Archive for March, 2017

Tools for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired to Access Electronic Information

It is estimated that there are over 10 million vision impaired people in the United States today. For children pursuing their education, being visually impaired can be a challenge, but now there are many options available for assistance that we never had before.

So much of the information that we receive these days is obtained through digital technology, and assistive technology tools are available to help people who are blind or visually impaired get access to information using computers and other electronic devices.

All current operating systems have built in accessibility options for different browsers and devices. The software will provide information on how to adjust settings to change colors or font sizes or even access text to speech options, and software is available to increase accessibility and choices, including tools for accessing print information.


Some of the main accessibility tools available now for use by children and students of all ages include:

Screen Magnification Software

There are numerous software programs available that allow an individual to magnify what is shown on the computer screen. Most of these programs allow users to increase the size of the image on the screen, change the color of the background and the font type, select enlarged or different color cursors and arrows, and have some type of TTS (text-to-speech) capability.

Screen-Reading Software

The use of screen-reading software, known as TTS or text-to-speech, enables a user to hear the text that is displayed on a screen. These programs use a sound card in the computer to produce the speech, which can be heard through speakers or headphones. The user controls the screen-reading technology through keyboard commands to choose what information on the screen to read aloud and to control how it is read. Interpreting photos, images and other graphics is a challenge but technology is getting better and better at handling dynamic visual information.

Refreshable Braille Displays

A refreshable braille display, also known as a braille terminal, is an electro-mechanical device for displaying braille characters. It allows the user to feel a braille representation of the text that is on the computer screen. The display consists of plastic pins that are raised and lowered to form the corresponding braille characters as the cursor moves across the print on the screen. Braille displays are typically 20, 40, or 80 braille cells in length. Braille displays must be used in combination with screen-reading software.

Assistive Technology – An Overview

There are many methods available for a visually impaired person to access digital content (websites, documents, etc.). Some of the most common are screen readers, including text-to-speech (TTS), screen magnifiers and braille displays.

The majority of screen reader software will simply read the text on a web page or document in a uniform, static way, from top to bottom and left to right. Only if the content creator builds accessibility into their documents and websites can assistive technologies be used in a dynamic way, allowing the reader to experience the website or document as completely as sighted people do. Digital accessibility comes from content creators, not from assistive technologies.


Examples of Screen Reader Assistive Technology include:

Screen Readers

Screen readers are software apps that identify and interpret what is being displayed on a screen, allowing blind or visually impaired users to read the text with a speech synthesizer or braille display. A screen reader is the interface between a computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user. Screen readers are a form of assistive technology (AT) that are useful for addressing many types of special needs, including assistance for the blind or visually impaired, people who are illiterate, or those who have learning disabilities.

Screen Magnifiers

A screen magnifier is an app that interfaces with a computer’s graphical output to display enlarged screen content. Screen magnifiers are used by visually impaired people who have some functional vision, and can be particularly useful for the elderly. Screen magnifiers are not useful for those who have little or no vision.

Text-to-Speech Software

Text-to-Speech software converts the written word into audio. TTS software is useful for the visually impaired as well as being a good teaching tool. The ability to hear accents and pronunciation is useful for learning languages.

TTY (Text Telephone)

TTY is also sometimes called a TDD, or Telecommunication Device for the Deaf, but TTY is the more commonly used term because TTYs are used by many people, not just people who are hearing-impaired. TTY is one of the oldest assistive technologies. In the 1960s and 1970s, deaf researchers in the United States developed relay services to enable deaf and hearing people to communicate with each other. These early devices were called teletypewriters, or TTY, and they connected to a phone system specifically created for the hearing-impaired.

Nowadays TTY conversion modems are connected between computers and telephones to allow an individual to type a message on a computer and send it to a TTY telephone. With TTY, someone who cannot hear can use the telephone by typing what they want to say and reading what the other party says. With TTY texts can also be sent via telephone. A person using a TTY can converse directly over the phone line with anyone else using a TTY or computer with the appropriate software.