Also called “adaptive technology,” assistive technology is any equipment, software program or product that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a person with disabilities. For people with vision loss, these devices can include video magnifiers or closed circuit TVs (CCTVs), software programs that magnify or read aloud text on computer screen and scanners that provide audio output of scanned documents (text-to-speech or optical character recognition).
Video magnifiers or closed circuit TVs (CCTV) are cameras with a display screen that digitally enlarges printed materials, photographs and other small items. Some video magnifiers have cameras that can project far away objects onto the viewing screen such as chalkboards or televisions. Some even have the capability of text-to-speech applications that provide audio output of photographed printed materials.
These devices come in hand-held, portable and desktop models and can range in price from $400 to $2,500.
Manufacturers of video magnification devices include:
Smart phones and tables are a major technology tool. The two main types of devices are Android and Apple. The low vision and blind community have gravitated mostly towards Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones. A major reason is because Apple offers the highest level of accessibility in touch screen devices including a built-in screen reader and screen magnifier, as well as features for other disabilities. Android devices also have accessibility features for people with vision loss, but the level of accessibility varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Digital records come in a variety of sizes and complexity. The Micro Speak Plus an take along to the doctor to record their next appointment or the medication they need to order.
Media Players offer versatility in small package. The user can record messages, listen to digital books and access an ever-increasing variety of information.
The most popular device is the Victor Reader Stream, which offers seamless downloading of digital books, simple design for easy operation, access to the Internet and radio stations and great recording capacity.
Screen-magnification programs increase the size of text and images displayed on the PC’s monitor. Once the program is loaded onto the computer, this specialized software will interact with both the PC’s operating system and any applications running. The user has the ability to change color schemes to create an environment that is easiest to see, can enlarge cursors and also include some speech functions. These programs range in price from free to $900.
Windows Magnifer is included on all computers running the Windows operating system. This is a solid magnification program for casual users.
More advanced users may want to try ZoomText or ZoomText Fusion from Freedom Scientific. They are expensive, but provide more advanced features, including basic speech with ZoomText Fusion.
Screen-reading programs use a voice synthesizer to read aloud information displayed on the PC’s monitor. Once the program is installed, it will start talking each time the computer is booted up and will interact with the PC’s operating system as well as any running applications. Generally, these programs do not use a mouse to operate the computer as all actions are accomplished with keyboard commands. Prices for these software programs range in price from free to $1,000.
Windows Narrator is a basic screen-reading program available on computers running the Windows operations system. It is a solid program for casual users.
VoiceOver is the built-in system for Apple products. It is a robust screen-reader, but many users with vision loss find it cumbersome to use on a computer.
The two most common screen-reading programs are:
Digital Imaging Systems (DIS) involves using a camera to capture an image of print material and turning any text in that image into electronic text and/or speech. This process is called optical character recognition or OCR. DIS has taken over this task from old scanning based systems because it is faster and more portable. This new technology has led to an extremely wide range of products available in the market. This capability has also been added to video magnifiers (CCTV) to give users the ability to have the magnified text read to them. Prices for digital imaging systems range from $99 to $1,500.
Digital Imaging System options include: