Tools for Children Who Are Blind or Low Vision to Access Electronic Information

So much of the information that we receive these days is obtained through the computer. Assistive technology tools are available to help people who are blind or low vision access the information on computers.

Screen Magnification Software

There are a variety of special software programs that allow an individual to magnify what is shown on the computer screen. Most of these programs allow users to

  • increase the size of the image on the screen from 2x to 16x,
  • change the color of the background and the type,
  • select enlarged or different color cursors and arrows, and
  • have the computer speak in addition to enlarging what is on the screen.

For some individuals with low vision, screen magnification software can be challenging to use because the larger you make the image on the screen, the less of the material on the computer fits on the screen. It can be difficult to keep track of what is on the screen when they are learning this tool. Also, the image may appear jumpy or highly pixelated, which can be distracting to some users with low vision. 

Screen Reading Software

The use of screen reading software enables a user to hear the text that is displayed on the computer’s monitor. These programs use a sound card in the computer to produce the speech that can be heard through speakers or headphones. The user controls the screen reading technology through the keyboard commands that tell the program what information on the screen to read aloud and to control how it is read.

One of the biggest challenges of using screen reading software is how it will handle pictures or other graphics. With each new version of these programs, the way they handle visual information continues to improve.

Refreshable Braille Displays

A refreshable braille display allows the user to feel a braille representation of the text that is on the computer screen. The display consists of plastic pins that are raised and lowered to form the corresponding braille characters as the cursor moves across the print on the screen. Braille displays are typically 20, 40, or 80 braille cells in length. Braille displays must be used in combination with screen reading software.

Accessible PDAs

An accessible personal digital assistant (PDA) is a combination of a computer and a mainstream PDA. (You may also hear them referred to as electronic notetakers, but they have many more functions than just taking notes.) With these versatile tools, your child can keep an address book and calendar, use a stopwatch, word process, surf the Internet, and send email. Some even have a GPS (global positioning satellite) system that will assist your child in knowing their location during travel.

Accessible PDAs can have either a braille keyboard or a QWERTY (standard) computer keyboard. They may also come with a refreshable braille display so that your child can read the braille as they listen to the text that the cursor is passing over. Users can download e-books (electronic texts) to their PDA to listen to or read using the refreshable braille display. Using a cable or infrared connection, a user can print out material in either print or braille. With a flash card, the user can move files from the PDA to a computer.