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Visual Impairment Awareness & Assistive Technology

by User Not Found | Oct 18, 2012

Graham Longly visited iansyst to deliver some Visual Impairment Awareness training. Here he discusses the training delivered and talks about Visual Impairment and the technology available to help.

During my visits my guide dog and I were made to feel extremely welcome and I was struck by how friendly and professional everyone was.

There are a lot of myths and assumptions surrounding visual impairment, including: people assuming that all blind people see nothing at all; that all blind people read Braille; that they all have guide dogs; can’t live independently and can’t use a computer. None of these are true. Only about 2-5% see nothing or read Braille, many blind people live on their own independently either through choice or circumstance and there are only around 4500 working guide dogs in this country (compared to 2 million blind people).

As for blind people not being able to use a computer, there are now many adaptations to make this possible. The computer-based software which makes computer screens accessible to a sight impaired person falls into several main categories. These include: screen readers, which verbalise what a person is typing and what is appearing on the screen; screen magnifiers, which enlarge the text on the screen; and screen reader magnifiers, which do both. In addition to this there is OCR software, which when used with a flatbed scanner will convert the printed word into speech or magnify it. There are also Braille printers, Braille displays (which reproduce the contents of the screen in Braille)and Braille note takers which are a bit like a screen-less laptop with either a Braille or ‘QWERTY’ keyboard. In addition, there are also screen readers and magnifiers for mobile phones and talking mp3 players and digital voice recorders.

Away from computers, there are many pieces of equipment to make daily living easier – which range from: talking clocks and watches, talking microwave ovens, talking kitchen and bathroom scales, talking digital radios and even a talking measuring jug which tells you how full it is as you fill it. All of these make life a lot easier for a blind person! From a mobility point of view, we now have GPS for the talking phones and note takers as well as some stand alone units which also talk along with some electronic canes which interpret information in a similar way to how a bat would.

Another myth is that blind people can’t enjoy TV, cinema or the theatre. There is now something called audio description for all of these to enable viewing for the visually impaired. When watching TV (for example) you get extra dialogue when no one is speaking, which describes the non-visual aspects of the programme.

All of this technology gives blind people independence, access to information and a better quality of life. I think the most significant advances in the last ten years have been access to internet and mobile phones giving us access to internet shopping, Facebook, text messaging, etc. It remains to be seen what advances will be made in the next ten years.

Written by: Graham Longly, BA GRAD CIPD CMS

Access Technology Consultant

RNIB BTCS Accredited Jaws Trainer

BCAB EyeT4all Trainer