Using a Computer for Individuals with Visual Impairments or Blindness

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For individuals who are blind or have visual impairments, harnessing the power of computers can foster independence. While computers may seem daunting, especially if you lack prior experience, their multitude of accessibility features greatly simplifies the process. Select a computer equipped with intuitive accessibility options that suit your needs. Additionally, tablets and smartphones offer similar accessibility features for your convenience.

Way 1: Selecting Your Personal Computer

Identifying Your Computer Needs

To determine the most suitable computer setup for your requirements, it’s essential to pinpoint the tasks that pose the greatest challenges. Typically, computer-related tasks can be broadly categorized into four groups. The specific activities presenting the most difficulty for you will guide your choice of computer configuration.

For instance, if navigating the screen using a computer mouse proves problematic, you might find a computer with a touch-screen or a laptop equipped with a touchpad more accommodating than a traditional mouse.

Alternatively, if reading text on the screen remains challenging, even with magnification, you may benefit from a computer that can audibly read the on-screen content to reduce your reliance on visual perception.

Exploring Various Operating Systems

Consider experimenting with different operating systems as part of your computer selection process. The two primary choices among operating systems are Windows and Apple’s OS X. Windows, due to its licensing agreements with various manufacturers, offers a more extensive selection of computer options.

In terms of accessibility features, both operating systems generally offer comparable built-in functionalities. It’s advisable to compare how each system functions to determine which aligns better with your preferences and needs.

Furthermore, it’s worthwhile to explore different manufacturers within the Windows ecosystem. This way, you can identify a computer configuration that not only suits your individual requirements but also aligns with your budget constraints.

Choosing Between Desktop and Laptop Computers

The decision between a desktop and a laptop computer often boils down to personal preference, as they typically run the same operating systems. Your choice may be influenced by your visual impairment, but it primarily hinges on your desire for portability.

If you frequently travel and require computer access on the go, a laptop may be the more suitable option for your lifestyle.

Conversely, if you prefer a larger screen and a more stationary setup, a desktop computer might be your preference. For portable computing needs, you can complement your setup with a smaller device like a tablet, ideal for travel-related computer tasks.

Assessing Text-to-Speech Solutions

Take the time to evaluate the text-to-speech offerings available on both Windows and OS X. These operating systems come equipped with built-in text-to-speech programs that can audibly read any text displayed on your computer screen. To determine your preference, listen to both narrators and discern which one aligns better with your needs.

In the event that neither of the default text-to-speech options meets your satisfaction, explore the internet for third-party applications that you can download. You should be able to access demonstrations of these programs, allowing you to select the one that resonates with your preferences and requirements the most.

Consider Refurbished Computers

When budget constraints are a concern, exploring refurbished machines can offer a cost-effective solution. Opting for refurbished computers often allows you to obtain enhanced computing capabilities and expanded storage space while staying within your budget. These machines typically include a limited warranty for added peace of mind.

Manufacturers adhere to specific standards when refurbishing computers, transforming them into certified refurbished machines. This certification grants you access to warranties and additional quality assurances that are not typically available when purchasing a non-certified, used computer.

Explore Computers for the Blind (CFTB)

If you reside in the United States, consider the option of obtaining an affordable computer tailored to the needs of individuals who are blind or visually impaired through Computers for the Blind (CFTB). CFTB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to offering refurbished computers at a reduced price to those within this community. Additionally, you have the opportunity to have accessibility software installed for an extra fee.

For those outside the United States, it is advisable to contact your local nonprofit organizations or governmental agencies that provide assistance to individuals with visual impairments. They can guide you towards similar initiatives available in your region.

Way 2: Personalizing Accessibility Settings

Activate Your Screen Magnification

Enabling the screen magnifier on your personal computer is a straightforward process, regardless of your operating system. This essential feature comes pre-installed and can be accessed through your computer’s accessibility settings or by using convenient keyboard shortcuts.

For instance, on a Windows machine, simply press the Windows key and the “+” key on the number pad simultaneously to activate the magnifier. Repeating this key combination increases the screen’s magnification, while using the Windows key in conjunction with the “-” key on the number pad reduces it.

Install a Screen Reader

While magnifiers offer assistance, their limitations may become apparent, and even at maximum magnification, screen readability could remain challenging for those with visual impairments. Screen readers come to the rescue by converting text into audio, enabling individuals who are blind or visually impaired to effectively navigate computers.

Consider NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) as a prime example. This open-source software is readily available for free download from the internet, empowering you with text-to-audio functionality.

If you are a Microsoft Office user with version 2010 or later, you can also access Windows-Eyes as a complimentary screen reader option.

Install Additional Software to Meet Your Needs

In addition to the default accessibility features that come with your computer, it’s worth exploring other software solutions from various companies. These third-party applications may offer more tailored and effective accessibility features for your specific requirements.

These alternative options can be particularly valuable if you’re using an older computer that lacks the advanced accessibility features found in newer models and are working within budget constraints.

For instance, some screen-magnifier programs provide enhanced features beyond those included in the operating system’s default offerings.

Customize Your Text-to-Speech Settings

Whether you’re using a Mac or a Windows-based computer, you’ll find built-in text-to-speech capabilities. These features can be activated in specific contexts, such as when using your word-processing program.

Adjust the various settings to fine-tune the narrator’s voice volume and speaking speed to your liking. These adjustments are highly personal and should align with your individual preferences.

Way 3: Utilizing Tablets and Smartphones

Explore different mobile devices

Dive into the world of mobile devices, where a plethora of Apple and Android-based options await your consideration. Each of these devices boasts its unique accessibility features, and you may find that some align better with your needs than others.

Thankfully, accessing these accessibility features on your phone or tablet is typically straightforward and user-friendly, allowing you to customize them as needed. Unlike computers, you might need to make more frequent adjustments due to changing lighting conditions and other factors affecting your screen visibility.

In your quest for the ideal mobile device, prioritize not only accessibility but also the ergonomic feel that suits your comfort and mobility preferences.

Modify the Visual Configuration

Upon acquiring a new tablet or smartphone, take the initiative to access the accessibility menu promptly. Dive into the vision settings, and meticulously fine-tune them until your screen becomes both visible and navigable to your satisfaction.

If you find the text on the menu too diminutive for your initial adjustments, consider enlisting the assistance of someone you trust. Many retailers offer post-purchase setup assistance at no additional cost, ensuring your device is tailored precisely to your preferences.

Incorporate a Wireless Keyboard for Enhanced Accessibility

Integrate a wireless keyboard with your device to elevate its accessibility, rendering it as functional as your computer. With this addition, you’ll gain access to a familiar array of applications, features, and shortcut keys you’re already accustomed to.

Opt for a Screenless Home Device

Consider acquiring a screenless home device, especially if you have limited experience with computers, which may make it challenging to remember keyboard shortcuts or navigate accessibility menus. A voice-activated speaker can grant you internet access without relying on these features.

These home devices, exemplified by options like Google Home or Amazon Echo, seamlessly connect to your home Wi-Fi network. Through verbal interactions and inquiries, you can harness their capabilities to access the internet, retrieve information, and make purchases or inquiries.

Furthermore, these versatile devices serve as valuable entertainment hubs, allowing you to enjoy music, podcasts, and even have them read news and entertainment articles aloud for your convenience.