If you are blind or have a visually impaired person in your family, you probably are aware of the various computer programs available that allow the blind to perform many, if not all, of the computer applications sighted people perform. For years now, computer scientists have been working to develop microprocessors and terminals so blind and visually impaired people can receive an education and get jobs that require the use of a computer. The advances in computers for the blind are mind-boggling. “Talking” computers and terminals are meeting the demands of blind and visually impaired individuals in record numbers, and the demand is only expected to increase.
Blind people can now use computers for school, work and recreation, but they do so in a different manner, of course. With adaptive software such as screen readers and magnification programs, the blind can access computers with ease. Keep in mind, however, that not all “blind” people are totally blind. The legal definition of being blind is having a visual acuity of 20/200 or less. To be classified as “legally blind,” you have to be 20 feet from an object to see it with vision correction as a normally-sighted person could from 200 feet away. The width of the visual field is also used to determine legal blindness. People with normal sight have a visual field of approximately 180 degrees. If your visual field is less than 20 degrees, you are considered legally blind.
Because of the large number of computer technologies available for the visually impaired, it is impossible to describe them all here. The two most common and successfully-used tools are screen readers and magnification programs. Screen-reader adaptive software can be difficult to learn, but, for the blind, it is definitely worth the effort. The most popular screen reader program is JAWS (Job Access with Speech); this program is very popular with high school and college students.
JAWS works with a speech synthesizer to assist students, those who use computers for their work, and the recreational computer user. Some of the features of JAWS include:
The most recent version of JAWS allows users to read virtually every page on the Internet with one simple keystroke.
Braille key labels can also be used to assist the blind with keyboard use. Braille displays allow line-by-line translations; vertical pins move into Braille configurations as the text is scanned. Braille displays are quiet so as not to disturb others around the visually impaired user and can be ready quickly by those who know Braille well. There are also Braille printers to provide hard copies for users.
In addition, speech output systems can be used to read the text on the screen to the blind user.
When computers first became popular, visually impaired people had no options for use. Today, the advances in computer technology for the blind are affording the visually impaired the same opportunities sighted people have in the world of computer technology.
If you would like to learn more about computers for the visually impaired, please contact an experienced eye doctor in your area today.