Even though I wear tinted glasses and am fairly sensitive to light, I have spent a lot of time learning about lighting and low vision, and experimenting with different lighting in my room to figure out what works best for me. I received a question asking about choosing lighting for low vision and how consumers could figure out what lighting would work best for them and their needs, so today I will be sharing the basics of what I’ve learned about lighting and low vision so that others can figure out what lighting will work best for them.
Types of lightbulbs
The five most common types of lightbulbs include:
While these are a bit more difficult to find, incandescent lightbulbs mimic natural sunlight and light tends to be concentrated in different areas. However, they can easily cause shadows or glare, so they typically aren’t a popular choice for low vision lighting.
Halogen lightbulbs are energy efficient and provide a very strong, consistent light that can easily illuminate a room. They provide great contrast between objects and are considered to be a superior alternative to incandescent lightbulbs both for their longer life and energy efficiency.
Fluorescent lights are used in several different settings, including the grocery store, a dorm room, and even in outside spaces. Fluorescent lights come in several different brightness levels and colors, though are typically very bright compared to other lights and can trigger photosensitivity in affected populations.
The most common type of lighting, LED lights last a long time and are best for when users need to have light in a specific area or for a specific task. LED lights come in a variety of different shapes and colors, and “smart bulbs” are popular with users who have low vision as they can be connected to smart speakers such as the Amazon Alexa, and some models can change colors.
Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (also known as CFLs) are another common type of lightbulb that can emit a cool-colored light, however since they contain a small amount of mercury, they are not typically recommended for people with low vision as they require special handling and disposal.
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Other helpful light terms to know
Other helpful lighting terms that can help people choose the best lighting for low vision include:
- Lux- intensity of light, or how much it illuminates a room
- Lumen- how much light is emitted; the higher the lumen, the brighter the light
- Wattage- the amount of energy consumed by the light
- Color Rendering Index/CRI- how colors look with the lighting compared to natural sunlight
- Temperature- the color of the light that is emitted, measured in Kelvin (K). Soft/warm lighting is around 2700 K, while a bright white is around 4100 K. Daylight is considered to be about 5000 K, and people with low vision are strongly recommended to not purchase lights that are over 5000 K as they are unlikely to provide good contrast.
Things that can influence lighting choice
Some of the many factors that can influence lighting choice for visually impaired people include:
- The time of day- people typically need more bright lighting at night than they do during the day
- Eye fatigue levels
- Lighting location- more light will be needed in the kitchen than the living room
- Type of lighting needed
- Individual eye conditions- someone with glaucoma or macular degeneration is more likely to need bright lights than someone who has a photosensitive eye condition
- Access to other natural light, i.e windows
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Choosing ambient lighting
Ambient lighting, sometimes referred to as general lighting, serves as the primary source of light for a room, with light fixtures being attached to the wall or ceiling. In my room, I have two ambient lighting fixtures with soft white light so that I can adjust my lighting preferences as needed. One of the fixtures has adjustable lighting so that I can choose how bright I want my room to be, which is especially helpful for when I need to have a small amount of light or when I am dealing with lots of eye fatigue and still need a small amount of light. However, I need to have bright ambient lighting for walking around, as I have great difficulty navigating in the dark.
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Task lighting for low vision
Task lighting is designed to illuminate a small area such as a desk or couch, and typically comes in the form of a lamp or smaller lights. Task lighting is often brighter than ambient lighting and is incredibly important for people with low vision, as it can help users with completing different activities or reading without straining their eyes. I typically have ambient lighting turned off when I am using task lighting due to my photosensitivity, though most people will need to have both turned on.
In my dorm room, I would use a LED lamp with bright white light designed for task lighting as my ambient lighting source, because the fluorescent lighting in my dorm would trigger my photosensitivity. I bought a remote-controlled lamp so that way I would be able to easily turn it on and off, and would store the remote in a central location.
Accent lighting and decorative lighting for low vision
Accent and decorative lighting are not necessarily must-have items for people with low vision, as they typically highlight an area such as a piece of furniture or an item on the wall. However, for people that are learning to navigate a new space, accent lighting can be a great tool for learning how to locate items and being able to see items with more clarity. While I don’t have any accent lighting in my room, one of my friends used accent lighting in the form of colored LED strips to help them better see the outline of their desk and other furniture in their dorm room, as they had trouble seeing where items were located.
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While this post is not meant to be an extensive guide to everything related to lighting and low vision, it’s important to know the basics of lighting so that users can choose a solution that works best for them. I hope that this post is helpful for others as well!