Sight loss: technology
The range of technology available for visually impaired people is great and growing. Products are available in both the mainstream technology and assistive technology marketplaces. If this all sounds a bit too complicated for you, let us break it down.
Assistive technology refers to technologies that are made to support people with specific impairments. For visually impaired people, these fall into three main categories:
- Screen readers
- Braille devices
A screen reader is a piece of software that reads the text on a screen out loud. Screen readers are available on desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets.
All Apple Mac products have an in-built screen reader called VoiceOver. Windows PCs do not have an in-built screen reader and require additional screen reader software.
There are two main categories of magnifiers. The first being magnifiers that are used to magnify printed material and the second being computer software used to magnify what is on the screen.
Magnifiers used for printed material range from handheld low-tech dome magnifiers to electronic video magnifiers.
Magnification software is sometimes sold on its own and sometimes sold along with a screen reader.
All Apple Mac products have an inbuilt magnifier called Zoom. Windows PCs do not have an inbuilt magnifier and require additional magnification software.
Braille devices, also known as Refreshable Braille Displays are electromechanical devices that use a keyboard style device to display braille characters.
Mainstream technology is technology that is designed for everyone to use. For people with sight loss, there are many mainstream technologies that are very helpful, such as dictation software or voice recognition like Siri.
Apps that are making living with sight loss easier
We've asked around and have discovered that a lot of visually impaired people are using iPhones. So, for now, our list is focused on iOS devices—that is, iPhones and iPads.
All Apple mobile devices have inbuilt dictation and voice recognition (Siri). So, visually impaired people already have a head start.
In addition to this, we've heard great things about these apps.
Dictate is a dictation app that allows you to speak to it and it types what you speak into a document.
Fantastical is a calendar app with an incredibly simple and easy to use interface and high contrast, so it's fab for people with sight loss.
Character Writer is a plain text writing app that allows users to increase the font size and to invert colours so that text is white on black.
Be My Eyes is an app that enables visually impaired people to get help via a network of sighted volunteers using video chat.
Text Grabber is an optical character recognition (OCR) app. It allows you to take a photo of printed text and then converts it to digital text. From there, you can either read the text as is or use VoiceOver.
Audible is an audiobook player app. You simply purchase your books from the Audible website and then download them to your phone and listen.
BlindSquare is an app designed specifically for visually impaired people. When you open the app, it works out where you are and then speaks to you about what's in the area around you, such as shops, cinemas, roads, restaurants and so on.
To find out more about technology for blind and partially sighted people, please visit the Using technology section on the RNIB website.