By Dr. Bill Takeshita, O.D., F.A.A.O., F.C.O.V.D.

Each year, thousands of adults lose their ability to read as a result of vision impairment. Macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma are conditions that rob millions of people of their ability to read books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, and their mail. Consequently, these adults are unable to correspond with friends by writing letters or sending e-mail. They frequently become more dependent on friends and family to do their shopping and banking for them and in many cases, they are forced to spend thousands of dollars for assisted living because they cannot read their medications. Fortunately, advances in optics and technology have resulted in the development of new magnifiers that can help many people with low vision to read and maintain their independence.

Magnifiers were invented hundreds of years ago when a glass lens was curved in such a way to provide magnification of the object being viewed through the lens. The older magnifiers were generally heavy because they were made of glass and they had a lot of distortion in the lens, which made it difficult to read print for long periods of time. Today, plastic resin materials are used to provide a lightweight magnifier with little distortion in a variety of styles and designs. Here are a few important factors to consider when purchasing a magnifier for a friend of loved one with low vision.

Consult with a Professional

It is most helpful to consult with low vision optometrists, ophthalmologist, or a low vision consultant before spending money on magnifiers. Many people attempt to select a magnifier by shopping through catalogs or at the drug store. This is a very difficult task to accomplish because there are so many different factors to consider. The power of the magnifier, magnification, size of the lens, focusability and type of light source are just a few of the parameters that must be considered. Purchasing a magnifier without some assistance is similar to going to a pharmacy to find the best medication to treat your illness. Doctors who specialize in low vision can provide guidance in purchasing the best magnifier and they may also be able to design low vision glasses for reading. If you live in an area that does not have a low vision doctor, you can consult with a low vision consultant such as the low vision rehabilitation specialists we have at the Braille Institute.

Select a High Quality Magnifier

The quality of the lens is the most important factor when purchasing a magnifier. Many magnifiers are very inexpensive, such as those found at the drug store or the bargain “Dollar Store.” These magnifiers often have a lot of distortion, which can cause eye strain, headaches, and may actually make it more difficult to read. High quality magnifiers are available at low vision rehabilitation centers, eye doctor’s offices, and some hospitals.

More Magnification Is Not Always Better

Many people with macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy make the mistake of purchasing the magnifier that has the highest power. This may actually result in slower reading ability because too much magnification will result in the person seeing only a few letters of the word at a time. When a very strong magnifier is used, the letters become so magnified that it is similar to sitting in the front row of a movie theatre where it is difficult to read the title because it is too large.

Bigger Is Not Always Better

Another common mistake people make when purchasing a magnifier without consulting with a low vision specialist is that they purchase the largest magnifier they can find. Some magnifiers are the same size as a sheet of notebook paper while others are as long as a ruler. These magnifiers provide minimal magnification and they reduce the contrast of the words being read. The laws of physics are such that the larger the magnifier, the lower the power. Thus, a magnifying lens that is 6-inches wide will have less magnification than a magnifier that is three-inches wide. People with low vision who are searching for a magnifier must find the best balance between the size of the lens and the level of magnification.

Magnifiers with a Built-In Light

Advances in electronics now allow very bright lights to be incorporated into the magnifier. Over 90 percent of the magnifiers chosen by clients of the Braille Institute have a built-in light. The light provides added contrast to allow easier reading of newsprint and also allows people to read menus in dark restaurants. There are now different colors of light that make a tremendous difference for people with specific eye conditions. For example, a yellowish light can often help people with diabetes while a bright white light is often best for people with glaucoma.

Hand Magnifier or a Stand Magnifier?

Magnifiers are now available in different styles. Hand magnifiers are small and compact to make it easy to hold in your hand and read. They fit easily into a shirt pocket or purse. Hand magnifiers are available with or without a light and are excellent for use when shopping, banking, and for reading at home. Stand magnifiers are a bit larger and they have housing or legs that allow people to place the magnifier directly on the book. This is very helpful for people who have arthritis, hand tremors, or difficulty holding onto a hand magnifier for long periods of time. Stand magnifiers with a built-in light are extremely helpful for avid readers who read for long periods of time.

Wear the Proper Glasses When Using a Magnifier

Many people have difficulty reading with a magnifier because they wear the incorrect glasses for reading. It is important to wear your reading glasses or bifocals when using a magnifier to get the maximal benefits of the magnifier. In many cases, the combination of the best reading glasses with a magnifier will provide the best results. Consult with a low vision optometrist or ophthalmologist to obtain the best glasses prescription to be used in conjunction with a magnifier for reading.

Where Can I Try Some of These Magnifiers?

It is best to consult with a low vision professional for a demonstration of the various magnifiers available.  You are welcome to schedule a free low vision consultation with one of our specialists. We can help you determine which kids of lighting will be most effective for your type and degree of vision loss. For more information, contact the center nearest you or call 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553).

About Dr. Takeshita

Bill Takeshita, O.D., F.A.A.O., F.C.O.V.D. is a low vision optometrist who serves as the consulting director of low vision at Braille Institute. He is also the Chief of Optometry at the Center for the Partially Sighted and an adjunct professor at the Southern California College of Optometry.

Dr. Takeshita has lectured extensively across the nation on the topics of low vision, computer technology and assistive technology for children and adults with low vision.

In 2004, Dr. Takeshita founded The Dr. Bill Takeshita Foundation, which he established after he ironically lost his own sight but gained a new perspective on vision impairment. The Foundation provides information and assistance to help children who are visually impaired.
Dr. Takeshita can be contacted by e-mail at