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.