How Computer Aids Can Help You With Low Vision

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Computer aids come in many shapes and sizes. They range from decidedly low-tech devices to high-tech software programs which enable low vision sufferers to do the same computer tasks as normal-sighted people. Perhaps, as a non-computer user, you simply want to scan a magazine article into your computer that the PC will then read out loud. Computer aids will help you perform this and similar non-computer tasks.

As you use the correct magnifier at the correct strength for regular reading activities, so the same low-tech vision aids which help with regular reading can also be used as a computer aid to view the computer screen. Magnifiers come in a variety of forms. There are hand magnifiers, free-standing magnifiers, some that look like mini telescopes and others that can be worn around the neck. These can be readily adapted for computer use.

Another type of magnifier which can greatly benefit someone with low vision is a screen magnifier. This is a simple hardware option that allows you to use your existing software on your computer. A relatively inexpensive option, it displays both text and images much larger and more boldly than a conventional screen.

Moving from the screen to the keyboard, there are a number of low-tech computer aids which can be very useful, especially if you are a good touch typist. Bump dots can be placed on the control, alt and delete keys which will make these frequently-used keys much easier to locate.

Similarly, the "f" and "j" keys can be highlighted with a dot or sticker making it much easier to keep your fingers correctly positioned for keyboarding. The dots and stickers provide you with a handy reference point. Many low vision sufferers use this principle for the telephone: by putting a dot or sticker on the #5, the rest of the numbers are found much more easily.

The keyboard, itself, can be a problem if you are visually impaired. New, enhanced visability keyboards are now available which can help you overcome the problem of viewing your keyboard. Often marketed as a computer aid to help counter the effects of computer vision syndrome, but equally useful for low vision sufferers, the keys are half as large again as those on conventional keyboards. They are also marked with high-contrast lettering for ease of use.

The larger keys, along with a special facility that allows a single key to open up the browser or put on an audio or video function, help make using the computer a much more comfortable experience. The availability of a wireless version makes for greater comfort still as your movements are less restricted. Used in conjunction with dots and stickers, these adapted keyboards can be a real boon for the visually impaired.

But you don't necessarily have to incur any extra costs to make your computer more user-friendly. Many software programs, including Netscape, Firefox, Windows and Microsoft Office, allow you to enlarge text and icons.

You can customise the background and text colors as well in order to achieve high contrast color schemes best suited to your needs. Black text on a white background is generally recommended as the most vision-friendly.

However, several major software companies now manufacture high-tech computer aids. These will help you, not only to read text and recognise pictures and graphics with ease, but also to send and receive emails, create documents and surf the web. Some software also offers large-print displays of important navigation items such as the cursor location.

Many of these high-tech devices use an easily-installed program from a CD, which will first scan text from your files or emails and then read these aloud to you by a voice which sounds human and not synthetic. This conversion of text to sounds has been much improved, and problems of inaccuracy and inaudibility have largely been eliminated.

These "talking computers" represent some of the more popular computer aids. It's easy to see why. Voice-activated computers obviate the need to type altogether, and this is a real plus for those with low vision.

The concentration needed to read the text on a computer screen is tiring, and is especially so if you have a visual impairment. As the majority of low vision sufferers are seniors, keyboarding can also be difficult with arthritic fingers.

If you have difficulty with stiff finger joints or hand cramps, but you still prefer to use a mouse, it is a good idea to try a larger one. Your hand will rest over the mouse in a more relaxed position which will alleviate any stiffness or discomfort.

The mouse can act as a computer aid in a number of additional ways. A wireless mouse will leave you less restricted for space; a central wheel will allow you to scroll up and down easily with your middle finger, and alteration of the mouse behavior settings (by clicking on the Start menu then the Control Panel and finally Mouse) will enable you to slow down aspects of the mouse operations.

There are three settings which are particularly relevant to low vision users. You can slow down the rate you double-click to open programs or folders which gives you greater precision. The pointer speed can also be slowed down enabling you to follow it more easily, and the mouse wheel can be set to scroll the page to the optimal number of lines the operator is comfortable with.

So, from simple scanning of a magazine article to creating and using spreadsheets, there is a computer aid available for low vision sufferers. With so much on offer, low vision should not mean low expectation.
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