or mobile device, right there at the restaurant.  (Use an earphone so you don't disturb other diners.)

Book lights: If the food is good but the restaurant is too dim to see it on your plate, try one of the special flashlights designed to clip on to a book.  Get a model which can be adjusted to stand on the table and direct its light onto your plate, and which folds for carrying in your pocket or purse.  The batteries will last longer in the kind with an LED bulb instead of a conventional incandescent bulb.  Book lights can frequently be purchased from book stores and specialty catalog merchants.

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Getting Organized
(from Summer/Fall 2007 Newsletter)

  • Eliminate clutter!

    De-cluttering is key to more easily managing your home when you have low vision.  Ask a friend or family member to help you to sort through closets, cupboards, file and medicine cabinets, desks and any other storage spaces.  Discard unused or broken tools, expired foods or medications, and clothes and accessories you seldom use.  By eliminating clutter, you will have less to sort through when looking for a particular item.

  • Once you have de-cluttered your home, organize!

    • Use labeled shoeboxes for storing such things as purses and medicines.  They can also be used as dividers in large drawers to separate things like belts from scarves, or socks from stockings.

    • Use transparent, zip-lock storage bags to store certain foods, medications, and clothing.

    • Use white, unlined index cards with dark-colored and bold-tipped pens for labeling drawers and cabinets.  You can use rubber bands to attach these cards to items such as cans of soup.

    • Use rubber bands to help you distinguish between similarly shaped bottles, such as shampoo and conditioner, or milk and orange juice.

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Making Audio Memoranda

  • If you have a cell phone, you may be able to use it to record notes that you can listen to later.  On an iPhone, the app is called Voice Memos.  Even phones that aren't "smart" often have sound recording capability.  Sometimes this can be found in the "Tools" or "My Sounds" area of your phone's menu system.

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Kitchen Organization
(from Spring 2005 Newsletter)

Building a Food Pyramid: Designate certain shelves in the refrigerator for specific items, so that when you reach inside, you will know immediately what is on a particular shelf. Use the top shelf for beverages, the next for fruit,the next for vegetables and place the meat on the bottom shelf.

In the freezer, reserve one shelf for bakery goods, one for beef, one for chicken and place the vegetables on the door. To aid visitors or helpers, put up signs that indicate the purpose of each shelf.

Organizing Kitchen Cabinets & Drawers: It's important to have only one layer of bottles. Place them in the front, on their sides and label the contents in large print. Take the cereal box, enlarge the hole and use a giant funnel to pour the cereal from the box into a bottle. Then label that bottle and place it on its side. Also use this system for flour, sugar, rice, macaroni, etc. It keeps the food fresh and crispy. You can also use this to store paint, but use half-gallon size milk bottles to store the paint. For cabinets, use under the bed boxes and fill them with pots and pans. Once again use only one layer so that you can just pull each one out, without reaching in the back in order to get the pan you need.

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Salt Cellar
(from Carrie at Live Accessible)

If you regularly add salt to your food but have trouble telling how much is coming out of the salt shaker, try using a salt cellar instead.  Put the salt in a shallow wide-mouth jar so you can reach in and take a pinch when you want it.

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Quick Computer Tips
(adapted from Spring 2003 Newsletter)

If you use your eyes to view a computer screen, practice the 20-20-20 rule to help avoid eyestrain.  At least every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

As many of you have already discovered, computers can be outstanding low vision aids.

Many computer application programs, including Mozilla Firefox, recent versions of Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge, have a "zoom" feature that lets you magnify what you're viewing.  Hold down the Control key (Cmd key for Mac OS) and press the "plus" key to magnify the entire image; repeat this to increase the magnification, press Control-minus to decrease the magnification, or Control-zero to return to the original size.

In Internet Explorer, you can also change the font size of web pages.  Simply click "View" on the tool bar then "Text size," then select a font size.

Microsoft also provides screen magnification.  In Windows XP, click on the "start" menu, then click "programs," then "accessories," then "accessibility," then "magnifier."  In Windows 7, just type "magnifier" into the Start Menu search box and press "Enter."  For Windows 2000 and later versions, you can buy one of several models of Microsoft Mouse with a "magnify" button that allows more convenient control of screen magnification.

A text-to-speech feature is available in more recent versions of Windows. You can access it by clicking on the "start" menu, then clicking "programs", then "accessories", then "accessibility," then "narrator."  A variety of audio output programs is also available from other vendors, ranging from simple text-to-speech programs costing less than $100 to full-functioned screen readers costing nearly $1000.

The Microsoft website offers many suggestions for making your PC easier to use, including increasing the size of both icons and fonts, altering the size and style of the cursor, changing the color scheme, and other useful ideas. The Microsoft accessibility web address is:
www.microsoft.com/enable/.  (for Macintosh computers: www.apple.com/accessibility/)

See also the Computer page of this LVC web site for more information.

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Quick Television Tips
(adapted from Fall 2001 Newsletter)

Watching TV can be troublesome when you have low vision. Experiment to see if any of these tips help you enjoy your favorite television programs.
  • Make sure there is no glare shining on the TV from a window or light.

  • Try moving closer to a smaller television set rather than closer to a larger television set; that way you'll see someone's whole face, not just his nose.

  • Adjust the contrast on the TV so that the colors are either very bright or only black and white.

  • For some TV programs, additional audio description is broadcast on the Secondary Audio Program (SAP).  Try using the menu system on your TV or cable box to enable the SAP.  On some TVs, the option might be called "language," because the SAP is sometimes also used to broadcast the program in a different language.

  • If you like to watch TV with family or friends, consider getting a small second TV to put near your favorite chair.  You can adjust this TV to your viewing needs and put it as close as necessary without affecting your companions.

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Tips For Tracking Your Medications
(from Fall 2002 Newsletter)

  • Use color-coding, bump dots or large print to mark your containers.

  • Wrap rubber bands around the bottle, using one band for each time you should take your medication. Remove one rubber band each time you take your medicine and start again the next day.

  • Write in large print or record on cassette important information about each drug, including the dosage, time to take it, side effects, etc.

  • Ask your pharmacist if he has large print labels or printed material.  Many pharmacies can also supply talking prescription labels.

  • For more information and tips about managing medications, see the National Eye Institute web site at https://www.nei.nih.gov/lowvision/content/medication.

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Identifying currency and credit cards

  • To make it easier to identify bills in your wallet, fold them in a consistent pattern based on denomination.  One suggestion is to take $1 bills and fold them twice, from left to right.  Take $5 bills; fold them left to right and then again from top to bottom.  $10 bills are folded lengthwise and then folded again from left to right.  $20 bills are folded into thirds.  $50 bills are left unfolded and $100 bills are clipped with a paperclip at top and kept unfolded.  Keep all bills of the same denomination together.

  • Learn to identify coins by touch.  Dimes, quarters and 50-cent pieces have milling (nicks) around their edges.  The dime is the smallest and thinnest.  The quarter is larger and thicker.  The 50-cent piece is even larger.  Pennies and nickels have smooth edges.  The penny is smaller and thinner.  The nickel is larger, thicker and has a slightly thicker rim around its edge.

  • The U. S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) plans to add tactile features to our paper money in the next round of redesign.  Meanwhile, if you have an Apple iPhone or other IOS device, or an Android smart phone or device, you can get a free app to identify the denomination of a U. S. bill by using the device's camera.  For Apple devices the app is iNote, and for Android devices the app is IDEAL.  For Apple IOS devices, the free SeeingAI app also includes a currency recognizer.  More information is on the BEP web site at https://www.bep.gov/currencyidmobileapps.html

    For those without smart phones or who want another option, the BEP provides iBill talking banknote identifier devices free of charge to eligible blind and visually impaired individuals.  (If you are a registered user of the Talking Book program, you automatically qualify and no additional certification is needed.)  For details and an application form, see the BEP web site at https://www.moneyfactory.gov/uscurrencyreaderpgm.html.  The Low vision Center has an iBill device available for demonstration; call us at 301-951-4444 if you'd like to come try it.

  • If you have trouble telling your credit cards apart at sight, clip a little bit from the corner of one of them, so the corner has angles instead of being rounded.  Then you can distinguish that card by touch.  Be careful not to clip off any code numbers, and don't damage the magnetic strip or microchip.

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On Vacation

  • It's always a good idea to notify your travel agent, carriers, and hotels in advance of any special help you might need.  Most of them will be happy to assist, but may be limited in what they can do if they don't know in advance what to expect.

  • U. S. National Parks: If your vision is poor enough to constitute a "permanent disability" in the legal sense, then you qualify for a free Access Pass which allows free access to all national parks.  Some other Federal recreation facilities also honor the pass, and some provide discounts to passholders for ancillary services.  See https://store.usgs.gov/pass/access.html.

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More Travel Tips
(adapted from Summer 2006 Newsletter)

  • Use a white cane.  It makes others aware that you are visually impaired and may aid you in getting help when needed.

  • Carry a phone card or cell phone with tactile markings.  You can store important numbers on your phone.  Or you can record them and bring a portable tape recorder, with which you can also listen to music or books on tape.

  • Organize essential items like paper currency, keys, tickets and personal ID using a money belt or hip pack.  Also keep handy your itinerary, destination, addresses and flight numbers in a format that's accessible to you.

  • Separate smaller bills for tips and snacks in a special pocket or wallet.  If you're traveling in Europe, the Euro currency can be distinguished by size, color and tactile characteristics.

  • Bring a list of medications, including dosages and an emergency contact.

  • Carry a signature guide.  Also keep your flashlight, magnifiers or other low vision devices in an easily accessible place.

  • Once in your room, have the hotel staff show you the nearest fire exit -- even if you're traveling with a companion.  You may be alone when an emergency occurs.

  • Ask where the TV remote and telephone are, how to adjust heat or air conditioning, how to request a wake-up call or anything else that's important to you.

  • Ask hotel staff for help, such as orientation to restaurants, gift shops or fitness centers.

  • Be organized when packing.  Consider using plastic bags to separate outfits.

  • Invest in brightly colored luggage with long handles and wheels.  Or use high-contrast tape or ribbons on your baggage to make them easier to identify.

  • If traveling with a guide dog, bring all documentation, such as health certificate with proof of vaccinations and notify carriers and hotels in advance.

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