Low vision - Schepens Eye Research Institute

The definition of low vision can vary from visual impairment to legal blindness.

Visual impairment simply means vision that is not correctable by glasses. At the other end of the spectrum, legal blindness has two distinct definitions:

  • when vision is 20/200 or worse in both eyes, or

  • when peripheral (side) vision is narrowed to 20 degrees or less, also known as "tunnel vision"

Functional impairment can fall somewhere in between depending on a variety of issues. Low vision patients then, by definition, have remaining and usable (usually peripheral) vision. The job of a low vision specialist is to make the patient aware of this remaining vision and help train them to use to their advantage.

Magnification, light and contrast are the three main factors used in assisting low vision patients to use their remaining vision. Low vision aids incorporating these factors can help low vision patients to handle daily tasks. These can vary from a variety of lenses/lens systems and electronic equipment, to simple everyday items such as talking watches and clocks. The more sophisticated lens systems require the expertise of trained and experienced low vision specialist.

Schepens Eye Research Institute is one of the very few centers in the world dedicated to improving low vision technology. The Institute's low vision research concentrates on two primary areas: understanding the mechanism s of vision in normal and diseased eyes, and developing new optical approaches to improving vision. The leader of this research program, Dr. Eli Peli O.D., M.Sc. is an outstanding low vision specialist and researcher who, in the past few years, has been the leading grant recipient in the low vision research field from the National Eye Institute. Our goal is to improve the quality of life and increase the independence of those who have lost vision.

Schepens scientists are responsible for many important innovations in low vision rehabilitation including:

  • the first extensive study of the effect of specific low vision aids on driving performance with the goal of extending driving privileges safely for those who qualify

  • the introduction of the concept of multiplexing (how the brain combines both central and peripheral vision) into low vision research to assist in the development of the next generation of low vision aids

  • the development of novel lens systems using prisms t expand the field of vision for stroke victims and other hemianopia patients

  • the use of computer enhancement to improve television/video viewing for patients with central visual field loss

  • the study of new reading techniques and print formats for low vision patients using electronic magnifiers (CCTVs) to improve reading performance

  • ongoing testing of a variety of low vision aids designed to help patients with mobility problems as a result of a reduced field of vision

To learn more about living with low vision, contact Schepens' patient liaison, Rich Godfrey, at 617-912-2569.