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Summary: The following section explains some of the technology that is available to those who are blind or vision impaired. If you have little or no vision, you may find it difficult or impossible to read printed items such as books, magazines, newspapers or even mail that comes through the door. Technology can help though. If the right technology is used, you will enjoy the same freedom to read as everyone else.
A closed circuit television, or CCTV, is a device that magnifies things so they are easier to see. It has a built–in camera, which takes a picture of a printed page and shows it enlarged on a screen.
CCTV’s come in different shapes and sizes, depending on what you want to do. Portable models help in situations where you need to move around a lot. They have their own screen. Some models can display the picture on your TV screen and allow you to change the colours of the text and background to whatever is easiest for you.
A scanner is similar to a photocopier, but as well as taking a picture of a page it can read the text. Some scanners can speak the text out loud so they can read the daily newspaper to you, or your favourite magazine. All you have to do is place a page on the scanner and press a button. Most scanners need to be connected to a computer. The computer stores the text and can read it out to you, or you can add the text to an email or print it, even alter it using the computer.
Reading and writing on a computer
Many people with vision impairments all over the world use a computer every day at home or at work. Thanks to assistive software, they are able to do things on their computer which would previously not have been possible. Even people who are totally blind can do everything using only a keyboard.
How does assistive software work?
Screen magnification software
Even if you have low vision, you may still be able to use the computer screen with the help of screen magnification software. This software enables the computer to enlarge the text on its screen so that a person with low vision can see it comfortably. It can also change the colours used and the amount of the screen that is enlarged at any one time.
Magnification with speech
Some screen magnification software gives the option of having the text on the screen spoken to you by the computer, as well as being magnified. This can be very useful if you want to do a lot of computer work but find that you can get eyestrain after a while.
A screen reader is a piece of software that enables a person with no sight to use all the functions of a computer, making it possible for them to read and write documents, use the internet and send email, using only a keyboard and without needing to look at a computer screen. The screen reader speaks all the information that would appear on the screen. It is able to describe everything on the screen, including all the commands and buttons that you can use.
If you would rather read in Braille than have the text spoken to you, a Braille display may be what you need. This is like a miniature screen sitting in front of the keyboard, capable of displaying a line of Braille by raising and lowering small plastic pins. You can easily move your hands between the keyboard and the display and read the text which is displayed a line at a time. Braille displays come in several sizes, depending on the amount of information that you need to see at any one time. Many computer users who are blind or vision impaired use a Braille display in conjunction with speech output.
A Braille printer, also called an embosser, enables a person to print things in Braille from their computer. Several types of Braille printers are available, capable of printing different levels of Braille and at different speeds. Braille translation software is used to prepare documents before they are sent to the Braille printer.
Portable note takers
If you are blind or vision impaired and would like to be able to take notes in a classroom, lecture hall, or while you are on the move, a note taker may be just the thing for you. These small, portable devices enable you to type in and read back notes using a built in refreshable Braille display or speech output. They may also include other useful functions, like an address book, telephone dialler, diary, calculator or alarm clock. There is a range of models available with different keyboards. Some can be connected to a computer to save notes you have made. The most advanced units have the full functionality of a laptop computer.
List of Software Sites
Here is a list of assistive technologies currently on the market.
Screen Reading Software
- Jaws – www.freedomscientific.com/product-portal.asp
- Thunder- www.screenreader.net
- Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) – www.nvda-project.org
Screen Magnification / Reading Software
The Dolphin Guide
Dolphin Guide is simple talking computing for people that are blind or vision impaired and are new to computers. The Guide is easy to learn and includes everything you’ll need to get started. This Guide keeps it simple, with step by step choices.
- Easy Links
The following site contains links to text only websites covering news and information.
AbilityNet is a national charity which aims to assist adults and children with disabilities to use computers and the internet by adapting and adjusting their technology. Read their advice about about hardware options and software options
- Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – Web Access Centre
RNIB is the UK’s leading charity offering information, support and advice to over two million people with sight loss.
- Old Versions of Software
This site contains links to old versions of software.
- Blind Cool Tech
Blind Cool Tech is a podcast that brings some fun, education, and variety into your mp3 player. The show provides interviews, brings you along on sound seeing tours, and discusses life and cool technology, especially technology that blind people can use.
- Disabled World
This site contains short reviews and links to screen readers that are both free to download, and screen readers that offer a free trial and can be purchased online.
VIP Email Technical Support List
This list aims to provide a resource where you can email your technical issues and share your technical knowledge with other people who are blind or vision impaired.
The subscription address for the list is Vip_studentsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Place the word subscribe in the subject field of the email and send.
Get support on assistive technology
For technical support on assistive technology you are currently using, contact the technical support service Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm on LoCall 1850 33 43 53.
To arrange an appointment with a technology trainer contact 1850 33 43 53 or talk to your community resource worker.