Computer Aids for the Visually Impaired
There are a number of aids that a person with low vision can use to help around the home, including magnifiers that are hand held, stand alone or mounted to their eyeglasses. For those with low vision who like to use computers, these options can be helpful in reading what is on the screen in many cases; however there are other, computer-specific options and tips that can help make computing time more enjoyable and productive.
Let your computer do the talking
Most people have seen a computer “talk” at one time or another, like when a new email triggers a “You've got mail!” message, but few realize exactly how much talking a computer can do with the right software installed or special options turned on.
Many operating systems have features for the visually impaired built-in. Windows, for example, includes a basic screen reader called Narrator, which reads the text on-screen aloud to the user. It also has speech recognition, which allows data to be entered verbally instead of with a mouse and keyboard.
If you find these features insufficient, or your operating system does not include them, a great deal of third-party software is also available for the visually impaired. With the programs, computer use can be fully independent even for users with low vision, as well as productive and fun once again.
Magnification and braille
Screen magnifiers are like a magnifying glass built into the computer; they enlarge the text on the screen, making it easier to read. Like screen readers, this functionality is often built into the operating system and simply needs to be activated. More advanced magnification software, including some with a split-screen feature, can also be purchased and installed.
If you're surfing the web, the text in many web browsers can be adjusted by holding the CTRL key while scrolling the mouse wheel (or while pressing + or – on the keyboard). Often other programs have a similar zoom feature, though the specifics of turning it on will vary.
For users who can't see the screen well even with magnification, and for one reason or another would prefer not to use text to speech software, there's another option: braille displays. As the name implies, these devices can display the computer's output as braille for the user to read with their fingers, and often have buttons for braille input too, so the user doesn't have to switch to the keyboard to type. The downside? Braille displays typically cost thousands of dollars, so they're not nearly as affordable as the many software options out there.
For those with low vision, the mouse and keyboard can sometimes be a source of great frustration. Here are some tips that might help:
- Adjusting the mouse speed within your computer’s operating system can help you move the pointer around more accurately.
- Screen reading software can help you locate the mouse cursor and decipher on-screen menus and buttons.
- Many program functions have keyboard shortcuts that can be used in place of mouse clicks, such as CTRL-C for copy and CTRL-V for paste. If you are a strong typist but have trouble aiming the mouse, you will probably find it useful to memorize these commands.
- Special keyboards are available for the visually impaired with features like large-print letters, high contrast colors (typically black and white or black and yellow), and braille. If you'd rather not purchase a whole new keyboard, there are also “keytops,” which are stickers you can apply to the keys of your existing keyboard.
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