5 Tricks For People Who Are Hyper Sensitive to Computer Screens

I have a rare neurological condition that means that when my eyes do work I feel pain, normally a mild pain but one that can grow out of control if I am not careful. Naturally, being a programmer where I stare at a computer screen all day may not be the best job for someone who feels pain upon focusing their eyes. But seriously, what job doesn't involve eye focusing? And more importantly, I am a self confessed programming obsessive, what would I do if I wasn't programming? I think my mind would shrivel up and die so rather than accept defeat I have found ways around it.

This is my set-up and it has enabled me to carry on my programming career. Without this ste-up I last about 10 minutes and with it I can do 10 hour work days.

1: Screen Magnifier

I use screen magnifier at 300% zoom with inverted colours.

That is almost my entire screen with 300% magnification with inverted colours. Who needs to focus their eyes when characters are one inch high and so clear as this?

The magnification and colour inversion is a critical part of this setup.

2: A Big Screen

I have a big 36 inch screen. I got a cheap one because hey, with 300% magnification each character is about an inch big. It's like I'm on a big 320 x 240 screen. I also invert the colours so who cares about colour fidelity? The only important thing is that it be big and have a matt finish.

I have also used a projector screen, projecting a 2-3 metre image onto a wall or screen. Finding space for this is difficult. I used this setup for about 3 years before switching to a large monitor.

The key is to reduce the work your eyes need to do, so the bigger the better.

3: Amber Sun Glasses

I wear special sun glasses that remove blue light which I have modified to allow 0% light from the sides and bottom. I find that I need all the light to come through the lenses, any light pollution from the sides reduces their effectiveness.

I buy all my sun glasses here http://www.noir-medical.com/

I am light sensitive so to go outside I wear the glasses with 2% amber filters but for the computer screen 2% is way too dark so I have 10% amber for using a computer screen.
Some light gets in from the sides and underneath so I buy some plastic foamy card (that's the best way I can describe it), some 3M tape and add some shielding to the sides and underneath. I have a fat nose and these glasses have a very narrow nose on them which caused me immense pain when wearing them without the modifications, but with the shielding it is the shielding itself that rests on my cheeks so no pain.

See the shielding at the base and sides

See the shielding at the base and sides

4: A Cap

I wear a cap to block out light from ceiling lights directly entering my eyes. Less light pollution from the top, better quality of light and less pain.

5: Ambient Lighting

High contrast or very bright natural light in my environment makes my pain worse. The best environments I have found have ambient lighting that limit natural light. When I say natural light I mean unfiltered, direct light from outside. I have worked in an office that has an amber filter on the windows to reduce glare and infra-red. At home, I have the blinds do most of the filtering and a stand-up lamp that projects light upwards onto the ceiling, creating a nice ambient light.

This all works great and while I still feel pain, I don't care because I can do the profession that is my calling. Paper based writing is the only real problem now and thankfully I don't need to read from paper for my job. There is also a side benefit of my colleagues thinking I'm some kind of mad genius. They can't imagine working with 300% magnification, seeing a small proportion of the screen at any time and they translate that to me being some kind of programmer super hero. Having a good reputation never hurts. But if they only saw me when I couldn't see a screen at all a few years ago when my condition was worse, programming through head phones makes 300% zoom look like a walk in the park. Seriously, I have so much respect for all the blind programmers out there, I did that for a while and it was hard and ultimately made me a better programmer, but that's for another post.