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Shining light on seeing more clearly

Being blind can make life difficult, but so too can having low vision – not quite meeting the legal definition of blindness, but not being able to see well enough to complete everyday tasks as well as one could and live life to the fullest. While there’s support out there in some of the larger cities, life for individuals can be particularly difficult for people with low vision living in the regions.

A project to assist older Dunedin residents with visual impairment will soon get underway at Otago Polytechnic to help people living with low vision, thanks to a funding grant awarded to principal lecturer in occupational therapy Dr Mary Butler.

Butler has received more than $15,000 for a project to develop individual “lighting prescriptions” for up to 50 people with low vision, so that they can better carry out day-to-day tasks. The funding comes from Otago Science Into Action’s Participatory Science Project.

“Those aged over 65 require three times as much light to see as those in their 20s,” explains Butler. “This can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.”

The Lux IQ.

With few low vision services available to people in Aotearoa, Butler says there’s a large segment of the population that’s not getting the help they need. “Ninety-three percent of all people with vision impairment are not eligible for that assistance,” she says. “Most people are sent home from their ophthalmologist with the message that there is nothing that can be done. But there are many small things that can make a real difference to how people live. Teaching older people about their own lighting needs enables them to understand and meet their own requirements.”

The project involves the use of a light meter, known as the Lux IQ, which can determine an individual’s particular vision impairment and test the effects of different lighting options. “From there, we can prescribe the correct lighting intensity and the filter or colour of light required to mitigate each person’s impairment,” explains Butler. “A range of bulbs and task lighting are available from big hardware stores, so there’s ready access to these solutions here in Dunedin.”

Six first-year Otago Polytechnic occupational therapy students have also volunteered to work on the project, and will in turn be guided by a team of four third-year students. The students will be involved in teaching and learning about lighting and low vision.

Craig Grant from Otago Science Into Action – a partnership between Ngai Tahu, Otago Museum, the NZ International Science Festival, the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic – says the project is an exciting one. “By the visually impaired working alongside the occupational therapy interns to assess, test and review the effectiveness of different lighting regimes, we hope this will help them to develop real new solutions for their homes. It could also generate insights that might help the likes of rest homes and hospitals.”

The initiative initial initiative is expected to run until mid-December this year.

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