Low Vision Aids have great potential to increase the confidence and independence of young people, but they must be designed with their needs and perspectives in mind, a new report finds.

Published by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and sight loss organisations Thomas Pocklington Trust, VICTA and VISION 2020 UK, the report Design and Low Vision Aids – a Youth Perspective is brimming with quotes from young people, providing an insight into the aspirations and opinions of those the aids should support: 12 – 18 year olds who are visually impaired.

From hand-held magnifiers and monoculars to screen readers and smartphones, these devices have the potential to benefit young people in the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, for reading, navigation, classroom activities and much more. In the words of one young interviewee, Zoe, ‘Being able to use my LVA [low vision aid] intuitively means I do not have to rely on anyone to help me and this makes me more confident in myself.’

One often-neglected truth is that having a visual impairment does not exclude an individual from desiring sleek, attractive products. Echoing the concerns of most others her age, 15 year old Hannah comments, ‘To be honest the only question is, “How much is it going to stand out? How noticeable is it?”’. While some inclusive products fit the bill, many assistive technological devices are simply ‘not discreet or covert’ enough to be used without some embarrassment.

In contrast, good design helps boost the confidence of young people and enables them to go about their daily lives with ease, as 16 year old Owen explains: ‘In London you can wear your headphones and as you walk past a shop it tells you what shop it is. If that was everywhere, [it] would make it so easy. With earphones people just think you’re listening to music.’ The young people interviewed expressed a strong interest in using such mainstream technology that combines multi-functionality with appealing design. 11 year old Noah says, ‘I just want my LV [low vision] gadgets to look like normal cool techy gadgets!’. Personalisation of mainstream technological products is a growing trend, and increased accessibility is one form of personalisation that is vital for visually impaired young people.

The report:

  • Reveals the thoughts, priorities and preferences of young people with sight loss, garnered through direct interviews
  • Assesses a number of existing products including consumer digital devices
  • Highlights the scope for devices to be more accessible and enjoyable to use
  • Presents ideas for the creation of suitable support for young people and suggests ways to offer non-stigmatising, desirable and functional low vision aids

When inspired by the innovative ideas of young people, good design can be a catalyst for independence, rather than a barrier. As Hannah says, ‘I should be able to do everything, things that other teenagers can do. You shouldn’t have to worry.’ Listening to the voices of visually impaired young people will enable them to exercise their capability and creativity as they navigate their teenage years.

The full report, Design and Low Vision Aids – a Youth Perspective, is available online here as a PDF and here as a Word document. For a free accessible version, please contact research@pocklington-trust.org.uk.