Assistive Technology for Blind or Low Vision Participants

Two people who are looking to use a CCTV
What technology is preferred or needed depends on previous training or the type and amount of visual content that is being accessed.

Computer proficiency is expected for a variety of tasks, and by using adaptive software, such as screen-readers, which translate the contents of the screen into speech or refreshable braille while enabling the user to control the computer with keyboard commands or touchscreen gestures, standard computers can be made much more accessible. Accessing books and other printed materials in accessible formats like doc, rtf or daisy also can be done using braille-related technology or magnifying equipment, some of which are portable.

Screen-reading Software

  • Uses synthetic speech to read aloud the content that appears on a computer screen.
  • Compatible with most programs and features for PC operating systems.
  • Available as an add-on for PCs running Linux or Windows, while Mac computers typically run a built-in screen-reading function.
  • Examples of screen-reading software include JAWS and WindowEyes for PC, VoiceOver for Mac and Orca for certain distributions of Linux.

Magnification Software

  • Works similarly to a high-powered magnifying glass moving over a page. They can magnify all screen items by following the mouse cursor or keyboard.
  • Compatible with most Windows operating systems. Mac computers have a built-in magnification function.
  • It is possible to use screen magnification software in conjunction with a screen reader for individuals who need both types of technology.
  • Examples of screen-magnification programs include ZoomText and Magic.
  • Some low-vision individuals might be able to benefit from larger monitors and internal features that enlarge font, increase contrast or otherwise modify computer functions.
  • However, those features are not adequate for many low-vision Individuals and additional magnification software is necessary.

Dictation Software

  • These programs often utilize standard QWERTY keyboards, but other modified accessories can be used as well.
  • Individuals who are blind or have low vision usually learn to touch-type, but if a blind individual has an additional disability that affects typing proficiency, the individual may be interested in trying dictation software.
  • It will be important to research the compatibility of any dictation software with the screen reader of choice prior to making a purchase.
  • Writing Braille and Using Braille Embossers
  • Writing braille by hand with a slate and stylus is portable and most appropriate for shorter notes.
  • Individuals can also type braille manually with Perkins braillewriters although they are not as portable.
  • Can convert electronic text into a braille hard copy by sending computer files to a braille embosser, which is the braille equivalent to an ink printer.
  • Braille embossers typically require heavyweight paper and utilize more pages than print.
  • Embossing contracted braille requires the use of a braille translation software programs.

Refreshable Braille Displays

  • Operates by raising and lowering combinations of pins to create braille characters.
  • Allows individuals to both read and write braille quietly and save files.
  • Portable and are usually able to interface with a computer and/or connect to the internet.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Systems

  • Involves scanning a printed document into a computer and converting the picture image into text characters and words, which screen readers and braille embossers can recognize.
  • If a pre-scanned electronic image is already available (e.g., if you have a PDF file), OCR systems can convert it into text without scanning a hard copy.
  • This content can be read using synthesized speech, screen enlargers, and braille embossers.
  • When choosing an OCR system, be sure it does the following:
  • Recognizes a wide variety of typed/printed documents.
  • Retains the layout of the original text.
  • Copes well with columns, various paper sizes, and horizontally formatted documents.
  • Supports different types of scanners.
  • Comes with ongoing technical support and documentation in an accessible format.
  • Features an accessible interface.

Video Magnifiers or Closed-Circuit Televisions (CCTVs)

  • Uses a stand-mounted or handheld video camera to transfer a magnified image onto a TV screen or other monitor.
  • Cameras with zoom lenses provide variable levels of magnification.
  • CCTVs with stand-mounted cameras are particularly effective for handwriting because there is room for a hand to fit under the camera.
  • Some newer CCTVs also have OCR technology and are able to read text aloud.
  • Note that eye fatigue and other physical problems can result from prolonged use.

Portable Magnifiers

  • There are also video magnifiers with handheld cameras, which are portable and useful for practical things like reading signs and labels on the go.
  • Head-mounted displays (HMD) also offer portability and new ways of viewing the magnified images.
  • Portable notetakers are small information management devices. They have braille or QWERTY keyboards for input and a synthesized voice and/or braille display for output.
  • Braille notetakers and other devices with refreshable braille displays can also be use to read materials.
  • Portable book readers allow individuals to access specially coded files via speech.
  • Accessible GPS devices or smart phone apps can provide turn-by-turn voice instructions
  • There are many apps for smart-phones and tablets that serve similar purposes to the hardware and software listed including GPS, OCR and audiobook players.
  • These range in price and might require a subscription or application approval.