Low Vision

Mobile Phones and Vision Loss

The main problem for blind and low vision mobile phone users is access to the screen: menus, address books, text messages, incoming call information, etc.  Just like computers, the solutions are to enlarge the text or turn it into speech.  Some phones have these features right out of the box; others require add-on software that may cost as much as $400.

This article will cover some of the options available, and point you to more information resources in this fast-moving market.

Built-in Features

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Free and Cheap Screen Readers

Screen reader software converts text on a computer screen into synthetic speech and/or braille. The software also allows the keyboard to replace the mouse in controlling the computer, and provides other help in navigating. Although the most popular screen readers cost about $1000, this article covers some that are free or at low cost. They work relatively well with the basic popular software applications and general Internet tools, but do not have the "power user" features found on the more sophisticated programs.

Windows

NVDA (non-visual desktop access) is an open-source screen reader for Windows. It works with common programs such as Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer.

Thunder is another free Windows screen reader offered by a group in the United Kingdom.

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E-books and E-reading Software

Electronic books (e-books) are an alternative to print, and may be useful to people who have difficulty reading because of vision or cognition disabilities, or who have difficulty holding a book or turning pages.  However, not all e-books are automatically accessible to blind users.  Libraries and schools should carefully consider their choices when making e-book decisions.

This article covers some of the most popular current choices.

E-book content may be available in different computer formats. Some books and magazines are available as standard text files or Microsoft Word documents. These are easily accessed by the use of screen reading software.

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Braille and Braille Publishing

Braille is a system for publishing text for blind readers.  It uses patterns of raised dots to represent letters, which are read by touch.

This article covers the major sources of printed braille in the US.

Although not all print materials are converted into braille, there is a wide variety made available.  There are 3 major sources of Braille publications in the U.S.

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Audio Information Resources

People with visual or cognitive impairments can access materials in alternate formats such as large-print, braille and audio. Audio is a popular medium because it works with so many portable devices such as mp3 players, e-book readers, smartphones, and laptops. It's really a mainstream way of distributing content that people with disabilities are using, rather than a specialized channel.

Almost all types of content are available, although publishers may restrict access to some materials.

RoboBraille is a free web-based or email service that will convert digital text documents into mp3 audio files. Your file can be a .doc, .docx, .pdf, .txt, .xml, .html, .htm, .rtf, .epub, .mobi, etc..

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Large Computer Pointers/Cursors

Current computer operating systems use a small icon called a pointer or cursor that moves on the screen when the mouse is moved. The most common pointers are an arrow, a vertical bar that appears in word processing document (sometimes called the I-Beam), and a hand that appears on web pages when the pointer is on top of a link. These pointers can be quite small or may blend in with the background, making them difficult to see, especially for people with low vision.

This article discusses several ways to make the pointer more visible. Utilities built into the operating system can make the pointer easier to see by making it larger, providing higher contrast, or providing supplemental visual cues. If these are not sufficient, some third-party programs have additional capabilities.

Try It Yourself:

Pointer modification: Provides themes that change the color and size of the standard pointers. One Windows option has an option for animating the pointers, which may help in catching users' attention.

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Video Description

Video description (also called 'audio description') lets people with visual impairments hear descriptions of visual elements of movies and television shows with a special narrative track. The narration runs simultaneously with the audio of the performance. These descriptions supplement the dialogue without interrupting it. Elements such as costumes, settings, expressions, etc. are included in this audio track.

Here is an excerpt of a described videoVideo description is only available for a few TV shows and DVDs. New regulations may go into effect expanding this service.

In the U.S., WGBH’s Media Access Group has pioneered work on descriptive video services.

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Apple’s Mobile Products (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch)

In many ways, Apple’s iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch are ideal accessibility tools. They’re lightweight and easy to use. The wide range of applications -- built-in, free, or generally inexpensive -- suit a variety of needs. The touchscreen interface is ideal for many people who can't use a keyboard or mouse. Finally, because they’re mainstream products, people use them without feeling self-conscious or paying a large amount of money. This article covers some of the accessibility features and ways you can use these devices.

Apple has included some powerful accessibility features in the iOS operating system used by its mobile devices:

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Keyboards for Users with Low Vision

Regular keyboards are hard for some people to read. There are a variety of ways to address this; this article covers some of the basics to help you get started.

  • If lighting is an issue, gooseneck lamps and other task lighting can provide more light on a standard keyboard. Take care to minimize glare from the lamp onto the monitor.
     

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Magnify Printed Material With Closed Circuit TVs

Low vision users may have difficulty reading books and other printed matter.  Closed circuit TVs (CCTVs) use video cameras aimed at print materials; the image appears on a screen. This image can then be modified by enlarging the text size or changing black-on-white text to white-on-black ("inverted text"). They can also be used to magnify other things; for example, some people use CCTVs to facilitate stitching needlepoint or tying fishing lures.

This article covers the options for CCTVs.

CCTVs range in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.  Options to consider include the following:

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