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 Friday, June 27, 2014
New, mainstreamapproaches and tools are needed to improve visual accessibility for people with low vision , according to a special article in the July issue of Optometry and Vision Science, the official journal of the American Academy of Optometry. “Visual accessibility makes an environment, device, or display useable by those with low vision,“ says Anthony Adams, OD, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of the journal.

According to a review by Gordan E. Legge, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, vision science, in collaboration with other fields, has a key role to play in developing technologies and designs to promote visual accessibility for the millions of people living with low vision.

In recognition of his pioneering work on low-vision research and visual accessibility, Dr. Legge was named the 2013 Charles F. Prentice Award Lecture Medalist.  Established in 1958, the Charles F. Prentice Medal is awarded annually to an outstanding scientist who has contributed significantly to the advancement of knowledge in the visual sciences.

Low vision is defined as a chronic vision disability that adversely affects daily functioning and that is not correctable by glasses or contact lenses. It is estimated that there are between 3.5 million and 5 million Americans with low vision, and this number is expected to increase as the population ages.

In his Prentice Award Lecture, Dr. Legge—who suffers from low vision himself—proposed to “embed low-vision research more explicitly in the real world” in order to reduce barriers to visual accessibility. He shares examples of his research in two key areas: architectural accessibility and reading accessibility.

Architectural design has great potential to enhance visual accessibility for people with low vision. Dr. Legge gave illustrated examples of how low vision can make it difficult to navigate architectural spaces; these  obstacles and hazards may even change with the light at different times of the day.

His research includes the development of software tools to promote the design of visually accessible spaces. These tools reflect the impact of reduced visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, as well as predict whether architectural features can be seen by people with low vision. Dr. Legge writes, “We need practical models of low vision capable of predicting real-world object visibility”.
Dr. Legge’s work also includes efforts to increase reading accessibility for people with low vision. Advances such as electronic readers provide powerful new tools to improve reading accessibility, but there’s still a lack of knowledge of how best to use the features they provide. Research is needed to understand the interacting effects of variables such as display geometry, visual acuity, viewing distance, print size, and font.

Dr. Legge urges low-vision researchers to work with other disciplines—including software and hardware developers and design professionals—in solving the problems of visual accessibility. He writes, “Where we succeed, we will contribute to vision science by showing how vision functions in the real world, and we will find better ways to reduce barriers facing people with visual impairment”.

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