Assistive Technology For Visually Impaired or Those With Low Vision

assistive technology for visually impaired

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What is assistive technology for visually impaired, and how may they help you?

From canes and lever door handles to speech recognition technology and augmentative communication devices, assistive technology for visually impaired can be “high tech” or “low tech” (speech generating devices).

For those with limited vision, there is a wide range of assistive technology available, ranging from low-tech to high-tech, low-cost to high-cost, and old-fashioned to emergent and futuristic. People with poor vision, as well as their families and other professionals, might feel empowered while navigating the world around them and know what modifications to request if they are familiar with the popular names for low vision assistive technology for visually impaired.

Assistive technology for visually impaired tools may be categorized in a variety of ways. One easy method is to distinguish between devices that employ lenses to improve eyesight and those that do not, with a distinct category set aside for so-called high-tech gadgets.

The non-optical device is a word that refers to the most basic instrument that does not include lenses, computers, or electronics. 

Optical devices, often known as “low vision devices,” make use of lenses to assist individuals in making better use of their current eyesight. Magnifiers and telescopes of different sorts are among them. An optical device is an electrical device that employs a camera to show an enlarged picture on a TV screen or monitor, often known as a video magnifier or closed-circuit television system (CCTV).

Many people use the phrase “assistive technology” to refer to systems and equipment that allow individuals to interact with the environment and print information using computer hardware and software, as well as other electronic devices. As a result, a video magnifier may be used as an optical aid as well as a “high-tech” piece of assistive technology for visually impaired.

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) and the Tech Act of 2004 have government mandates for assistive technology for visually impaired. For blind or visually impaired children, including those with multiple impairments, training and usage of assistive technology for visually impaired must be covered in the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and is a component of the extended core curriculum.

Mobility

Service Dogs

Service dogs are canines that have been trained to assist their owners with disabilities. Dogs may be taught to pick up items, assist individuals with vision impairments, remind you to take medicine, or assist those with poor balance, for example.

Service dogs are permitted to accompany their owners in public settings, even areas where dogs are not normally permitted, such as aircraft and restaurants.

Canes

Canes - assistive technology for visually impaired

Individuals who are blind or have impaired eyesight may use a variety of canes, the most common of which is the long cane.

Mobility Aids Using Electronics

Electronic mobility aids are devices that employ ultrasonic waves to reflect off of barriers in front of the user to inform them of what is approaching. The effectiveness of these devices is debatable, and they often need the use of a long cane or a service dog. Here are a few examples:

Ray Electronic Mobility Aid

This little gadget can detect obstacles from a distance of up to 9.35 feet. Users get an auditory signal when an item is detected.

The UltraCane is a device that combines electronic mobility assistance with a long cane. The cane generates ultrasonic waves, which allow the user to sense items in front of them and at eye level.

ETA’s ( Electronic travel aids)

To compensate for limited “spatial perception,” electronic travel aids (ETA) employ a range of techniques such as radar, sonar, and optical triangulation to identify boundaries and offer feedback through vibration or audible signals. ETAs may be a useful addition to long canes, but they will not be able to take the place of a cane.

Devices with GPS

Individuals may get audio input on their position, the direction of travel, surroundings, and routes via GPS devices that utilize satellite technology. They might be standalone devices or GPS technology that can be included in other devices such as a smartphone, mobile device, or braille notetaker.

Assistive Technology for Reading

Reading is not only an important aspect of the English Language Arts curriculum, but it is also an important part of all other subjects. In science and social studies, students use textbooks, solve word problems in arithmetic, and complete text-based examinations. The degree of visual functioning, literacy development, and contextual and task demands should all be considered when developing assistive technology aids to enhance reading.

Environmental Points to Consider

For best visual function, consider lighting and material placement.

Text in Larger Font

The easiest technique for pupils with some visual function is to provide written material in an expanded format. Font sizes of 18 points or 24 points are fine as a general guideline, however, increasing beyond that may not be efficient. Text that has been enlarged may be obtained from a number of sources, including publishers and vendors, or materials that have been transformed using the magnification function of copy machines, while the text size of most digital resources can be simply altered to the user’s liking.

Handheld Magnifiers

Handheld Magnifiers

Students with limited eyesight may use these low-tech, portable instruments to access not just text but also other items in their surroundings. They come in a variety of magnification powers, are reasonably priced, and do not need any material alteration. However, magnification power should be chosen based on the advice of a low vision expert.

Video Magnifier

Video Magnifier - assistive technology for visually impaired

A video magnifier may also be used to magnify other items. It might be a portable device, a stand-alone device, or function in conjunction with a computer, television, or projection system.

Braille

Braille - assistive technology for visually impaired

Braille is an important tool for teaching reading skills to kids who do not have enough eyesight to depend on other assistance. It is also a lifetime skill. Braille provides a solid foundation for written language by allowing pupils to encounter features of written language such as spelling, syntax, and sentence structure. Commercially available braille items may be purchased, or they can be made using specialist software and a braille embosser.

Braille Labeler

Labeling objects in the student’s surroundings will not only help with vocabulary, spelling, and reading, but it will also help with independence and orientation.

Braille Display That Can Be Refreshed

A refreshable braille display may be used as a peripheral device to provide braille translation of documents, webpages, and other text information on a desktop, laptop, or mobile computer device.

Audio Books

Audio books are usually recorded with human voices and may be accessed through specialist computer software, gadgets, or commonplace tools such as MP3 players. Features such as finding and exploring an audio file are available on numerous devices. While many students will benefit from the usage of audiobooks, educators caution against relying only on audiobooks for text access. Students who are still learning to read and write need continual access to print or braille, but older students have different choices.

Text in digital format

  • The digital text offers one of the most diverse ranges of possibilities to pupils with a variety of demands. Documents and text may have their visual characteristics adjusted, a range of supports can be simply incorporated, and digital text can be retrieved from a number of sources. Digital text materials can be purchased commercially, obtained through accessible instructional materials providers, or created by instructors and students themselves, and they can be accessed using a variety of tools such as computers, mobile phones, or instruments such as braille notetakers.
  • The visual presentation of digital text may usually be adjusted by the user, including font size, color, and contrast.
  • On a larger display, digital text may be seen.
  • Computer magnification software may be used to examine the digital text and is customizable in terms of magnification level, magnified area, and display visual aspects.
  • Text-to-speech software enables a computer to “read” digital text to a learner in a digital voice. Some applications may highlight words as they are read, making it easier for children to keep up.
  • Students may link refreshable braille displays to the digital text source, allowing them to read the text tactilely.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR) scanners may be used to produce digital text that can subsequently be utilized with any of the technologies listed above. Handheld or freestanding OCR scanners are available.

Systems for Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Systems for Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems are one the instruments that enable blind or visually impaired persons to access printed information.

Scanning, optical character recognition, sometimes known as OCR, and text reading through synthesized voice are the three main components of these systems.

Users will need a flatbed scanner, a PC with a suitable sound card, and a specialist OCR software package with voice output to utilize this technology. Users may scan printed text, but not handwritten text, and have it read back in synthetic voice or store it on their pc as a file that can be retrieved later using this technique. The scanner takes a photograph of the printed text and delivers it to the computer when users insert a printed document in the scanner and submit a command to start the scan. After that, the OCR program examines the picture, detects the characters, and turns the data into an electronic file. This file is sent to the built-in screen reader, which speaks the text using the computer’s sound card or a specialist speech synthesizer.

A portable notetaker is a compact handheld word processor built specifically for students with impairments. They can generally download text to a normal computer and often have text-to-speech and other useful applications.

Mobile Applications

TapTapSee

TapTapSee

TapTapSee is an app that enables visually impaired and blind people to precisely identify items they come across in their everyday lives without requiring sighted help. You may snap a shot from any angle with your iPhone camera and hear the object’s description spoken back to you. There’s also an auto-focus indicator and sharing options in the app. You may also have the previous picture identification replayed. Finally, you may upload photographs from your photo library for identification and then store them to your phone with the definitions supplied for simple usage.

Lookout (by Google)

Lookout (by Google)

If there’s one brand you can rely on to provide beneficial and trustworthy ideas, it’s Google. Lookout recognizes key objects in your surroundings and provides the information it deems is relevant by utilizing the rear-facing camera on your smartphone. Exit signs, the location of a restroom, people or items nearby, and even text in a book are examples of this. Lookout’s voiced alerts are meant to be utilized with little involvement in order to avoid distracting you or getting in the way.

Seeing AI

Seeing AI

Seeing AI, developed by Microsoft, lets users utilize their smartphone’s back camera to recognize and describe the environment around them, converting the everyday invisible into an audio experience. Objects, language, and even persons may be recognized by the program. You may use Seeing AI to do a variety of things that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise owing to your vision impairment.

To get started, go to the Scene Preview channel. Double-tap the “Take Photo” button when you’re ready. The app will provide a description of the surroundings. A “Close” button is located at the top of the screen. There are options to save and share the picture underneath the description.

Supersense

Supersense

Clearly, less is more when it comes to accessibility. Supersense is another example of amazing software that, despite small limitations, may improve your confidence while you’re out and about.

The Object Explorer feature of the program makes use of live video from your smartphone camera. There’s no need to shoot pictures and then wait for them to be uploaded and examined.

Similarly, if you’re in a room and want to see what’s around you, open the Supersense app and turn on Object Explorer. Slowly pan the phone, and the app will recognize and say the names of various pieces of furniture, such as couches, chairs, lamps, picture frames, and so on. The identification is done in real-time, which is quite useful for a fast look-around to orient oneself in a new room or office scenario.

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes connects blind individuals with sighted volunteers who use a smartphone app and camera to assist them to recognize items.

One significant distinction between Be My Eyes and other applications seems to be that Be My Eyes utilizes live video chat to speak with the volunteer on the other end, while other apps need you to take a picture. The blind individual communicates with others who have sight, directs the smartphone camera at objects, and receives assistance in seeing what they are. Until both parties are linked, the app rings – a repetitive, droning sound.

Bespecular

Bespecular

This is an excellent tool to utilize when you want assistance. The software provides a one-of-a-kind and straightforward way to find a remote volunteer to assist you with a project. You may, and perhaps will get many replies to your inquiries. It provides you with a range of options for answering the question you want and need.

The option to transmit a query along with a photo of the thing you want to be recognized to a community of volunteers sets this app apart from the others.

A visually impaired person may ask a question by photographing an outfit they want to wear and asking a question such as, “Does the outfit match my shoe?” The question is then forwarded to a community of volunteers who can offer feedback.”

Cash Reader

Cash Reader

Check out the Cash Reader app if you need to distribute cash or count banknotes that have been presented to you. For certain discrete occasions, this instrument not only speaks the denomination but also vibrates and shows it in huge contrasting figures on the screen. The software is multilingual and supports over 100 different money denominations. It doesn’t matter how you use it; even if you just display the camera in a little area of the banknote, it will function. So, using Cash Reader, make sure you receive the right change or help to count your money.

Screen-reading Software

Screen readers are software applications that employ a voice synthesizer or braille display to interpret text shown on a computer screen to blind or visually impaired users. A screen reader is a program that connects the user to the computer’s operating system and apps. The user gives orders to the voice synthesizer by hitting various combinations of keys on the computer or braille display to tell it what to say and to talk automatically when the computer screen changes. A command may tell the generator to read or spell a word, read a line or a whole screen of text, locate a string of text on the screen, announce the computer’s cursor or highlighted item, and so on. It also enables users to execute more complicated tasks, such as finding text that is shown in a certain color, reading pre-designated areas of the screen on demand, reading words, and recognizing the current option in a menu. Users may also use a screen reader to read the cells in a spreadsheet or utilize the spell checker in a word processor.

Computer proficiency is expected for a variety of tasks, and standard computers can be made much more accessible by using adaptive software, such as screen-readers, which convert the contents of the screen into speech or refreshable braille while allowing the user to control the pc with keyboard commands or touchscreen gestures. Using braille-related equipment or magnifying equipment, some of which are portable, you may view books and other printed documents in accessible formats like doc, rtf, or daisy.

Computers may be used in the classroom as assistive technology for visually impaired to show accessible assignments and enable students to take notes that they can read. Accessibility options on computers, such as magnification, big text, high contrast display, and others, may make them simpler to use for those with limited vision.

Magnification Software

 Software that enlarges everything on a computer monitor is known as screen magnification software or screen enlargement software. The user can only view a portion of the screen at a time since the picture is expanded. MAGic, Windows Magnifier, Zoom on Macs, and ZoomText is some examples of screen magnification applications. This program is designed for persons who have limited eyesight but can still interact with computers visually. 

Students may utilize screen magnification software to control eye fatigue, maintain proper posture and viewing distance, and access the same programs as their classmates. This assists kids in learning academics, passing examinations, and developing technical skills. Many sections of the Expanded Core Curriculum may be impacted by using screen magnification software, including Assistive Technology, Independent Living Skills (searching recipes and paying the bills), Social Interaction (utilizing social networking sites), and Orientation & Mobility (pre-planning locations, routes, and maps). Students may excel in postsecondary education and careers if they know how to use screen magnification software.

Windows: To open the Windows magnifier on a Windows computer (running Windows 7 or above), type Windows Key + Plus on your keyboard (minimize it to not have the magnifier icon). You may also use your start menu’s search bar to look for “magnifier.”

The following link will lead you through the process of launching Zoom on a Mac. Zoom controls are activated by pressing Option+Command+F5. Depending on the operating system your Mac is running, the interface for setting up zoom may differ. Make sure that keyboard commands are enabled in the accessibility settings.

Specialized Accessibility Software

Specialized software may be used to make a highly customized computer environment when built-in accessibility capabilities are insufficient. Word-to-speech feedback with and without text highlighting, the option to choose what is enlarged on the screen, more customization of visual displays, voice navigation, and enhanced screen reading tools are examples of such features.

Premium Software: There are free trials available for these three.

  1. MAGic: Will run in 40 Minute modes after you restart your computer
  2. Supernova: 30 free trial
  3. ZoomText: 60-day free trial

Conclusion

Technology is moving at a rapid rate, fortunately for those that are visually impaired their disability is one that is benefiting from it.  There are so many devices, apps, and different resources to help those with this disability.  Don’t let it keep you from doing what you love or learning what you need to succeed in life.  Hopefully, some of these resources can help.

FAQ’s

How can technology help the visually impaired?

As mentioned in this article, technology can enlarge, help navigate, read text, augment colors and contrast, and recognize faces and objects.

What tools exist for visually impaired students?

All of these tools mentioned can be used by students, some can be provided in the schools and some will have to be purchased by the individuals or their families.

What products exist for visually impaired older adults?

Many of these products mentioned can be used by older adults however some may be a little difficult due to the level of technology involved.  It’s a good idea to discuss all of the options with a low vision specialist to choose the best options for you or your loved ones.

About the Author:
Dr Shaun Larsen

Dr Shaun Larsen

Dr. Shaun Larsen is an optometrist who specializes in low vision services and enhancing vision with contact lenses. He has a passion for making people's lives better by helping them see well enough to read, write, or drive again. He always keeps up with the latest technology so he can help people regain their independence.

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