Top 4 Great Technologies for the Visually Impaired

The advent of wooden-rimmed spectacles in the medieval era was the first technological advance to help the visually impaired, and these days there’s an impressive array of helpful technologies for those who suffer a range of ocular maladies. Here are some of the most important available today.

Screen Readers

Screen readers have been around for quite some time, but they’re still an incredibly useful piece of technology for the visually impaired. Standard screens are not made with Braille in mind and a major disadvantage of that tactile writing system over purely visual ones is that skim reading simply is not possible. However, the use of screen readers can enable the visually impaired to make use of various programs, as well as spend hours devouring Wikipedia articles.

A perfect example of how this works is with old-school MUDs (multi-user dungeons). These games are effectively text-based versions of dungeons and dragons with zero or very few graphics and almost everything represented in a text format. This makes them, coupled with a screen reader, ideal for the visually impaired as all the content can be readily relayed.

An up-to-date example would be Microsoft’s Narrator, which now supports digital Braille. It is built into Windows 10 (no download required) and has a number of shortcuts to improve the user experience (such as getting webpage summaries). An alternative is Magnifier, which not only magnifies the screen but can read aloud too (for those with some sight but not enough to read a standard screen comfortably).

MUDs can still be a lot of fun, although they have been around for a while. More up-to-date games, designed from the ground up to function seamlessly with mobile devices and be fun for players with visual impairments include a range of casino games that offer the chance to win real cash prizes. Themes vary from the Far East to aviation, and just as much attention is paid to sound design as on-screen graphics.

BraiBook – the Braille e-Reader

e-Readers have revolutionized the reading experience in a way that has not happened since scrolls were replaced by books. By using an e-ink that’s easier on the eyes than a normal screen, e-readers take up a small amount of space but can contain hundreds or even thousands of books. And while the blind and visually impaired (who may also take advantage of variable font sizes) can benefit from the read aloud option, that’s not quite the same experience.

Now, however, there is a Braille e-reader – the BraiBook. Converting PDFs, e-pubs, and text documents into both the Braille alphabet and audio, this e-reader is shaped somewhat similarly to a mouse or TV remote control. At the end is a Braille cell through which the letters pass at a speed determined by the reader. Fully charging the BraiBook takes just one hour, with a charge lasting for five hours of continuous use. For people who love being whisked away by books but who suffer visual impairments, the BraiBook is a great way to take their pick from thousands of books.

The Dot Watch

Watches have seen a number of design changes in recent years, from the steampunk style of the wrist-mounted sundial to the advanced Apple Watch. However, for the visually impaired one of the most practically useful items available is the Dot Watch. It’s a smartwatch, that also has Braille functionality.

There’s Bluetooth connectivity which enables the wearer to receive Braille translations of every text their phone gets (which can be read at a speed set by the user). And important messages can be saved to be reviewed later. Plus, there’s an alarm clock, timer, and stopwatch included too.

The Walking Cane gets Updated

Walking sticks are about as low-tech as you can get in their most basic form, but lightweight white canes for the blind were something of an upgrade, not only helping the visually impaired avoid obstacles, but alerting other pedestrians so they know to take a little extra care. However, useful as white canes are, they are not perfect, and this room for improvement has led to new development.

The WeWALK smart cane (which also has a related app) uses ultrasound to detect potential obstacles and avoid collisions with objects significantly higher (such as branches that stretch across a walkway). When such an obstacle at chest level is identified an audio alert lets the user know so they can avoid walking into trouble. In addition, the WeWALK smart cane allows map apps to be used so you do not have to have the cane in one hand and your smartphone in the other, but instead can have one hand free.

Advances in technology have helped to make life easier for those with visual impairments, as the above real-life examples prove.