When I first started exploring the world of assistive technology, I found myself getting frequently overwhelmed with how many different items were available for people with low vision. Previously, I had assumed that since I do not read Braille, there was no such thing as assistive technology for low vision, and that definitely is not the case- there are so many different things that people with low vision can use to access the world around them. To help people learn more about assistive technology for low vision and in honor of my 500th post on Veronica With Four Eyes, here is my list of assistive technology tools from A to Z. If someone is familiar with these 26 items, I believe they will be a successful assistive technology user!
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio, is an additional narration track that describes visual information for people who otherwise might not be able to see it. Audio description can be played openly where everyone can hear it or on a assisted listening device (ALD) where only the person wearing headphones can hear it.
Blindness canes are used by people with low or no vision in order to navigate unfamiliar environments. People typically learn how to use blindness canes from orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists that are trained to help people navigate their environment in a non visual way. Blindness canes come in many different shapes and sizes.
Computers can be used as assistive technology in the classroom for displaying accessible assignments and allowing students to take notes that they can read. Computers also have many accessibility settings of their own that can make them easier to use for people with low vision such as magnification, large print, high contrast display, and others.
The device camera that is built into a cell phone or tablet can be used as assistive technology in a pinch, and is frequently used by college students to quickly magnify things, especially items such as restaurant menus, signs, and short documents. There are also many different assistive technology apps that utilize the device camera, so users should be familiar with how to stabilize an image and take a clear photo.
Since many people with low vision have a print disability, or the inability to read standard print, they can benefit from reading electronic books that include large print or having text-to-speech read for them. There are services that provide electronic accessible books for free.
People with low vision may request digital materials instead of print ones for the same reason they would request electronic books. Some file formats can be edited, while others are simply used for reading information.
Some people prefer to travel with a guide in addition to or instead of using a blindness cane. If someone is going to be a guide, it is important that they ask a person if they need assistance before offering their arm to guide them, instead of just randomly grabbing them.
High resolution images can be used to present graphics clearly so that they can be magnified as necessary. Images can be found online or created using common drawing programs.
Alt text and image descriptions are read out loud by screen readers to tell someone what is in an image. While automatic alt text has been added to many different platforms, it is still critical for people to add their own alt text or image descriptions before publishing an image online or adding it to a document.
Adding sound to something can help communicate visual information for people who may not otherwise be able to see it. This can be as high-tech as enabling sound feedback on the computer and as low-tech as adding a noisemaker or beeping sound to a ball or other activity.
Having access to a modified keyboard for typing can be incredibly helpful for people with low vision or dual media users. One popular large print keyboard model features bright yellow keys and large letters, though modifications to standard keyboards such as Braille or large print stickers are also common. Virtual high contrast keyboards are also available for most smartphones and tablets.
Keyboard shortcuts can also allow users to quickly complete common tasks on the computer. Users can use default keyboard shortcuts or create their own for opening applications and completing other actions.
Large print is invaluable for people who cannot read standard sized print due to a print disability. Large print is typically size 18 font or larger, though it is up to personal preference as to what font size is best. For best results, pair with a print disability friendly font.
Having access to a magnifier or magnifying glass can be helpful for people who frequently look at small details of objects or read short amounts of text. Magnifiers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as magnification powers. Some are small enough to fit in the user’s hand, while others can be supported with a stand.
A notetaker is a portable device that allows users to create documents in an accessible format. They are also helpful for low vision users with dysgraphia. Braille notetakers are a common accommodation for students who read/write Braille.
Overhead lighting can make a big difference in how someone with low vision can work or walk around a room. Nice, bright lights can allow people to see everything around them with finer detail, while people with photosensitivity may prefer darker rooms
Many people with low vision benefit from having a larger paper size in addition to large print so that no additional information is cut off. It’s also important to look at how large print can appear on different paper sizes- a size 36 point font can look huge on an index card compared to 11 x 14 paper.
Since many people with low vision have difficulty distinguishing gray pencil lead on white paper, it’s helpful to write with large, high-contrast pens. Some people may prefer to write in colored ink, while others use solid black or blue.
Raised dots can provide information in a tactile way for people with vision loss. They can stick to almost any surface and be used to label appliances, medication, and more.
A screen reader is a software program that reads all of the text on a computer screen using a synthesized voice. Screen readers aren’t just on computers though, as many smartphones and tablets have their own screen readers. Not every website or software application is accessible to screen reader users, though this has been changing over the last few years.
Tactile materials allow users to learn by touch. Tactile materials can be outlines or full 3D models, and may or may not incorporate Braille.
For people that have trouble tracking text with their eyes, a line tracker can be used underneath lines of text to make them easier to focus on. Line trackers can be used in both high tech applications and as no-tech assistive technology.
Virtual assistants, sometimes referred to as voice assistants, perform tasks or services for users based on spoken commands or questions. Virtual assistants can read information out loud or perform tasks without requiring the user to look at a screen- perfect for people with vision loss.
According to Wikipedia, “wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.” In the context of visual impairment, this extends to orientation and mobility techniques and tools that allow users to navigate more easily.
External displays can be used to further magnify or enlarge information on a screen. Some users may have multiple external displays or simply use it to project information from a smaller screen
Black text on a white background can provide lots of glare, so many users benefit from having a high contrast display. Many video magnifiers and assistive technology devices support high contrast displays, though they can also be added to computers and smaller electronics. Some users prefer light text on a dark background, though there are also others who prefer dark text on a light background that isn’t white
Zoom functions on software allow users to magnify displays without external magnification aids. Zoom can be activated with the pinch gesture, though additional magnification settings can be activated within the accessibility menu.
There is a world of assistive technology available for people with low vision, ranging from low tech to high tech, low cost to high cost, and old-fashioned to emerging and futuristic. By knowing the common terms for low vision assistive technology, people with low vision, as well as their families and other professionals, can feel more empowered when accessing the world around them and know what accommodations to ask for.