Visual Impairments

Technology For Visual Impairments

Help for Those With Low Vision

Visual impairment is the reduced ability to see. Technology allows people with such impairments access to information and the ability to perform tasks much easier.

Visual impairment is the partial, reduced or completely abridged ability to perceive colors and text clearly. Someone may have a greatly reduced field of vision, an inability to see details or a loss of the ability to perceive certain types of color. Visual impairments range from the easily correctable such as glasses for those who are nearsighted to more extensive methods for people who have lost most of their sight.

Technological Aids

Video magnifiers are systems that allow users to magnify reading materials greatly. A visually impaired person can press written material against highly powerful magnifiers that project an image on a screen that can be read closely. Video magnifiers are similar to Optical Character Recognition systems but less versatile. A video magnifier cannot read print material out loud nor is material scanned into a database. Usage of a video magnifier is ideal for someone who still has enough vision to be able to read print and works in an office setting where they need to read printed materials as part of their job. Some video magnifiers are portable while others are immobile. All allow users to adjust the background, brightness, contrast, and size of the text. A video magnifier can also allow users to read handwritten materials if the text is written neatly enough.

Speech Technology

Special computer programs have been developed that allow visually impaired users to operate a computer with voice commands. Programs such as Microsoft’s Active Accessibility have a synthesizer that speaks and a screen reader that tells translates written material computer characters. Speech technology is widely used by people who have trouble typing as well as those who are visually impaired. A computer program with voice technology can be purchased for a small sum when buying a computer.

Optical Scanners

Optical Character Recognition or OCR is that combines elements of video magnification and speech recognition software. People who are visually impaired can scan written text into a computer. They can choose to a magnifying glass to enable them to read the text more closely if they have a remaining vision. They can also choose to have the text read back to them electronically if unable to see the material at all. All scanned information is also stored electronically. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, an OCR system can cost between $1,500 and $5,500. This form of technology has many advantages. Users can quickly scan in material for future use, share with others and replay any material that is unclear. An OCR system, however, is unable to read written material out loud and has costs that may be prohibitive for some users. People who are unfamiliar with technologies such as computers may find it hard to use an OCR without specialized training and extensive assistance.