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Computer AidsThere are many aids available for computers. These devices can make it easier for computer users to use word processing programs, surf the Internet, and send email, but they can also help non-computer users handle many non-computer tasks. For instance, one can scan into the computer a magazine article that the computer then will read aloud. Although we're talking about computers here, we should also mention that mobile devices such as "smart" phones and tablets can use an increasing number of "apps" that make life easier for the visually impaired.
You can use a hand magnifier or special screen magnifier to make the computer screen look larger, or you can use a screen magnification program like Zoom Text, SuperNova Magnifier, or MAGic. They enlarge the text and images on the monitor. Versions of Microsoft Windows from Windows 2000 onward include a built-in simple screen magnifier. If you get a Microsoft brand mouse, you can use the bundled software to configure a mouse button to easily turn the magnification on or off. Some models of Microsoft Mouse have an extra button intended specifically for this.
Tip: Many computer programs, such as web browsers, now have a "zoom" feature to let you magnify their output. Hold down the Ctrl (for Windows) or Cmd (for Mac OS) key and press plus (+) to "zoom in" or minus (-) to "zoom out."
Screen reader programs are designed to allow even totally blind people to use the computer. They convert the text and icons to speech so one can use a computer without needing to see the monitor. Microsoft Windows 2000 and later versions include a simple built-in screen reader called Narrator. Narrator can help you find out what a screen reader is like, but since it works only with certain Microsoft applications, you may find you need a more complete screen reader program such as NVDA, JAWS, Window-Eyes, or SuperNova to do all you want. Apple computers and portable devices include a built-in complete screen reader called VoiceOver. The Chrome operating system includes a screen reader called ChromeVox, and for Android devices the built-in screen reader is called TalkBack.
If you can see well enough to navigate the screen but sometimes find reading text to be tedious, a simple text-to-speech program such as Speakonia, Panopreter, or Natural Reader can make using the computer easier. Such programs are much simpler and easier to learn than a full screen reader. With these programs, you select the text, and the program then reads it to you. There are also web-based text-to-speech services such as ReadSpeaker TextAid in which the software resides on an Internet server instead of on your computer.
Tip: The APHont font is designed specifically to be friendly to those who need large print to read. Find out more at www.aph.org/products/aphont/.
In addition, there are special keyboards, monitor magnifiers, speech recognition programs and other aids that make computers more "low vision" friendly.
Making a computer easier to use for someone with low vision doesn't even have to cost anything. Many software programs, including Windows and Microsoft Office, allow text and icons to be enlarged and to use high contrast color schemes. Bump dots or small bits of Velcro can be placed on the control, alt, and delete keys to help find them as well as on the "f" and "j" keys to help one place one's hands properly for keyboarding. (Most keyboards now come with dots already molded onto the "f" and "j" keys.)
Tip for Microsoft Windows users: holding down the left "Alt" key and the left "Shift" key while you push the Print Screen (PrtScr) key will switch between normal and high contrast display modes.
We have some of these aids on the computer in the demonstration area here at the Low Vision Center. Please call us at 301-951-4444 to find out what we currently have available and to make an appointment to try them yourself.
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