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Almost two million people in the UK are living with some form of sight loss – around one person in thirty. Loss of sight is a personal thing and it can impact people in different ways. Some people can see nothing at all, while others will have blurred or distorted vision.
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What causes sight loss?
For anyone, the loss of their sight is going to be daunting. But understanding why it happens may mean they are better prepared to deal with it.
Research suggests the most common causes of sight loss are:
- Macular degeneration (ageing)
- Detached Retina
- Diabetic Retinopathy
As we get older we're more likely to experience some level of sight loss. It affects one in five people aged 75 and over, and one in two people at 90.
Due to our ageing population, the number of people in the UK with sight loss is predicted to increase dramatically in future. By 2020 it's expected 2,250,000 will have some kind of visual impairment, making sight loss even more common than it is now.
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Living with a visual impairment
Depending on your level of sight loss, you might find you need help with the number of every day activities, including:
- Reading, user guide instructions or other print
- Recognising faces or street signs
- Telling the time
- Using a computer screen, keyboard or keypad
- Using the telephone and taking down messages
However, having a sight loss doesn't mean you have to stop enjoying life. There are many ways you can make the most of your existing sight. It could be as simple as buying reading glasses, or making a few changes to your home. In some cases specialised equipment can also make many tasks a lot easier. It's also important to tell friends and family, so they can offer their support.
Where to get help and support
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) website has loads of information about living with sight loss. As well as learning about your rights and available benefits, you'll find product recommendations and community pages to help you connect with others living with sight loss.
Support from BT
We've been actively helping people with disabilities for years. Help us to understand your needs and requirements, by making sure you tell us about your impairments so we can offer you the best service.
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Big button phones, displays and cordless phones
If you're experiencing sight loss and looking for a new phone that will help, here are some features to look out for:
- Large, well-spaced keys with good contrast between background colour and numbers, although for some sight conditions a compact keypad may be more suitable
- Clear, good sized text on the displays
- Raised dot on button 5 to help navigation around the keypad
- Memory and "one-touch" dialing keys
- Keypad beeps to ensure buttons are pressed properly
- Voice prompts
- Loudspeaker to allow notes to be taken by hand or by a Braille note taker
- Cordless phones that you can keep with you at all times
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Get an eye test
It's important to get an eye test at least every two years, as several causes of sight loss are treatable even preventable if caught in time. You can arrange an eye test by visiting a high street optician or through your GP.
What an eye test involves
An eye test will establish the health of your eyes and your ability to see and read. An optometrist will ask you to read letters on a chart (or pictures and letters, if reading is a problem for you). They'll check inside your eye with an ophthalmoscope, which involves shining a bright light in your eye and moving your eyes. They'll also test the movement and pressure of your eyes, by sending a puff of air onto to your eyeball. It may sound odd, but it's a simple and painless procedure and doesn't take very long.
The test will establish whether you need glasses or lenses, or a change to your current prescription. The optometrist may refer you to another specialist for further investigation or treatment.
If you experience sudden sight loss or changes to your vision, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
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Making the most of your sight
If you're partially sighted, it's important to make the most of your remaining sight.
For some people making things bigger, bolder and brighter can help make day-to-day tasks a little easier.
Here are some ideas that could help:
- Choose gadgets like phones or clocks with large displays, or big buttons to make seeing them easier.
- Consider using a cordless phone you can keep nearby, so you don't have to look for it each time it rings.
- Other devices that speak information to you, like talking clocks and watches, are also helpful.
- Where reading large amounts of text on screen is difficult, consider using software that will read the text to you. Browsealoud is a free to download programme that reads outloud enabled-websites as you browse them, like this one.
- If you have no sight and use the internet, other specialist screen readers are available which allow you to navigate and read websites.
- Lots of books or magazines are available in large print. Many companies like BT also offer instructions and guides in alternative formats such as Braille and Audio CD's.
To enable better communication using your phone, we have some simple tips and advice to help you call with confidence.
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Other ways to get information
BT can provide written information and bills in alternative formats, free of charge. Most of our product guides and information booklets are also available in alternative formats. We also have a range of information available to for download.
Other services to help with sight
If you are unable to read The Phone Book, try using the online version provided free at www.thephonebook.bt.com
Alternatively you may be eligible for our 195 free directory enquiry service. For an application form, ring the registration team on 0800 587 0195. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 09.00 to 16.30. You'll need to complete an application form, which will need to be signed by your doctor or healthcare professional.
If you use the BT 1471 or BT Answer 1571 services you can return the last call made to you by pressing a single button. The connection charge for call return is free to BT customers signed up to the 195 service. All other call charges apply.
BrowseAloud can read for you
Reading large amounts of text on screen can be difficult if you have literacy or visual impairments. BrowseAloud is a free computer program that reads web pages aloud for you as you browse the page.
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Printed information – like bills, leaflets and brochures – can be provided in audio, Braille and Large Print format.