The Secrets of Locating Good Accessible Technology for Someone with Low Vision

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the large majority of people meeting the definition of legal blindness still have some usable vision. The following post from Veronica Lewis’s accessible technology blog provides an excellent overview of some of the most common tech tools to help people with low vision. To enhance readability, I’ve omitted the links to resources and additional writings Veronica provides. For anyone interested in more information, I’d strongly encourage you to visit her original post,

A to Z for Assistive Technology for Low Vision

When I first started exploring the world of assistive technology, I found myself getting frequently overwhelmed with how many different items were available for people with low vision. Previously, I had assumed that since I do not read Braille, there was no such thing as assistive technology for low vision, and that definitely is not the case- there are so many different things that people with low vision can use to access the world around them. To help people learn more about assistive technology for low vision and in honor of my 500th post on Veronica With Four Eyes, here is my list of assistive technology tools from A to Z. If someone is familiar with these 26 items, I believe they will be a successful assistive technology user!

AUDIO DESCRIPTION

Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio, is an additional narration track that describes visual information for people who otherwise might not be able to see it. Audio description can be played openly where everyone can hear it or on a assisted listening device (ALD) where only the person wearing headphones can hear it.

EXAMPLES

  • In a movie theater
  • On a streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon Video, or iTunes
  • At an amusement park
  • During a play
  • When visiting a museum

BLINDNESS CANE

Blindness canes are used by people with low or no vision in order to navigate unfamiliar environments. People typically learn how to use blindness canes from orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists that are trained to help people navigate their environment in a non visual way. Blindness canes come in many different shapes and sizes.

EXAMPLES

  • The rolling marshmallow cane tip is one of the most commonly used blindness cane tips
  • Blindness canes can come in many colors, including custom colors
  • The state department for vision impairment can provide canes for free or at a low cost
  • The rigid NFB canes with metal tips are also a popular choice and can be ordered for free online

COMPUTER

Computers can be used as assistive technology in the classroom for displaying accessible assignments and allowing students to take notes that they can read. Computers also have many accessibility settings of their own that can make them easier to use for people with low vision such as magnification, large print, high contrast display, and others.

EXAMPLES

  • Use a computer to enlarge classroom materials so they can be completed digitally
  • Some teachers can share screens using desktop mirroring so that the student can see displays up close
  • Laptop computers can be just as helpful for low vision students as desktop computers
  • The most common operating systems include Windows, Mac, and ChromeOS

DEVICE CAMERA

The device camera that is built into a cell phone or tablet can be used as assistive technology in a pinch, and is frequently used by college students to quickly magnify things, especially items such as restaurant menus, signs, and short documents. There are also many different assistive technology apps that utilize the device camera, so users should be familiar with how to stabilize an image and take a clear photo.

EXAMPLES

  • Magnify a handwritten note
  • Use the camera to identify an item
  • Take a photo of a sign and zoom in

ELECTRONIC BOOKS

Since many people with low vision have a print disability, or the inability to read standard print, they can benefit from reading electronic books that include large print or having text-to-speech read for them. There are services that provide electronic accessible books for free.

EXAMPLES

  • Bookshare
  • National Library Services Talking Book Library
  • Learning Ally

FILE FORMATS

People with low vision may request digital materials instead of print ones for the same reason they would request electronic books. Some file formats can be edited, while others are simply used for reading information.

EXAMPLES

  • PDF documents
  • DAISY accessible format
  • EPUB books

GUIDE

Some people prefer to travel with a guide in addition to or instead of using a blindness cane. If someone is going to be a guide, it is important that they ask a person if they need assistance before offering their arm to guide them, instead of just randomly grabbing them.

HIGH RESOLUTION IMAGES

High resolution images can be used to present graphics clearly so that they can be magnified as necessary. Images can be found online or created using common drawing programs.

EXAMPLES

  • Google and Bing have search filters for finding high resolution images
  • Users can create graphics in PowerPoint, Paint, or other software to add to documents or presentations

IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS/ALT TEXT

Alt text and image descriptions are read out loud by screen readers to tell someone what is in an image. While automatic alt text has been added to many different platforms, it is still critical for people to add their own alt text or image descriptions before publishing an image online or adding it to a document.

EXAMPLES

  • Social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook support adding alt text
  • Images without alt text are skipped and can be frustrating for people who use assistive technology

JINGLE/AUDITORY FEEDBACK

Adding sound to something can help communicate visual information for people who may not otherwise be able to see it. This can be as high-tech as enabling sound feedback on the computer and as low-tech as adding a noisemaker or beeping sound to a ball or other activity.

EXAMPLES

  • Users can enable audio feedback in the “Options” section of Microsoft applications
  • Liquid level indicators beep when a cup is filled to a certain level

KEYBOARD

Having access to a modified keyboard for typing can be incredibly helpful for people with low vision or dual media users. One popular large print keyboard model features bright yellow keys and large letters, though modifications to standard keyboards such as Braille or large print stickers are also common. Virtual high contrast keyboards are also available for most smartphones and tablets.

Keyboard shortcuts can also allow users to quickly complete common tasks on the computer. Users can use default keyboard shortcuts or create their own for opening applications and completing other actions.

EXAMPLES

  • A computer lab keyboard modified to have large text
  • The Android keyboard can be customized to have different colored backgrounds

LARGE PRINT

Large print is invaluable for people who cannot read standard sized print due to a print disability. Large print is typically size 18 font or larger, though it is up to personal preference as to what font size is best. For best results, pair with a print disability friendly font.

EXAMPLES

  • Large print can be incorporated in both print and digital accessible materials
  • A larger font size may be required depending on the different types of fonts used

MAGNIFIER

Having access to a magnifier or magnifying glass can be helpful for people who frequently look at small details of objects or read short amounts of text. Magnifiers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as magnification powers. Some are small enough to fit in the user’s hand, while others can be supported with a stand.

EXAMPLES

  • A sheet magnifier can magnify an entire page
  • Handheld magnifiers can be used for reading and exploring outside the classroom

NOTETAKER

A notetaker is a portable device that allows users to create documents in an accessible format. They are also helpful for low vision users with dysgraphia. Braille notetakers are a common accommodation for students who read/write Braille.

EXAMPLES

  • Some school districts still have the AlphaSmart devices for students with low vision or dysgraphia
  • Many assistive technology companies sell Braille notetakers which can also display text in Braille

OVERHEAD LIGHTING

Overhead lighting can make a big difference in how someone with low vision can work or walk around a room. Nice, bright lights can allow people to see everything around them with finer detail, while people with photosensitivity may prefer darker rooms

EXAMPLES

  • Using lamps to make an area brighter or to replace fluorescent lights
  • Adding additional task lighting for activities such as drawing

PAPER SIZE

Many people with low vision benefit from having a larger paper size in addition to large print so that no additional information is cut off. It’s also important to look at how large print can appear on different paper sizes- a size 36 point font can look huge on an index card compared to 11 x 14 paper.

EXAMPLES

  • Some students prefer to use larger paper when reading charts or questions in math and science
  • Large print may be cut off on smaller paper sizes

QUALITY PENS

Since many people with low vision have difficulty distinguishing gray pencil lead on white paper, it’s helpful to write with large, high-contrast pens. Some people may prefer to write in colored ink, while others use solid black or blue.

EXAMPLES

  • 20/20 style contrast pens
  • Colored Sharpies

RAISED DOTS

Raised dots can provide information in a tactile way for people with vision loss. They can stick to almost any surface and be used to label appliances, medication, and more.

EXAMPLES

  • Putting raised dots on a medication lid to identify pills
  • Adding a tactile dot to the oven label to know where the dial is

SCREEN READER

A screen reader is a software program that reads all of the text on a computer screen using a synthesized voice. Screen readers aren’t just on computers though, as many smartphones and tablets have their own screen readers. Not every website or software application is accessible to screen reader users, though this has been changing over the last few years.

EXAMPLES

  • JAWS and NVDA on Windows computers
  • VoiceOver on Apple devices, including MacOS and iOS
  • TalkBack and Select-to-Speak on Android

TACTILE MATERIALS

Tactile materials allow users to learn by touch. Tactile materials can be outlines or full 3D models, and may or may not incorporate Braille.

EXAMPLES

  • Using raised lines to show information in math class
  • Modifying an anatomy diagram to include texture

UNDERLINE/LINE TRACKER

For people that have trouble tracking text with their eyes, a line tracker can be used underneath lines of text to make them easier to focus on. Line trackers can be used in both high tech applications and as no-tech assistive technology.

EXAMPLES

  • Built-in line tracker in Immersive Reader
  • Using an index card to track text on a page

VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS

Virtual assistants, sometimes referred to as voice assistants, perform tasks or services for users based on spoken commands or questions. Virtual assistants can read information out loud or perform tasks without requiring the user to look at a screen- perfect for people with vision loss.

EXAMPLES

  • Amazon Alexa
  • Apple Siri
  • Android’s Google Assistant

WAYFINDING

According to Wikipedia, “wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.” In the context of visual impairment, this extends to orientation and mobility techniques and tools that allow users to navigate more easily.

EXAMPLES

  • GPS tools specifically for blind and low vision users such as Nearby Explorer
  • Remote virtual assistance such as Aira

EXTERNAL DISPLAY

External displays can be used to further magnify or enlarge information on a screen. Some users may have multiple external displays or simply use it to project information from a smaller screen

EXAMPLES

  • Connecting a larger monitor to a laptop or smaller screen
  • Having the overhead projector display information
  • Using the Google Chromecast to enlarge a phone or tablet display

YELLOW ON BLACK/HIGH CONTRAST DISPLAY

Black text on a white background can provide lots of glare, so many users benefit from having a high contrast display. Many video magnifiers and assistive technology devices support high contrast displays, though they can also be added to computers and smaller electronics. Some users prefer light text on a dark background, though there are also others who prefer dark text on a light background that isn’t white

EXAMPLES

  • Enabling an inverted or high-contrast display on a computer
  • Using black text on a yellow background for improved readability

ZOOM

Zoom functions on software allow users to magnify displays without external magnification aids. Zoom can be activated with the pinch gesture, though additional magnification settings can be activated within the accessibility menu.

EXAMPLES

  • Magnifying a web page by using ctrl-+ or pinch to zoom
  • Activating a software such as Magnifier, Zoom, or ZoomText to control magnification

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