Technology & The Visually Impaired

   Todays advances in technology have made it so that someone who is legally blind has a lot more tools with which to draw from to help them see things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  It would seem that it is a better time to be losing one’s sight compared to what tools were available just a few years ago.  Being declared legally blind three years ago, I have not been able to read printed material, use a computer, or use a cell phone without some kind of help.  I wanted to talk about a few things that I use on a daily basis that have literally changed my life and allowed me to continue running a business.

   One of the first pieces of equipement to enter my office that made it able for me to read mail, look at documents and blueprints, etc. was what is called a CCTV.  CCTV stands for closed circuit television.  It is a simple device that consists of a downward pointing video camera and a flat screen monitor (mine is 22″) combined with a stand.  The Kentucky Department of the Blind provided me with mine and it has been an indispensible tool.  It is easy to take for granted the ablitiy to read anything you need to read, but when you can’t this thing is so very neccesary.  I have even used it to read the cooking instructions on food containers.  Also, my eye issue makes it so I really need to have the contrast inverted on anything I am reading (ie. white text on a black background) and this device has no problem doing that.  It will also switch to a color mode if I need to look at a picture.  All in all, this tool has been an amazing help to me in the last few years.

   The next tool that helps me get things done is a program called Zoomtext.  Zoomtext is made by a company called Aisquared and it allows visually impaired and blind users to zoom the computer screen, change the contrast, hear emails and webpages spoken aloud and much more.  I, quite literally,  could not use a windows computer without this program or another like it.  Simple everyday tasks like email, web searches, creating documents, etc. are completely accessible to me with this program.  What would I do without it?

    The next thing I would like to touch on is probably my favorite.  Apple has come out with some amazing technology over the last few years that has greatly changed my life.  The two devices that I use on a regular basis are an ipad and an iphone.  I started reading on an itouch a few years ago and moved to an ipad when the 3″ screen size of the itouch made things too difficult.  I pretty much use my ipad for reading everything.  I can’t tell you how great it is that I am able to carry a relatively small device with me anywhere I go and read anything I want.  I am able to change the font size and the contrast and it has a back-lit display.  I have looked at other devices but have not found anything that works as well for me as the ipad. 

   The second Apple device that has changed my life in a big way is my iphone.  I currently have upgraded to the Iphone 4s which has allowed me to do even more things with my phone that were previously very difficult.  I use my phone to make phone calls, text, listen to music, and do simple web searchs when I need information.  Typically, I use the built in zoom function and make everything on the screen bigger so I can read it.  Sometimes when I do this, I also invert the text so that I can better see things like the tiny keyboard.  The Iphone 4s now has a wonderful feature called Siri which is somewhat of a digital assistant.  With Siri, I can receive texts, write texts, make phone calls, do web searchs for information and more all just by talking to my phone and having Siri talk back to me.  Apple also has a feature that I sometimes use called voiceover that helps to use the phone without looking at it.  For me, Siri has been sufficient to get the job done.  There are quite a few apps out that are made especially for the blind or visually impaired.   I am currently learning to use a program called zoom reader that uses the phones camera to take a picture of text, converts it using OCR and then the phone reads a label, a menu, etc.  These are a few of the things I use my phone to do when I am not using it to listen to music. 

   It is so exciting to think that this technology is going to keep getting better and better.  I fully admit to being a gadget geek and since losing so much of my sight, gadgets have become something I rely on and not just enjoy using to make life easier.  I would be a bit lost if I did not have these tools to allow me to continue to get things done the way I have for years.  I can’t wait to see what new innovations come out in the years to come to help visually impaired and blind folks keep on keeping on…..