Assistive technology: visual impairments
The wide range of assistive technologies for people with visual impairments provides plenty of choice for users at all stages of sight loss.
A screen reader is a specialised type of software that converts electronic text to speech and outputs it to headphones, speakers or refreshable braille devices, in line with user preference.
Screen readers utilise an accessibility API (a software "hook") to access either a web browser and the web content it renders or a computer's operating system, which in turn communicates with certain computer software.
A screen magnifier is software that interacts with a computer to present enlarged screen content.
Speech recognition software
Speech recognition software allows people to operate their computer and enter data using voice rather than a mouse or a keyboard.
Text-to-speech (TTS) software
Text-to-speech software converts written text such as, text files, web pages, PDFs and emails into audio files that can play on a wide range of devices, such as computers, MP3 players, iPods and CD players.
Optical character recognition (OCR) software
OCR software takes scanned text and converts the scanned image into to an electronic text file, which can be saved and edited.
Large monitors make on-screen reading easier by providing more space on-screen, for people to manage preferences in their operating systems for how certain elements are displayed.
Closed circuit television (CCTV)
CCTVs are stationary standalone devices that use cameras to magnify large format printed materials and objects. The materials are inserted into a shelf in the device, which displays the magnified images on-screen.
Hand held electronic magnifiers
Hand held electronic magnifiers work in a similar way to CCTVs, are standalone devices but unlike CCTVs, they are smaller and are laid flat on objects to magnify smaller items or pieces of text.
Dictation devices and transcription
Dictation devices allow people to record meetings or take notes that can be transcribed from the recording made. Most devices are standalone and require human translation, although there are some devices that have integrated or bolt-on translators, but the output is not always accurate so human review is still required.
Scanners convert images from printed material to a computer file. The type of scanner used in the context of assistive technology is a flatbed scanner, which scans at a high resolution and can be accessed by a wide range of other assistive technology devices.
Standalone reading machines
Standalone reading machines integrate a scanner, optical character recognition software (OCR), and speech software and functions without the need for a computer. Users place printed material or an object that they would like to read into the device, which scans it, coverts it into text and then reads the text out loud.
Fusers and swell paper
Fusers are used to produce tactile printed materials, such as diagrams and maps, on especially designed swell paper.
There are several different types of devices that utilise braille technology and provide discrete outcomes based on user needs.
Refreshable braille displays
Refreshable braille displays are electronic devices that connect to computers and produce tactile Braille output from what is on-screen.
Braille notetakers are mobile devices that use either a braille or QWERTY keyboard for input and voice and/or refreshable braille for output. They also use a variety of methods to connect to and transfer information to and from other devices.
Braille embossers are specialised printers that produce braille embossed documents. They use braille translation software to convert electronic documents into braille before printing.
Braille writers can be either manual or electronic devices that are used for braille input. Manual braille writers produce braille onto paper and electronic braille writers input braille directly into a computer.
Braille translation software
Braille translation software is used in conjunction with a braille embosser. Electronic documents are loaded into the translation software and can be edited, if necessary, before printing.
A standard keyboard may not be suitable for people who have low vision.
Many people who have low vision use either large print keyboards with high contrast colours or large print adhesive keyboard stickers in high contrast colours than are affixed to a standard keyboard.
Audio description is the provision of an additional narration track for audio visual content displayed on a television, video, computer or cinema screen, for viewers who wish to access it. It describes what is happening on-screen and utilises the natural pauses in the audio in order to be unobtrusive.
There are devices available for VI people using a variety of formats, but the main formats that are being promoted are the DAISY format, which requires a DAISY Player, and the mp3 format, which is the standard format for digital audio for music, podcasts and audio books.
Digital books are available via handheld devices or tablets and use a variety of formats, many of which are specific to the device being used.
Explore assistive technologies by impairment
From alternative mice to touch screens, discover the types of assistive technology available for people with a physical impairment.
From assistive listening devices to closed captioning, discover the types of assistive technology available for people with a hearing impairment.