By Bill Takeshita, O.D., F.A.A.O., F.C.O.V.D.
The loss of vision does not mean the end to a life of leisure and travel. There are many devices that can help both people with low vision and those who are totally blind to travel and enjoy life. The first step is to have a consultation with a low vision optometrist, ophthalmologists or consultant to provide you with visual aids to enhance your vision.
Low vision glasses can be designed to improve your distance sight, reduce problems with glare, and increase contrast to help you to see steps, curbs and the scenery. Low vision optometrists are trained to design specialized glasses to help people with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other eye diseases to maximize their remaining vision.
Magnifiers and telescopes are extremely helpful for reading plane tickets, itineraries, street signs, traffic signals and travel guides. New hand magnifiers with a very bright LED light can provide up to 12X magnification to provide easy viewing of currency, credit card slips and menus. Portable telescopes can be carried easily in a shirt pocket or around your neck to see distant images in a magnified view. These telescopes are much lighter in weight than a pair of binoculars and they can also be used to focus on nearby objects such as the departure and arrival television monitors at the airport or automatic teller machines.
Walking canes are another essential tool when traveling. The cane informs others that you have a vision problem and this alerts them to give you some space to walk. A cane can prevent you from falling on steps and curbs and they also provide support should you lose your balance. Canes are recognized worldwide and are available in different styles. An orientation and mobility specialist can fit you with the best cane for you and teach you how to use it safely.
Global positioning satellites (GPS) systems are now available for people who are blind and partially sighted. These devices are available in cell phones, pocketsize handheld units such as the Humanware Trekker Breeze and in larger models that attach to a note taker. With a GPS device, you can locate restaurants, banks, museums, addresses, and other places of interest and the GPS will provide you with step-by-step directions on how to get there. With a GPS device you will always know where you are and you can create a route so that you will know how to get back to the hotel.
Other helpful devices to take on vacation include a cell phone that will work in the country or place you are traveling. Ask your phone carrier whether your phone will work there. A small flashlight such as the Mini Mag Light will provide you with added light to see in dark restaurants or hallways and make walking safer. Take a small digital camera and select one with a large LCD screen. This can serve as a magnifier to help you see. A digital voice recorder is also available for about $50 and this will help you to record important things such as your itinerary, or simply provide an audio memory of your trip.
When making your arrangements to travel, it is always helpful to speak with a travel agent and inform everyone that you are visually impaired. Airports will often have special assistants to carry your luggage and walk you through the security check to help you find your gate. When you arrive at your destination, ask for a person to take you to the ground transportation area. Trains, and cruise ships will also provide special assistance to help you. Hotels will often provide special accommodations such as a tactile or large-print map of the hotel and amusement parks will do the same. Theaters will often provide preferred seating at no extra charge, and theme parks will provide a courtesy pass to avoid the need to wait in the long lines. So enjoy your vacation and remember to take all of your visual aids.
For more information about devices that can help you travel safely this summer, it is best to consult with a low vision professional for a demonstration of the various magnifiers available. Consult with your local optometric or ophthalmology society to find a low vision specialist in your area. If you live near Los Angeles, Orange County, Santa Barbara, Rancho Mirage, or San Diego, you are welcome to visit Braille Institute where we display magnifiers and other low vision aids. You may also schedule a free consultation with our low vision rehabilitation specialists to receive a personalized consultation
Visit our Low Vision Resources page for more information about our free services for people with sight 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 Bill@DrBillFoundation.org.