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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

How Do You Use Assistive Technology?

February 22, 2023 | Leave a Comment

by Kathy Austin

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Four Square Swamp app on an iPhone


When I was going to college back in the 90s and early 2000s, a textbook consisted of a cardboard box with dozens of four-track cassette tapes.  I played them on a special tape recorder that I now cannot remember the name of. It was about the size of a textbook, but heavy in my back pack as I rode the train to class. Wandering through the book pushing the fast forward and rewind buttons, I had to listen for beeps to get from chapter to chapter with no way to bookmark a passage or write a note.

My CCTV (now called a video magnifier) was a black and white, 26’” tube TV that took up a good portion of my large computer desk. I had a couple of hand-held magnifiers with lights. I used a desktop computer with ZoomText, then JAWS when my vision failed me. These were the assistive technology tools at my disposal.

Boy have times changed!

The invention of Apple’s iPhone with built in accessibility options of magnification and VoiceOver, products designed for people with vision loss like the Victor Reader Stream or a video magnifier with OCR capability, have dramatically improved access to information for people with vision loss. Advancements to screen readers like JAWS and NVDA have dramatically improved our ability to access websites for gathering information, shopping and carrying out daily tasks like banking. AppleVis, a go-to resource for Apple users, has compiled a list of over 100 apps developed specifically for our community. Traveling, reading and even getting sighted assistance, are now much easier for people with vision loss. There is no denying technology has changed lives for the better.

We asked our clients about their go-to assistive technology products, tips and apps they use and how they use them. Here’s what they had to say:



Seeing AI

Jerry is getting is master’s degree. Reading the mounds of required material with a magnifier was extremely cumbersome. So Jerry began to print out the reading materials and then scanned them with the document scanner in Seeing AI.  This has saved Jerry a lot of time and eye strain. Plus, there is no need for any equipment other than his iPhone.



BARD Mobile

Jake, like me, received his Talking Books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped by calling in his request and having the green plastic boxes with the four-track cassettes mailed to him. Now that Jake uses the BARD Mobile app on his iPhone, he is reading a lot more books and magazines. “It’s easy to use and no more deadlines for returning books,” says Jake.



Four Square Swarm

What Sharon appreciates about Four Square Swarm is the ability to track where she is when riding in a Lyft or on paratransit. The app lets Sharon know what is around her so she can do more exploring. She also uses this app as a security tool. One time when traveling back home, she felt her phone didn’t seem in sync with where she was. She was able to find the name of the street she was on with the app and then verify the information with the driver making her feel secure that she was going in the correct direction.



Ctrl + F

Wayne loves the JAWS Find keyboard command of Ctrl + F. Simple, true, but very useful! Wayne moves through emails and websites like a whiz rather than doing physical searches. He types in a keyword and JAWS finds it for him.


WeZoom app for Android

Brett likes the Android app, WeZoom. This magnification app lets you change the color schemes, for example, white letters on a black background. Brett says it’s easy to change the magnification size up to 8X with a simple gesture on the screen.



Laptop with JAWS and Notepad

Jeff couldn’t live without his laptop and Jaws. He uses these two technologies in the workplace every day. Jeff uses the built-in Notepad program to jot down notes throughout the day and uses an easy press of F5 to put a date and time stamp on each note. Great idea to remember when the note was taken.



A garden of assistive technology

John has it all! He uses a MacBook Pro, a PC with ZoomText, an iPad Pro, a camera that scans documents  into his computer and turns the text into speech, a wide screen monitor, a cctv  and  of course, an iPhone. And there’s more, 21 assorted accessibility products in all. The diversity of all these devices makes it possible for John to continue to work as an architect. He says, “If one piece of equipment doesn’t do the job, another one surely will.”


Yes, there is a learning curve to all of the assistive technology we are using today, but the benefits, and our ability to do so much more independently, is truly worth the effort. Please share with us your favorite assistive technology and just maybe, it will be the solution for someone else with vision loss.

If you need to learn about assistive technology, our staff is on hand to provide recommendations and training for the product you need to accomplish your goals.

Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense

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