Smartphones a boon for visually impaired

May 23, 2012
Ophthalmology Times Staff Reports

Smartphones can be a big help to the visually impaired, but few eye-care professionals (ECPs) are recommending them to patients, according to the results of a study presented at this year’s annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Fort Lauderdale, FL-Smartphones can be a big help to the visually impaired, but few eye-care professionals (ECPs) are recommending them to patients, according to the results of a study presented at this year’s annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Researchers surveyed 46 low-vision adults from the Chicago Lighthouse and the Spectrios Institute for Low Vision in Wheaton, IL. Participants’ best-corrected vision ranged from 20/70 to complete blindness.

The researchers found that only 15% of the patients reported that an ECP had recommended a smartphone so they could benefit from the devices’ accessibility features.

Eleven of the 46 patients (24%) used smartphones; the average age of these patients was 36 years. Thirty patients (65%) used basic cell phones; their average age was 67. Five patients (11%) did not own any cell phones.

“Young, visually impaired patients are getting ahead of their doctors,” said the study’s senior author, Walter M. Jay, MD, the John M. Krasa, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Low-vision specialists should be getting out in front on this rather than being behind the curve."

Dr. Jay said these are among the accessibility features that smartphones offer to the visually impaired:

• Font sizes can be increased to as large as 56 point, enabling users with very poor vision to text and e-mail.

• The screen can be brightened considerably.

• GPS and voice features help the visually impaired to navigate.

“Smartphones can dramatically improve the quality of life of people with poor vision,” Dr. Jay said.

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