Macular Degeneration: Assistive Technology For Computer Use

Much of our modern communication and entertainment comes from a computer screen. But when you have macular degeneration, it can be harder to manage some of your regular computing activities. Fortunately, assistive technology products can help you regain some control over your devices. And considering the significant role that computers now play in our everyday lives, finding the right assistive technology products is important.

There are several common types of technology used with computers. Input devices, such as keyboards, can be modified in a variety of ways to increase contrast and make them more visible. Screen magnification can be accomplished through both purchased hardware or software as well as features native to the operating system. And screen reading programs can also be found as both native or separately purchased programs.

Computer Input Devices

There are two things to consider when looking for the right computer input device. Keyboards will become easier to see as you increase either the size or the contrast of the keycaps.

Increasing the size offers the same type of benefit a large print book does. The text is essentially magnified, making it easier to see. There are several ways to accomplish the enlargement of the keyboard.

Some people chose to use covers for their current keyboard. Stickers or skins can be purchased as an overlay for whatever style you already have. Many people find this is helpful enough, especially when they don’t want to give up the feel of a keyboard their hands have gotten used to. Another way to increase the size of the keys is to buy a new keyboard with large print. The bigger, bolder typeface makes the letters easier to see.

The contrast between the letters on the keycaps and the rest of the keyboard can also make a difference. Some keyboards are offered in different color combinations. You can choose which one is easier on your eyes. Common combinations are black on white, white on black, and black on yellow.

Screen Magnification For Computers And Phones

There are three different ways you can accomplish screen magnification through assistive technology. Magnifiers can be purchased that sit in front of the screen, like a magnifying glass. Magnifying software programs can be purchased and installed to enlarge the text on the screen. And some devices come with native programs that enlarge text without having to bother with an installation.

Screen magnifiers can be considered computer hardware since they are designed to fit certain sizes and type of computer screens. They are designed specifically for screens, unlike the magnifiers you use for books and other printed text. Typically screen magnifiers mount on the screen or hang from the top of the monitor. They can be purchased in different sizes to fit your computer better. Screen magnifiers also reduce glare. They usually can magnify a screen anywhere from 50 to 200 percent.  

Magnifying software programs are the choice of people who want even more magnification and navigation options. Software programs are often the best choice for Microsoft users. Since a software program can allow you to zoom into certain parts of the screen, magnification can be achieved more than 3000 percent. Larger screen views can also be managed up to 400 percent. And products such as iZoom allow you to not only adjust the size of the text but also do color enhancements to reduce eye strain.

For Mac OS X and iOS products, Apple has built in Zoom, a screen magnification app. Zoom is able to magnify text and graphics up to five times on smaller devices, such as the iPhone or iPad, and up to 40 times on the iMac, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro. Zoom can be activated on the handheld devices by going to “Settings” > “General” > “Accessibility” > “Zoom.” On the computer, it can be turned on under “Universal Access” in the “Systems” row under “Systems Preferences.”

Screen Reading Programs

According to The American Foundation for the Blind, “Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display.”

Most Windows computers use readers, such as iZoom. Yes, iZoom can be installed onto your computer as a magnifier, but it can also read the text out loud, as well. And one neat feature of iZoom is that it can be purchased in a USB form that can be used on almost any computer. Instead of being restricted to using only your personal computer that has iZoom software, you can plug your iZoom USB in at your friend’s house, or the library, without having to worry about being granted any permissions by the host device.

For Apple users, there is a native app called VoiceOver.  VoiceOver is found on macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and iPod operating systems. To turn VoiceOver on on your iPhone, simply press the home button three times in a row, or enable it in the Accessibility settings like you would for Zoom. To turn VoiceOver on on a Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences, Universal Access, and then click VoiceOver Utility. You can then turn on VoiceOVer by pressing Command-F5, then holding down the Control and Option keys (the VO key) and pressing F8.

These options for screen reading, screen magnification, and keyboarding should allow you to continue to enjoy using the computer for both work and leisure. And as computers become more and more a part of our daily lives, the technology and innovations are sure to continue to advance.

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