Smarter Way to Dial Up Visual Aid

Smartphones help visually impaired but few patients use them

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One of the best kept secrets for aiding individuals with visual impairments may be sitting in your purse or your back pocket. Your smartphone may be a tool that provides more accessibility than you thought.

Smartphones offer numerous apps and tools designed to assist those who are visually impaired or completely blind, including screen brightening, GPS and voice navigation features, and available font size increases to as large as 56 points.

"Ask your ophthalmologist whether a smartphone could improve your accessibility."

Though sight-impaired individuals are beginning to take advantage of the technology, few doctors recommend smartphones as an added tool, a small survey has revealed.

Walter M. Jay, MD, senior study author and professor of ophthalmology at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, noted that young visually-impaired patients are already getting ahead of physicians in recognizing the aid that certain settings and apps can provide.

Dr. Jay said that specialists should be getting out in front of this trend instead of remaining behind the curve because smartphones can dramatically improve the quality of life for individuals with poor vision.

During the study researchers surveyed 46 low-vision adults from The Chicago Lighthouse and the Spectrios Institute for Low Vision. Their best corrected vision was 20/70, though some participants were completely blind.

Only 15 percent of the participants said their eye specialist had suggested they use a smartphone such as an iPhone for the accessibility features.

About a quarter of participants (11 patients) reported they used a smartphone. This group had an average age of 36. In comparison, 65 percent, or 30 patients, used basic cell phones. Their average age was 67. Only five of the patients surveyed admitted they did not own any type of cell phone.

"Most patients with significant visual loss tend to be older. This is the population of patients that is often least comfortable with portable electronic devices such as smartphones. Also smartphones require a certain degree of dexterity that may make the use of visual improvement apps less useful," noted Dr. Christopher Quinn, an optometrist with Omni Eye Associates.

"There certainly are situations in which these apps could be very useful and there may be even more utility in these apps when used on a tablet device. The point of the study is however, that doctors need to be aware of all the tools that are available to assist their visually impaired patients and be ready to offer the solutions that best fit the individual needs of the patient."

The research findings were recently presented at the 2012 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 18, 2012
Last Updated:
July 30, 2012