Technologies for persons with Blindness

“Information and Communication Technology has been playing a vital role in my life to overcome my handicap: it is from study to research, from day to day life to job .”. ( Saji Mathews ,is a Visually Impaired Officer in a Govt. organisation).

Indeed, it is true for most of the Visually Impaired person’s life today. This is the most beautiful era of human race, where a man can do things with the help of technology which were not possible earlier. Truly, technology has proved to be a boon in the life of person with blindness too .

Technology helps the visually challenged to read , write and perform their daily jobs by way of the following:

Screen Reading Software

Screen reading software using synthesized voice is the most important development in the history of technology. Softwares such as Jaws, Window Eyes, Hal etc. read the information on a computer screen in a human voice . This technology helps a visually impaired to do everything in the computer like his sighted counterpart. The difference is that a sighted person operates the computer with vision, whereas a person with blindness does the same by hearing the information and operates through key-board. These softwares are paid softwares.

Among the free to use open source Screen Reading softwares NBDA & SAFA are worth mentioning for Windows. They can be easily downloadable without any lisencesing issues.

There are also some in-Built Screen Readers. The encouraging trend in this category of softwares is the inclusion of a basic screen reading software with in the Operating system itself. The Voice Over screen reader which comes bundled with Mac OS is definitely far superior to the Narrator found in Windows. Linux OS now offers in built screen reading software ORKA which comes with ubuntu.

OCR Technique

Optical Character Recognizer technology has been a great boom for visually impaired persons. Using OCR software & a standard scanner, a blind person can read any printed document such as a book, magazine, letter/notices, newspapers etc. One has to just scan the document and use any of the OCR Softwares. Some OCRs have specifically been designed for Visually Impaired persons and include text reading facility in synthesized voice. Some softwares like Kurzweil, Cicero, Fine Reader are some of the example of OCRs which help the visually impaired particularly for print reading.

Magnifiers for Low Visions

Screen magnification softwares such as Magic, Zoom Text are making life easier for people with low vision. These softwares provide various magnification modes and magnification levels going up to 6X60 and more. The computer screen can be split vertically or horizontally with one portion showing the actual screen and the other a magnified view of the focus area. Such softwares also provide the colour contrasting facility.

Mobile Softwares

The most exciting development in this field is the emergence of accessible softwares for communication devices such as mobile phones . Mobile phones have become affordable and offer much more than just telephone services. But most visually impaired users were not able to use features like address book, SMS, call history, calendar etc. due to inaccessibility of the tiny mobile screen. But now a number of screen reading & magnifying softwares are available for a wide range of mobile phones. Using these applications, even a complete blind person can also use all the features offered by the mobile device. This has contributed greatly to empowerment & independent living of visually impaired persons as now they need not depend upon friends and colleagues for taking phone numbers and addresses. Even

smart phones actually allow the visually impaired to do much more: Use GPS, record meetings/lectures, create text files, and listen to favourite books/songs while on the move. Examples of such softwares are – Talks and Mobile Speak (Symbian Based OS), Mobile Speak Pocket & Pocket Hal (Windows Mobile based OS), Talk Back (Android based OS) and Voice Over for I-phones.

All these products offer screen magnification & colour contrasting facilities for low vision users and support a number of Braille displays.

Voice Recognizing Techniques

Among Voice Recognition based products, Dragon Naturally Speaking marks a great improvement in this technology. This software claims to be 99% accurate and as much as 3 times faster than hand typing. This software allows you to dictate and edit in Microsoft Word and Excel, Corel WordPerfect, and virtually all Windows-based applications. You can even dictate into a handheld device when you’re away from your PC, or use a Bluetooth microphone. This software is extremely useful to those persons who suffer from loco motor disabilities and cannot type efficiently on the computer keyboard.

Digital Book Techniques

The computers are playing a big role in production of digital books today. These help the visually impaired people to access and procure the books easily. Examples of some are :

Braille Book Production : The computerization of the Braille book production has been an accepted method in all parts of the world.

Talking Books: The Digital recording provides innumerable benefits to the visually impaired persons. Digital talking books recorded using PC and stored on CD are becoming common.

E-text: The screen reading software loaded on a PC becomes an excellent reader of electronic text, which is easy to produce and distribute among persons with blindness or print disabilities.

Large Print: The electronic text can be viewed as large print on a PC. Large print production has become easier through the large font facility in the computer.

These books are available in Daisy,Rtf,Pdf,ePub etc.formats.

Other Assistive Technologies

There are a number of assertive devices available for persons with blindness. Talking Watch, Braille Watch, Talking Thermometer, Talking Calculator, Talking Weighing Machine , Liquid Level Identifier etc. are some of the examples.

These assistive devices make the life of a person with blindness very easy and comfortable.