If you have little or no vision, you may find it difficult or impossible to do things that so many people now take for granted. These include using the internet, booking flights, reading 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. There are many different types of CCTV and they come in different sizes depending on the tasks for which they will be used. 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.
With the huge growth in the use of mobile phones and tablets, many people are now using software that lets your phone’s camera act as a scanner. You simply hold your phone over the page to be read and the phone takes a picture and translates that picture into spoken or large text. This is really useful in so many different scenarios but one example might be reading a menu in a restaurant independently.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a list of popular screen magnification technologies currently on the market:
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 uses synthetic speech to speak 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.
Here are two popular screen reader technologies currently on the market:
- Jaws – www.freedomscientific.com/product-portal.asp
- Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) – www.nvda-project.org
If you would rather read in Braille than have the text spoken to you, a Refreshable 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. Refreshable Braille displays come in several sizes, depending on the amount of information that you need to see at any one time. Refreshable Braille displays can also be used to connect to mobile devices for on-the-move work and are frequently used in education and employment. Many computer users who are blind or vision impaired use a Refreshable Braille display in conjunction with speech output.
A Braille printer, also called an embosser, enables a person to print documents, emails, web pages or other types of information in Braille from a computer or mobile device. 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.
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 are 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.
Mobile devices are becoming a part of almost every aspect of what we do today. There are a range of phones and tablets available and the level of built-in accessibility varies depending on what you require. It is very important that you evaluate the available devices for yourself and work out which one best meets your needs. NCBI technology staff can provide further assistance and information as required.
iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system. The technology is installed on their iPhone, iPad and iPod range of devices. It features a fully functional screen reader called Voiceover and a magnification package called Zoom.
Android is Google’s operating system and runs on a huge number of mobile phones and tablet devices, as well as some smart TVs. Android features a screen reader called Talkback and a whole range of magnification options.
Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system runs on an increasing number of Smartphones and tablet devices. It includes a screen reader called Narrator and a built-in magnifier.
Our Software Downloads page is a good place to get more detailed information and demonstration versions of some of our most popular Assistive Technology packages.