Walk into any of the major exhibitions of assistive technology for the visually impaired in this country and you will be met with a confusing array of what at first glance can look like a large number of similar products. The following article aims to dispel some of this confusion.
Assistive technology for the visually impaired can be broken down into various categories or types of product some of which are computer based and some aren’t. Let’s look at the computer based products first. These come in broadly four types, software which magnifies the text on the screen, that which magnifies and reads aloud what is on the screen and that which just reads aloud. Whilst windows 7 has a decent basic magnifier and a basic reader built in if you need more advanced features then you do need to buy one of the paid for products. There are now two free products which read aloud for windows, NVDA and window-eyes the latter of which you do need an appropriate MS office license for both of which are excellent products. There is also what I use and still consider to be the best all round screen reader which is jaws for windows but you still have to pay for this. Apple products all come with a magnifier and reader built in. Apart from the windows 7 magnifier there aren’t any free ones available but there are a range of paid for ones which range in price depending on their functionality which start at £199. The same is true for the products which speak and magnify again starting at £199. The other type of PC based software is that with which you can scan the printed document in using a flatbed scanner and it will read it back to you an in some cases magnify as well, again these vary in price starting at £70 for a basic one.
Moving away from the computer there are a wide range of video magnifiers available in various sizes, some are handheld, some are for desktop use and some do have computer connectivity and other advanced features. This is the part of the market in my opinion which is most confusing. For those reading this that have never seen one of these you can put printed material under the device and it will magnify it onto the screen in various print sizes and colour configurations. There are also a wide range of brail devices on the market including Braille printers or embossers as they are known, Braille displays which reproduce the screen in Braille using moving electronic pins and Braille notetakers which are basically an electronic Perkins. In addition there are devices which play the daisy file format of talking books, daisy is a file format which enables a large amount of audio to be put on a disk or in a file and can have indexing attached to it to make it easy to find chapters etc. These are available as cd players and sd card players.
There is also software available to make it easier to use mobile phones. Again the iPhone has accessibility built in an there are software packages to make android phones and tablets easier to use. It is also still possible to get the software to make the Nokia phones accessable but there are no current accessable Nokias available in the high street so these are only now available as refurbs.
If anyone would like more detailed info on any of the information contained in this article then please take alook at our website where all the products we sell are listed together with info on our training or please call the office on 01904 762788 or look for aspire consultancy on facebook or its @aspireconsult on twitter. Our training is available on site or over the phone.