Trick-or-Treating with Someone Who is Visually Impaired

“What if they fall on the stairs?” “What if their costume trips them?” These are a couple of the common questions that parents have when they are first introducing trick-or-treating to their child who has a visual impairment.

Yes, Halloween night may be scary, but that should only be from the decorations, not your from your fears of what might happen.

Trick-or-treating with a child who is visually impaired should not only be fun, but it should also be a great learning opportunity.

Choosing a Costume

Choosing a costume is a great opportunity for your child to show autonomy and be independent. Let them pick something they n be excited about, as long as it doesn’t violate any family rules for appropriateness.

It may be wise for children with low vision to skip out on masks in favor of some face paint. But if you can make it work for them, then try. Sometimes using flashlights or lanterns can help vision by increasing the lighting.

If your child has any sensory issues, try the costume on before Halloween night. Costumes can sometimes be itchy or scratchy. Or maybe they just feel weird. Either way, you don’t want to make this discovery on the big day, after you’ve walked several blocks from home.

Having Fun While Staying Safe

The point of Halloween is to have fun! But getting injured or having an accident can take away from the enjoyment of the evening. That’s why it’s important to observe a few safety tips.

If your child has a costume that includes footwear, long hems, or pants with stirrup straps, have them walk around inside (before going out) to see if any of these things present a tripping hazard. Long scarfs can also slip down and get tangled up around your feet, so consider that, too. If anything looks like it’s too long or slipping out of place, make some alterations to secure or adjust these accessories.

Decide ahead of time who is going to accompany your child. If they are younger, it will most likely be you. If they are teens, they may want to go out with a group of friends or siblings on their own. Use your best judgment and make sure that whoever they go with is aware of any special needs and can handle an emergency.

Consider skipping streets that have uneven sidewalks, road construction, or are generally not well maintained. Neighborhoods with well kept, even sidewalks will make the trip from house to house less stressful.

Embracing a Learning Opportunity

Trick-or-treating is a fun way to practice navigating the community. It may be helpful to practice walking your route a few days ahead, to give your child time to learn the terrain.

Talk through the process of using their cane or sensory information to evaluate the environment. Listen for traffic patterns and discuss how they will be different on Halloween night. You can also use your own front door to practice knocking, listening, and responding appropriately when the door opens.  

If you have supplies to make a tactile map of your route, do that together and let your child memorize it at home before the big day. Another way to practice routes is to plug in a destination and walk with your phone’s GPS on. This gives an auditory label to each intersection where you plan to turn.


No matter what your plans are for the evening, ILA wants to wish you a Happy Halloween!


Why Using an OCR Machine Helps Reduce Eye Strain

In the past, we’ve talked about how screens can contribute to eye strain. So it may seem counter-intuitive to use a screen to reduce eye strain. But that’s just what an optical character recognition machine (OCR) is used for.

What is an OCR Machine?

An OCR machine is a machine that has software that can read printed text and turn it into something that can be processed on a computer. A simplified explanation is that an OCR machine can take a picture of a page of written or printed words and “read them.” That allows it to input the words into the computer and turn it into a text or document file. That file can then be used in other ways by the computer.

When using an OCR machine, it is helpful to get the best, clearest copy of your materials for the machine to scan. That will make it easier for the machine to read, giving you a more complete, accurate document. OCR machines read printed text character by character, word by word, and line by line. So while the speed has improved over the years, it’s still not an instantaneous read.

The basic OCR machine was invented in the 1920s. But it wasn’t until almost 1950 that the machine became fast enough to be practical. Still, it only read at a rate of about 60 words per minute. Not exactly the best listening experience. The technology continued to improve slowly, until 2000. That’s when advances in OCR technology sped up due to Carnegie Mellon University developing an OCR system that combined the reading with Artificial Intelligence that helped weed out errors and recognize more difficult text.

How Can an OCR Machine Help with Eye Strain?

People with low vision can experience eye strain when they are reading text that is too small, or that is not lit well enough. An OCR machine can take a page from a book and enlarge it on your computer screen. This allows you to have control over the text size. (Every book can be large print edition!)

The screen of the machine can also be adjusted for brightness and contrast. If you need more light, brightness can be turned up. If you need less light and less glare, you can turn it down. Depending on what type of software you are using, the text and background can be manipulated in a way that creates an optimal viewing situation for you.

Also, if you are blind, or if you have a day where reading is just too tedious, you can use an OCR machine to read the text aloud. While there are many books on tape already, you can’t find recordings of your personal documents, such as a letter from your friend or a bill from the doctor. With an OCR machine, anything that is good enough quality to scan can be read aloud.

Where Can You Find an OCR Machine?

OCR machines can be purchased online. ILA has several OCR machines, like the Patriot Voice Plus Scanner and Reader, the Issist ReadDesk-Lite, and the Mercury 12” Windows Magnifier.  Each of these products varies in size and function. Whatever your needs are, you should be able to find a machine that fits the bill. Because of the technology involved, OCR machines are more expensive than magnifiers or audio book readers. But they remove so many barriers that it’s worth the investment.


To see all of our readers and scanners, check out the Readers and Scanners product page.


How to Manage Your Personal Eye Care

Have you ever thought about eye health as something you can personally manage? While we often take ownership of things like weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure by changing our diet and activity level, eye health often gets left to chance. Going to your annual eye exam once a year is a step in the right direction, but there are things you can do at home to help manage your personal eye care and prevent problems.

Protect Your Eyes

Environmental contaminants can damage your eyesight. When working on projects or in the yard, sometimes you may need to wear protective glasses. If you are woodworking, doing projects with strong chemicals, or even mowing the yard, you are at risk for particles or chemicals getting your eye. It may be inconvenient and slightly uncomfortable to wear safety glasses, but it’s worth preventing damage that is possibly irreversible.

Smoking can also damage your eyesight. According to All About Vision, people who smoke are at greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, uveitis, and other eye problems.

Block Blue Light

Though the studies on blue light are still in their infancy, there is evidence to suggest that this particular type of light can be damaging to eyes. The University of Toledo did a preliminary study which seemed to indicate that blue light is a problem. Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, “Blue light appears to damage retinal cells. It is still unclear how much blue light and for how long it’s necessary to damage these sight-seeing cells. We do know the damage is irreversible.”

Some of the ways you can block blue light are by wearing special sunglasses and by using blue light filters on your phones and computers. The Reticare Eye Protector for iPhone is a product that both protects the screen of your phone as well as filters out the potentially toxic light that emanates from your screen. Blue-blocking sunglasses, such as the NoIR line, filter out harmful light while keeping visual contrast crisp and clear.

Improve Your Lighting

Good lighting can prevent eye strain and improve your ability to read and differentiate between small details and colors when doing project work. Whether you are inside your home or at the office, improving your lighting is a way of managing your eye care.

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to improve lighting is to make use of natural light. Open blinds, and position desks and chairs in a way that casts outside light on your work space. Brighten up your surrounding area by choosing a lighter paint color that will help reflect natural light. The only thing to guard against is glare. Surfaces that are too bright or too white can also hurt your vision.

When natural light isn’t easy to access, you can add lamps to your space. But not all lamps are created equal. Task lamps like the 24 Watt Better Vision Floor Lamp emit light that is more natural. They reduce glare and increase contrast. You also want to consider how adjustable your lamp it. Can it be positioned over projects and work areas, or are you limited by a rigid frame?

Protecting your eyes, blocking blue light, and improving your lighting are all ways to manage your eye care and preserve your vision between visits to your eye doctor. Don’t feel that you have to leave your visual health up to chance!


To explore different options for lighting, check out ILA’s Lamps and Lighting page here!

Top 3 At-Home Health Monitoring Systems to Have on Hand

One of the best ways to avoid serious health problems is to be proactive by using at-home monitoring systems. Monitoring systems can help you catch a trend in your numbers before something becomes dramatically out of balance.

Just like keeping certain tools in your toolbox can help you keep your house in good repair, keeping certain health “tools” on hand will allow you to keep your body in tip-top shape.

But how do you know which ones are the most useful? With all of the options out there, you’d hate to spend your money on something unnecessary. The best place to start is with the basics: scales, blood pressure monitor, and glucose meters.

Bathroom Scales

Let’s start with the tool that most people already have in their bathroom. The bathroom scale. Of course, you can keep your scale wherever you want. Some people choose to put it near their exercise equipment. The important thing is that you own one.

According to the National Institute of Health, more than 2 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity. Being overweight can put you at risk for many other health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Having a scale in your home helps you keep an eye on your weight so you can catch any sudden trends upward.

If you start to become overweight, or you gain or lose a significant amount of weight suddenly, you should talk to your doctor. Other health conditions or medications could be causing your weight to shift. Or you may need to consider a new exercise and diet routine.

Scales can be as simple or high tech as you want them to be. Sometimes lower tech scales are less accurate, but they may still serve their purpose. One of our favorite scales is the Talking Personal Weight Scale. It has a sleek, modern look, but is rugged enough to hold up to 440 pounds. And if you are visually impaired, it helps to have the audible announcements.

Blood Pressure Meters

Monitoring your blood pressure is important to do whether you think you have problems or not. Sometimes your body can feel “normal” because it has become used to abnormal numbers. High blood pressure can stress your arteries and contribute to heart attack and stroke. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness and fainting.

Checking your blood pressure should be a scheduled activity, so you can make sure reading don’t vary more because of time of day. The first measurement should be taken in the morning. This lets you see your reading before it’s affected by any foods or medications. The second measurement should be taken in the evening.

And every time you measure, take several readings to make sure your results are accurate and that they all generally agree with each other. Each time you measure, take two or three readings to make sure your results are accurate.

Our Bilingual Talking Blood Pressure Meter is not only good for measuring blood pressure and heart rate, but it also will display a heart icon if an irregular heartbeat is detected.

Glucose Meters

Some people believe you should only use a glucose meter if you have been diagnosed as having diabetes. However, keep an eye on your sugar levels can help you catch diabetes or prediabetes before you feel any physical symptoms. So if you are at risk for developing the condition, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor if you should start monitoring now.

Before eating a meal, your ideal blood sugar levels should be between 70-130 mg/dL. One to two hours after beginning a meal they should be less than 180 mg/dL. If you have diabetes, you will likely need to check your blood sugar several times a day.

Today’s monitoring systems are faster and more accurate than they’ve ever been. Our Prodigy Voice Talking Glucose Meter has totally audible step-by-step instructions, accurate blood glucose test results and a memory that stores 450 test results and gives averages of 7, 14, 21, 28, 60 and 90 days. No coding is required. Simply insert the test strip into the easy to locate port, and the voice automatically turns on.

ILA has a variety of meters and devices to help you stay independent and healthy with at-home monitoring. Check out our Healthcare section for even more options!


School Tools: Low-tech Aids to Help You in the Classroom

Sometimes when we imagine aids for the classroom, we only think of high-tech solutions like special computer programs, high-definition magnifiers, or anything that requires electricity, batteries, or the internet. But there are many low-tech products that can make your life easier, too.  

Paper Products

Making some simple adjustments to the standard pencil and paper setup can go a long way. One of the easiest changes to make is to buy bold line writing paper. Typically the lines on this type of paper are thicker and darker than your standard paper.  They are also usually spaced farther apart. This notepad is an example of bold line paper that has lines spaced more than half an inch apart.

Another modification that can be made is to add color to your sheet. Yellow is one of the most common colors used, because it provides a lot of contrast.  Notepads like the Yellow Bold Line Writing Paper print their lines on yellow paper.

For tactile assistance, you can buy paper with raised lines. Raised line paper is similar to bold lined paper in that the lines are spaced far apart, and they are thicker and easier to see.  But the big difference is that the lines are also thick enough to feel. This helps you find your place with your fingers and can also keep your writing instrument from slipping above or below the lines.

Reading Options

Books on tape and e-readers are really handy, but sometimes it’s nice to just carry a physical copy of a text with you. Your level of visual impairment will determine what works best, but options range from large print books to braille.

The National Library Service makes large print books and magazines available through their loan program. Many local library branches also have large print texts on hand, or they can get them quickly through their local interlibrary loan.

The same goes for braille editions of books and magazines. The National Library Service will also deliver these books to your door, once you’ve registered for their service.

Sometimes reading difficulties can be addressed by changing the contrast on the page or reducing the glare from white paper. An easy way to fix this issue is to slip acetate transparent sheets over the page you are reading.  Yellow is the most preferred color, but our kit includes a variety of colors so you can try them out and see what works best for you.

Writing Utensils

Some of the same concepts that apply to your paper products also apply to your writing utensils. Pens that increase contrast or make thicker lines will be easier to see.  If you’re not quite sure which type of pen will work best for you, you can try our Low Vision Pens sampler pack. It comes with four different pens to try.

A bold line pencil is also an option. Pencils are economical and won’t smudge ink on your clothes or fingers. The Faber Castell #8B pencil is what we carry and recommend.

As always, you can see our full range of products on our website. If you are looking for something specific for the classroom, type your keywords in the search bar, and it will check our site for suggestions.