3.2.1 Assistive Technology for blindness or vision impairment

Blind persons and persons with vision impairment can use a variety of assistive technologies to access computers and electronic content.

  • Enhancements to the visual display of the computer - Adjustments can be made to the visual display using built-in system controls or free software. These adjustments provide higher contrast and can enlarge icons, display fonts and mouse cursors.
  • Screen magnification - Screen magnification may be possible within the operating system of the computer. A large number of screen magnification programs are also available.
  • Alternatives to the visual display - These include screen readers, which speak the text displayed on the screen, and refreshable Braille displays, which translate the text to Braille. Examples of screen readers include the following: JAWS, NVDA, Windows Eyes, Homepage Reader and ORCA.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR) - Document scanners, in conjunction with OCR software, can translate printed text to electronic text that can be magnified or read aloud using the AT mentioned above.
  • Notetakers, or accessible Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) - These are specialized and portable combined hardware and software solutions that typically incorporate a refreshable Braille display and screen-reading functionality. Examples include Braille 'n Speak, Type 'n Speak, Braille Lite Millennium (or 2000), Type Lite, BrailleNote (and VoiceNote), PAC Mate and BrailleSense.78 These devices cost in the region of USD 6,000 or more.
  • Braillers - Brailler is the name generally given to a low-tech mechanical device, similar to a typewriter, with the capability for direct output of embossed Braille onto paper.

Fig 3.7 Example of a Notetaker with an 18 cell Braille display, 9 buttons of Braille dot based input, a speaker and audio jack for audio output79

The following video shows a demonstration of the BrailleNote computer.  

The following video is a basic overview of the JAWS screen reader. 


78For a comparison of Notetakers versus laptop computers for the blind, please see http://nfb.org/legacy/bm/bm03/bm0304/bm030407.htm
For further information on Notetakes and Accessible PDAs please see http://www.myflorida.com/dbs/assistive-technology/notetakers.php
79Device shown is a BrailleNote from HumanWare