Technology has changed the way we undertake many tasks, from accessing information to driving a car.
Even if it hasn’t been part of your education or life experience so far, it is possible to learn the skills necessary to make use of computer technology and software. Talk to one of the many low vision service providers about computer training programs and typing courses. Local Computer Pals clubs for seniors, which offer a fun and supportive environment, may also be suitable for learning computer skills. Technical Aid to the Disabled (TAD) can help to provide affordable computer packages for people with a disability.
Another excellent resource is Media Access Australia (MAA). MAA is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to increasing access to media for people with disabilities. Their website contains information on assistive technology.
Maximising vision using computer technology
There are many ways you can maximise remaining vision by using technology, including choosing a large screen to increase the viewing area and increasing the size of items displayed on the screen.
To make type easier to read, choose simple fonts without decorative curves, such as Arial or Calibri, and type in upper and lower case instead of all capitals. Add extra space between words and lines of text.
The following modifications will help you get the most from your computer:
- A large monitor to increase your viewing area
- A large print keyboard or large font keyboard stickers applied to the keys
- Software that increases the cursor size
- If the mouse or cursor is difficult to use, it may be easier to learn to touch type and use keyboard commands
- Enlarge the toolbar display
- Change the colour contrast
Computer technology for people with low vision
Electronic note takers
An electronic note taker is basically an adapted personal data service. Users can do the same tasks that a typical personal data device allows including: taking notes, reading email, diary functions, calculator, playing music, or digital books and data transfer to or from computers. Because the electronic note takers are adapted for persons who are blind or vision impaired, they have built in speech output.
Tablets and small personal computers
Netbooks, ultrabooks, and tablet personal computers are essentially just small computers. They are highly portable which means that those with low vision can readily access low vision technology when out and about.
Software options for people with low vision
Screen magnification software
Screen magnification software increases the size of the image displayed on the screen. This means only a portion of the original screen image can be seen at one time. The mouse or keyboard can then be used to move the magnified window to view other parts of the original screen image.
Screen reading software
Screen reading software is also available to translate text into speech and is designed for people with very little usable vision. They may also be built in to some websites such as this one – by pressing the ‘Listen’ button at the top of the screen, the text will be read aloud.
Screen magnifier and reader
At times, a program with a screen magnifier AND speech reader may help. For example, Type Echo - hearing text as it is typed can be useful for new or slow typists. Listening to long documents or web pages may be less tiring than reading with a screen magnifier.
Additionally, starting with both magnification and a reader may simplify the transition to speech only if vision deteriorates further.
Magnifying Glass Pro
Mouse Magnifier Utility
Popular screen magnifiers and readers
Some of the popular screen magnifiers and readers are Guide, Zoom Text and Jaws.
Guide is a good program to use for those who are not familiar with using the computer but want to learn to send and receive emails and browse the Iinternet. It is specifically designed for beginners, with an easy to use menu, built in magnification, colour contrast and text-to-speech capability.
Zoom Text is suitable for people using Windows operating systems who need to magnify images on the computer. It has magnification capabilities up to 60x, as well as enhanced mouse pointers and cursors. Zoom Text also has the ability to change background colours to increase contrast, and an optional text-to-speech output.
JAWS works with computers to provide access to operating systems, software applications and the internet. JAWS has a text-to-speech application that vocalises everything on screen in an orderly way. It also supports a large number of Braille applications.
Free software options
There are a number of free software options to choose from, provided by suppliers that include Microsoft, Apple and Linux.
Microsoft Windows has a built-in narrator, and has third party software support, which allows for greater access.
Apple Mac has built-in full-screen magnification, a voice over feature that converts text-to-speech, voice command capability and high-contrast settings.
Non-Visual Desktop Access – or NVDA - provides Windows users with a free text-to-speech program.
Web Anywhere is a text-to-speech tool that integrates into the web browser in virtually any operating system, providing free basic voice access to the internet. The voice software can work on almost any computer with sound and will start almost immediately after download.
System Access to Go is an online screen reader, available from any Internet Explorer connected Windows Computer.
Whether you use Windows or Mac, you access the Internet through a web browser. There are several web browsers available, the most popular being Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Chrome. Each contains a variety of features which can help people with low vision who rely on the use of a keyboard or need to make a webpage easier to see.