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Feb 1, 2022

Tech Tips: Assistive Technology for Low Vision

By Gerry Chevalier

Hello. I am Gerry Chevalier from Edmonton. I am a retired IT professional, and I am blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. Blindness may make everyday tasks seem daunting. How do we enjoy reading books, magazines, and newspapers? How do we walk about the neighbourhood without the fear of becoming lost? How do we read our mail or know whether we are about to open a can of soup or a can of dog food? Can we use a smartphone or computer if we cannot see the screen or use a mouse?

Modern technologies can help people living with vision loss pursue lifelong learning, reading, recreation and mobility activities and maintain their independence.

Windows Computers

Computers connected to the internet give people who are blind or have low vision access to web sites, newspapers, books, news, sports, social networking, personal banking, paying bills, shopping, music, e-mail, investment management, record keeping, and more. If you have low vision, you should know that Windows computers have built in accessibility options to make it easier to see the screen. If you are blind you may use Windows built-in Narrator screen reader or the free third party NVDA screen reader from NVAccess. Both read the contents of the screen out loud. There are even electronic refreshable braille displays that let you read the text on the screen with your fingers!

Apple Computers and Smart Phones

Mac computers are accessible out of the box. Every Apple computer includes magnification software called Zoom, and a screen reader called VoiceOver. Moreover, every iPhone, iPod, and iPad comes equipped with the same Zoom and Voice Over features. People with vision loss enjoy these Apple smart devices along with their sighted peers. Here is just one example of a powerful app that you can download on your device. Microsoft Seeing AI app speaks text that you point the camera at, reads food package barcodes, identifies colours and more.

Reading Books

Reading books, magazines, and newspapers is a gift we should not give up because of low vision. A Montreal based company, HumanWare, sells the hand-held Victor Reader Stream talking book player. Individuals with low vision worldwide use these devices to read human recorded as well as e-books from your CELA library or commercial book publishers.

Mobility and GPS

One of the most frustrating things about low vision is to independently take a leisurely walk in your neighborhood, use public transit, taxis, and feel confident that you know where you are and what’s around you. GPS apps on your smartphone such as BlindSquare or Microsoft SoundScape will talk to you as you walk, announcing the names of intersections, and points of interest. They can even give you step by step instructions to guide you to your destination. They can be used while travelling in a car or public transit bus, so you know exactly where you are and when you reach the destination. The freedom of independent mobility is empowering.

Electronic Magnification Devices

Companies such as Optelec and HumanWare sell electronic magnification devices that range in size from hand-held to large screen desktop models. They can magnify up to 60 times allowing you to comfortably read even the smallest print, enjoy photos, and fill out forms.

Daily Living Tech Aids

There are many daily living tech aids such as talking watches, clocks, thermometers, glucose monitors, thermostats, bathroom scales and more. Many of these aids can be found at your local CNIB or the online CNIB SmartLife store. Smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa or Google Nest are very popular as they allow individuals with low vision to simply ask them questions to receive all manner of information.

Gerry will be back with more Tech Tips in future eNewsletters. Do you have a question about low vision technology? Send it to communications@fightingblindness.ca and Gerry will answer some of the most common questions in the coming months.


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