Magnifying glasses are perhaps the most iconic assistive technology for low vision and vision loss, as they help to make everything bigger and make objects and text easier to see. I have several types of magnifying glasses for low vision in my assistive technology collection that I use for various tasks, as there is no single magnification aid that can fit all of a user’s vision needs. Here are more details about various magnifying glasses for low vision, and how to choose magnifying glasses for low vision users.
Understanding magnification terminology
When purchasing or researching magnifying glasses, there are a few different terms and metrics used for describing a magnifying glass, including:
Field of view
How much information is visible through the lens of the magnifying glass? Magnifying glasses that have a smaller field of view are more likely to have a higher magnifying power, though this is not always the case.
How far away can I hold a magnifying glass from an object and still be able to see it clearly? This is answered by the focal length, which is shorter in magnifying glasses that have a high magnifying power.
When I use a magnifying glass, how much larger does it make the image- is it twice as large, three times as large, or something else? The magnifying power is often displayed with a number followed by the letter X, and most magnifying glasses on the market have a value between 2X and 6x, which means that an item can be enlarged up to 200% or 600% of its original size.
What’s the difference between a magnifying power and an optical power? The optical power, also known as the focusing power, is the degree to which a lens converges or diverges light. For two or more thin lenses that are close together, the optical power is equivalent to the approximate sum of the optical powers of each lens. This is used in prescription glasses, bioptic lenses, and similar optical devices.
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My personal magnifying glasses for low vision
The majority of magnifying glasses that can be purchased from mainstream stores are between 2x and 6x magnification, though I’ve also seen a handful of 10x magnifiers available for purchase. Most of the magnifying glasses in my collection have values between 3x and 5x.
For users that need a higher magnification power or that have fluctuating vision needs, I recommend looking into a video magnifier, which can offer magnification values as high as 45x. A microscope can be used to magnify smaller objects, with many microscopes starting at 30x magnifying power.
My Teacher of the Visually Impaired gave me a pocket magnifier for enlarging exponents and similar details in my math and science classes, though I found the magnification power wasn’t high enough for a lot of my magnification needs. A pocket magnifier is often centered in a plastic frame, and the viewing window is about 2 inches wide. The pocket magnifier is frustrating for reading large amounts of text, but is helpful for enlarging smaller objects or short text.
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The classic magnifying glass is a circular lens in a frame with a stick on the end, which can be positioned with the user’s hand over various objects. This is helpful for reading tags or similar environmental items in the home, and come in multiple sizes and magnification powers.
Full page magnifier
My mom found a full page magnifier for me in elementary school, which is a magnifying glass that is shaped like a piece of paper and works great for magnifying classwork, a page from a book, or larger objects. However, I often had to take breaks while using it at school because it would reflect the fluorescent lights and give me a headache.
Different from the full page magnifier, a magnifying sheet is more flexible and has a lower magnification power. It is the cheapest item mentioned on this page, and is often provided at government offices and doctor’s offices for enlarging text. I do not find magnifying sheets helpful as someone with low vision, and would prefer a magnifying glass or another aid with a higher magnification power, especially since I have to balance the magnifying sheet with one hand and write with the other.
This was a game changer for me when I was introduced to the stand magnifier in college, as it makes it possible to use magnifying glasses hands-free, which is fantastic for writing on assignments or forms. Users can also purchase stands for their magnifying glasses or other magnification aids separately.
Wearable magnification glasses
Some people prefer to wear literal magnification glasses, as in glasses that magnify items 3x their size or larger. Since I wear prescription glasses, I found these somewhat difficult to put on over my existing glasses, but I love the idea of being able to zoom in on objects without holding anything. There are also magnification glasses that can be added on top of normal glasses, but these gave me vertigo.
Wearable magnification glasses are different from bioptic lenses, which are prescription magnification glasses that are prescribed by a low vision specialist such as a low vision optometrist or low vision ophthalmologist.
Wearable pendant magnifying glasses
To make magnifying glasses easier to access, one option is to use a pendant magnifying glass or put a magnifying glass on a lanyard so that it is always within reach of the user. I used one of these briefly in an elementary school classroom, but I found it distracting and preferred to use the magnifying glass stored in my desk instead.
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Other tips for choosing magnifying glasses for low vision
- Some magnifying glasses come with built-in lights that can make objects easier to see
- Many low vision specialists have a collection of magnifying glasses that patients can test out to determine which power or display will work best for them
- Most magnifying glasses on the market are not made of glass, and instead use plastic, acrylic, or other composite materials
- Magnifying glasses cannot generally be used with mainstream technology devices- users will need to use a screen magnifier or zoom features to enlarge text