Technology Vision Quests:
A Technology Journey!
Computers, phones, and other devices can enhance our comfort and productivity while living with low vision. Yes, but this requires constantly solving problems in changing technology as our vision is also changing. Nobody has an easy journey. Here is a series of “quests” that each improve quality of life and build skills for future quests. Demonstrations will be available in our hands-on class.
Quest 1. Screen appearance should accommodate your vision needs.
You shouldn’t have to strain your eyes if you are a screen, keyboard, or mouse PC user, likewise for smaller phone and tablet screens. If you push your eyesight as far as possible, there are other options, using other senses.
How? Apply Windows Ease of Access options available at startup or on the control panel. Wizards and Microsoft tutorials online are helpful, but you need to fiddle for your personal vision changes. Ditto for MACs.
Common Problem: Glare.
Solution: dark background to diminish light.
The “Cursor” is the pointer, bar, object, that moves around the screen to the location of activity. It can be controlled by an external “mouse”, a laptop finger touch pad, or keys.
Problem: Losing screen cursor location,
Solution: Adjust size, speed, trails, shapes of the cursor.
Problem: Activating screen elements, such as scroll bars.
Solution: choose a high contrast theme that makes screen elements stand out.
Demonstration: Entering Ease of Access, changing screen appearance, and making changes persistent.
Quest 2. Work your keyboard More to relieve screen pointing problems.
When your eyesight has fuzzy sections, isn’t exactly on target, moves to the wrong part of the screen, or makes you tired, you can learn a vocabulary of keystrokes to move around the screen. Application “Shortcuts” perform common actions, if you remember to use them.
Common problem: finding X in upper corner to close a window.
Solution: Use ALT-TAB to cycle through Windows then click ALT-F4 to close.
Demonstration: Tour the menus of your favorite application by keystroke alone, no mouse pointing. !
Put dots on the keys that help you remember the keyboard. Examples: Win, Tabs Lock, Esc, F4, 5, 0, DEL, :, cmd,… Become a better touch typist while you master applications.
Quest 3 Magnification Looks into screen details.
For some people, magnification brings out just the detail they need to read text by eyesight. However, fuzzy areas, holes, and wiggly lines may not be helped by magnification. Give it a try.
How? Turn on the magnifier in Ease of Access, adjust its level and contrast
Note: some mouse devices have an attached magnifier. Or learn to move magnifier by keystroke (??)
Quest 4. Let your computer read to you.
Your computer can speak what you cannot see clearly. Your quest is to find and become acquainted with its speech characteristics, accents, rates, emphases, and options. Dozens of synthetic voices are waiting to tryout as your preferred computer voice companion.
Demonstration: listen to text in male/female human-like voices.
Warning: Don’t be overcome by “Synthetic Voice Shock”! Practice listening and soon you will become unaware of the voice and the text will be as if reading by eyesight or listening to a predictable performing human. You may still prefer a stellar narrator reading a novel, while synthetic voices read anything, never get bored, in any language, faster than normal, and interchangeable by gender and character.
Quest 5: Use Text-to-Speech to Read all print you can’t see.
“Assistive Technology” products are technology and that require new skills, such as listening to synthetic voices.
- A commercial product, ZoomText, can read text under your magnifier
- Free NVDA (for NonVisual Desktop Access) is easily installed to use keyboard commands to read content of windows, including browsers and web pages. Example: h for heading, k for links, g for graphic, b for button, etc.
- JAWS (Job Access With Speech…) is a commercial (expensive) and more powerful version of a screen reader like NVDA.
- Windows 10 has a built-in Narrator that reads screen elements and text. Turned on within Ease of Access.
- Devices exist to read QX codes, prescription instructions, clothing colors, food can labels. Your local bank ATM has a voice interface to dispense your cash.
- A flip phone, the LG Revere 3, can read menus and contacts plus call by voice command.
Note: Speech recognition, or Speech to text” is a different technology, obeying vocal commands..
Demonstration: A synthetic voice reading a web page, showing how to move around the page.
Hints to Build Skills: Learning a screen reader is more than memorizing its key strokes. You build mental maps of your windows. Tour (by letter h) the headings or links (letter k). Alas, many website’s are simply not very accessible.
Quest 6. Write without looking by hearing your writing.
Some devices will translate dictated speech to text, but at the peril of embarrassing mistakes and annoying editing. Magnification may show your text but also distract your thoughts.
How? Text-to-speech can echo your typing by letter or by word, even beeping for capitol letters. You just have to practice, listen carefully, correct often, and then replay your whole text. Bless those spell checkers!
Demonstration: Turn on Narrator or NVDA for screen reading. Open Notepad, the simplest text editor. Type words and listen to letters and words being typed. Learn to correct your mistakes quickly. Holding your thought throughout a sentence is challenging.
Quest 7: Join the Big Time on your iPhone, the “do-everything” device.
Note: Most of the following apply to the iPad and the iPod Touch without the phone).
What’s so great about the iPhone? First, bless Steve Jobs, Apple designers committed to designing for disability. And they succeeded, and even maintain a special 24 hour help line. Second, Apple encourages “accessible” apps, those extra functions and games you download from the App Store. Third, the medium of pod casting keeps people communicating about disability, assistive technology, accessibility, games, books, organizations, heroes, helpers, doctors, and other information — all for free!
Some special apps beloved by confident users with vision loss include:
- Money Reader: just aim the camera at a bill, hear its denomination
- KNFB, a pricey but useful app that helps point the camera over a printed page, then converts text from the picture, then reads to you, e.g. a business card, legal document, invitation,…
- “Seeing Eye”, and others, find meaningful text, e.g. “green beans” on a food label or “IRS” on an envelope.
- Voice Dream, reads documents, books, and newspapers in nice voices that come with the phone or from the Voice Store.
- AI RL, Be My Eyes, and other services provide a person as your remote viewer, e.g. identifying objects or telling street locations.
- GPS apps read names of locations you’re bypassing, and plot directions to destinations, and tell names and distances to restaurants, stores, and public buildings.
- and Blindfold games, and Twitter, and audio described movies, and… and…
Beware: The iPhone can rule your life!
How? In the Apple Settings, go to General then Accessibility. VoiceOver controls the speech rate and voices. Screens can be set for contrast, zoom, text size, color, etc.
VoiceOver will read the screen elements and text. You must, gradually, learn the gesture vocabulary of taps, swipes, and flicks by number of fingers and directions. You can learn apps and iDevices by listening to podcasts.
Shortcut: Triple Click quickly the Home button and VoiceOver will begin speaking.
Quest 8 Sign up for “Eyesight Podcast College”.
That new media, podcasting, is your home campus for learning. Podcast episodes are your lectures, and podcast moderators your instructors, and podcatchers your lecture delivery system. No cost, some ads, explicit language, caring moderators, no degrees, consume as much as you want…
Podcatchers are apps that subscribe and download recordings for listening, as in radio types of content. Dozens of vision-related organizations deliver podcasts for demonstration and discussion of vision-related issues and technology.
Demonstration: Download iCatcher and subscribe to great podcasts: Eyes On Success; Hadley School seminars; Blind Bargains product sales; American Federation for Blind Main Menu; Easter Seals Assistive Tech Update; and dozens more.
Hear the voices, emotions, debates, and gripes of a community of people like us, living normal lives.
Quest 9: Read fiction, nonfiction, and news from the “Bookshare college library”.
Bookshare.org is an online library with over half a million books scanned by volunteers or donated by publishers. Best sellers, classics, technical tomes, young adult, international reports, romance, suspense, and much more. Also available are newspapers from across the country, including AZ Republic, NYTimes and Washington Post, plus magazines like AARP, Time, Science News, Economist, and New Yorker.
These books and magazines are NOT human narrated as in the Talking Book Library. Rather, you download the book file from the Bookshare website then read it in Voice Dream on an iPhone or a special reading device sold as the Victor Reader Stream. You can also read the books online in a web browser.
Bookshare has funding from the Department of Education for all US schools and shares with other countries. Cost is $50 a year, limited to 100 books per month, requiring certification for “print disability” (qualified by Talking Book).
Demonstration: Look up the current most popular book (probably Harry Potter) and read on iPhone Voice Dream.
Quest 10: Exploit your knowledge and skills.
- Book club using Talking Book and Bookshare.
- Online gamer clubs
- Our own podcast as we conquer our quests
- Swap and sell and refurbish computers, readers, magnifiers,…
- Event sat the Public Libraries.
- Podcast follow up discussions
Susan Gerhart lost vision starting at age 50 from extreme myopia, long eyeballs that degenerate over time. She visited assistive technology exhibitions, listened to hundreds of podcasts, found the NVDA screen reader, grooved into the iPhone, and collected thousands of books from Bookshare. The above is her personal series of quests, passing rapidly through screen adaptation and magnification, by necessity, into an audio world. She loves her white cane, the cheapest and most robust, assistive technology and has laundered way too many pairs of ear buds.
Contact: 928.848.9292 (iPhone), firstname.lastname@example.org. Information page “Living Visually Impaired in Prescott AZ” at https://AsYourWorldChanges.wordpress.com.