Choosing Clocks and Watches for People Who Are Blind or Low Vision

Features to Consider in Choosing a Clock

When considering a talking clock, one of the key features that is important to most is a simple-to-use product such as the one-button approach. Also, an alarm and or hourly report is a feature that comes with most simple talking clocks. Most are battery-operated and lightweight and can easily be moved from place to place. Some small models can be carried in a pocket or purse for traveling. Another consideration is the volume of the talking device, an important consideration. Some come with a loud voice; a few models have a volume control or switch.

Considering a Visual Display Option

Another consideration is whether or not a visual display is desired. Several models do have a small visual display, which is not ideal if someone is trying to look at the clock display and hear the time. However, some models do have large displays.

Atomic or Self-Set Clocks

The next category to consider would be self-set clocks, also called atomic clocks. These clocks have many other features, such as announcing the time and temperature indoors and outdoors and announcing the date. They also have an alarm. These types of clocks have a visual display, although not super large. Most are battery-operated but do not travel well in a pocket or purse as they tend to be larger, about four to five inches tall.

Voice Controlled Clocks

The third category in this type of device is voice-controlled or voice-activated clocks. Although these clocks had many features, the user may have to memorize specific commands to make the clock work properly. Some clocks have up to 10 or 12 commands that must be explicitly spoken and clearly each time. One such function may be to set the clock with your voice or alarm with your voice. Several of these clock models must be plugged in to work properly.

Advanced features of these voice-controlled clocks are time, date, and temperature as well as one model that allow you to set reminders. For instance, when to take your medication or other daily reminders that can be added each day.

Of course, smartphones have built-in clocks and alarms that can be used with voice commands.

Selecting an Adapted Watch

By Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT

General Considerations

  • The person who is blind or low vision person should have as much input as possible in selecting an adapted watch or clock.
  • A timepiece that seems “easy to use” for a fully sighted person may not be appropriate for someone who is blind or has low vision.
  • How easy – or difficult – is the battery insertion and removal? Is it possible to change the batteries independently?
  • Does the timepiece have an alarm? Is an alarm an important feature for the person?
  • Is it possible to set the time and alarm easily and independently? Some timepieces, especially talking timepieces, may require many steps to set the time and alarm.
  • Does the watch have an expansion band or a buckle band? A “stretchable” or expansion band is often easier to get on and off independently.
  • Remember universal design principles: simple, familiar, durable, and easy to operate are usually the best choices.

Selecting a Low Vision Timepiece

  • Consider the watch’s size and clock face: A woman’s watch will have a smaller clock face and numerals, while a man’s will be larger and likely easier to read.
A man’s low vision watch with white numerals on a black face and an expansion band.
  • Many people with low vision prefer a man’s watch’s larger size and visibility.
  • Does the person prefer a digital or analog (i.e., hour and minute hands) clock/watch face? Let the person with low vision choose.
  • If analog, examine the arrangement of numerals on the dial. Are all numbers represented, or only 12, 3, 6, and 9? Again, let the person with low vision choose numeral visibility and placement.
  • Consider the contrast between the clock/watch face and numbers, whether digital or analog. Usually, black numbers on a white background or white numbers on a black background are the easiest to see.
  • When selecting a wall clock, look for large, plain numbers or letters on a contrasting non-glare background: black numbers on white or white numbers on black. Position the clock at eye level, if possible.

Selecting a Talking Timepiece

  • Examine the voice quality: Is it a male or female voice? Male voices are usually (but not always) easier to hear. Let the individual user make the decision.
  • Can the volume be adjusted? Be sure that the person can hear the voice and time announcement before purchasing a talking timepiece.
a man's talking watch
  • Examine the size and location of the controls and buttons and the number of steps required to set the time or the alarm. Some talking timepieces have very small controls and may require many steps to set the time and alarm.
  • Are other languages available? Many talking watches are now available in various languages, including Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
  • Does the watch have time, day, and date functions? Does the person require these functions? If not, look for a simpler timepiece.
  • Some talking watches and clocks adjust automatically for Standard and Daylight Savings time and don’t require resetting.
  • At right: A man’s talking watch with a digital display and a buckle band.

Selecting a Braille Watch

Many adults and older adults may be reluctant to try a braille timepiece because he or she “doesn’t read braille.” 

 A man’s stainless steel braille watch with an expansion band

Braille timepieces, however, do not contain braille letters or numbers; instead, they use a pattern of raised tactile markings: (a) 3, 6, and 9 are marked with two dots, (b) 12 is marked with three dots, and (c) the remaining hours are marked with one dot. Braille watches are more accurately described as “tactile” timepieces:

  • Reading the time on a tactile watch requires opening the crystal, touching the raised markings, and hour and minute hands.
  • Most tactile watches open at either 3:00 or 6:00.
  • Some tactile watches open by pulling up on a latch; others open by depressing a button.
  • Examine the location and durability of the latch, the hinge, and the opening.
  • A man’s larger tactile watch face is usually easier to read initially.

Where You Can Find Adapted Timepieces

You can find these and other specialty timepieces in Helpful Products and Technology for Living with Vision Loss – VisionAware. You can also find good-quality low-vision and talking watches and clocks in your local “big box” department and drug stores.