Do You See What I See? Understanding the Challenges of Low Vision

“Jack Sprat could eat no fat,” my husband says as I turn up the light over our dining table. “And his wife could eat no lean,” I reply.

It has become our private job about how he has issues with bright light (some form of photophobia) and I need more light to see my food.

We all see differently

Some of us with macular degeneration (AMD) look at white type on a black background and find it hard to read. Others do not. Two people with macular degeneration look at the same thing but see it differently.

Science can understand why. The question is, how can I see something through someone else’s eyes so I can share their experience?

I stopped in my tracks when I read the title of the paper, 'Seeing through someone else's eyes: Proposing objective criteria to examine subjective experiences'. I thought I was reading a philosophy textbook.

I have wet AMD in both eyes. My retina specialist has stopped the injections in my left eye and is concentrating on stabilizing vision in the right eye.

Because of their AMD, millions of people like me, and probably you, see the world differently from those without the disease. We need more light.

We may suffer outdoors on a bright day. Small type may require a magnifying glass and a dimly lit restaurant requires a flashlight for reading the menu.

And yet our family and friends are often clueless about the differences. What if we could see the world through each other’s eyes?

See through our eyes

What if there were a way for the people who design restaurants could experience the lighting through our eyes? I wonder how many of them know people with low vision issues. A grandmother, an aunt, or an uncle? Maybe they could test drive a design. I’d volunteer.

More than 30 years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. The drive behind the law was to open the world to people with disabilities.

Needing to use a wheelchair shouldn’t keep you from going to a movie or a ball me or a library, or school. The goal was to make sure that our buildings made independent living possible for everyone.

Helping people with low vision doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen of architects and interior designers. What can be done to make it easier for us to get around and enjoy the world as much as people with regular vision?

It's time to raise awareness

I’ve discovered over the past 3 years that the most important thing I can do is to speak up. I try to do it with a kind voice and a smile on my face, not accusing or blaming, simply explaining why more light on a stairwell could help.

That can be tough for many of us, especially at the beginning. We can be embarrassed to admit that we don’t see as well as we used to. Asking to borrow a friend’s phone to use their flashlight because I left mine at home. Ugh.

Explaining why there are little red dots on my thermostat, oven dials, and microwave... All those little things that make life easier for me but are unnecessary for someone without AMD.

After three years, I’ve become accustomed to it. I’ve turned from a victim to an advocate. Life is a lot better.

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