Computer Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

Technology keeps advancing in leaps and bounds and what once seemed merely a dream now can accomplish with ease. Thanks to computer accessibility persons who once felt left out our behind can now participate on the same levels as their peers. This blog will look at the hardware, software, and future of computer accessibility for the visually impaired.

Hardware

Computer hardware includes the physical parts of a computer, such as the central processing unit (CPU), monitor, mouse, keyboard, graphics card, sound card, and speakers. This section will look at some common hardware items that ILA sells to enhance computer accessibility for the visually impaired.

LogicKeys L. P. Slim Line PC Keyboard: Large Print Keyboards offered by LogicKeys is perfect for those individuals who are having a hard time seeing the existing commands on their keyboards. By offering a bigger and bolder typeface, the keys become easier to see. These keyboards are designed to assist any user but are especially helpful for those with low vision.

Big Track Mouse Ball: The BIGtrack is a valuable tool for users who lack fine motor skills which a regular mouse requires. For example, if you have arthritis an ordinary mouse can be difficult to hold and keep the cursor in position whilst you click. The BIGtrack allows you to settle the cursor in position and then click easily without moving the cursor inadvertently. The giant yellow ball makes it easy to get the cursor to precisely where you want it and you can even do this with your foot or elbow!

LCD Magnifier & Filter For 19″ Screen: Hi-quality fresnel lenses that increase character size up to 2X. It is lightly tinged to enhance contrast. Easy to install by hanging the magnifier from the top of the monitor Dimensions are 19″ measures diagonally from top left corner to bottom right corner. Measurement across width of screen is 16″. The other two sizes available are for a 17” screen and a 15” screen.

Software

By contrast, software is the set of instructions that can be stored and run by hardware. Hardware is so termed because it is “hard” or rigid with respect to changes, whereas software is “soft” because it is easy to change. This section will highly various software that ILA sells to enhance ease of use for the blind or visually impaired consumer.

iZoom Magnifier/Reader on CD 6.0 Version: iZoom software enlarges images on your computer screen up to 36X.  You can also change screen and contrast colors, increase mouse size, realign web pages, and hear entire documents, emails and web pages spoken aloud.  Magnification features include font smoothing, locator enhancements, 8 different zooming modes, and floating windows to “lock” a portion of the screen.  Speech features include mouse echo, typing echo, narration, and speech controls. Speech can be in any of 17 languages, including Spanish.   IZoom is available in either a single install CD version, or a non-installing USB version which you can plug into any computer and use on the spot.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium Version 13.0: Just talk naturally to your computer, using the included microphone, and the words appear on the screen. Because it is fully integrated with WordPerfect and Word, the NaturallySpeaking commands are displayed right in the menu bar. Using voice only, the user can speak commands to proofread, revise and edit test or listen to and dictate e-mail. Switching between applications can be accomplished by telling the computer which program to open. The Spanish version is also available.

Typio Typing Tutor Software: Typio is an accessible typing tutor software program designed for teachers. For the student it has guided audio and large print instructions through the entire keyboard, with fun sound effects. For the teacher it has customizable practice lessons, individual student record keeping with detailed, printable reports, and the ability to review past lessons. Comes with 45 lessons which automatically save progress and advance only when the student meets their pre-set goals. Teachers can also create custom lessons.

The Future of Computer Accessibility

The future of technology uses the current knowledge base and expounds on it. Here are just two examples of things that are on the cutting edge to be the norm in the future.

3D Modeling: Stanford University is increasing access to 3D modeling through touch-based displays. With the goal of increasing access to making, engineers at Stanford University have collaborated with members of the blind and visually impaired community to develop a touch-based display that mimics the geometry of 3D objects designed on a computer. According to graduate student, Alexis Siu, “This project is about empowering a blind user to be able to design and create independently without relying on sighted mediators because that reduces creativity, agency and availability.”

The display is reminiscent of a pin art toy in that it forms shapes from a field of tall, rectangular pegs that move up and down. By inputting the specifications of their desired shape in the accompanying 3D modeling program, users can evaluate their creation via the touchable display. Whenever they alter the shape, they can command the display to render it anew. This tactile display is considered 2.5D rather than 3D because the bottom of the display does not change shape.

The researchers co-designed this system with people who are blind or visually impaired, a process that was integral to making it address the actual needs of its users. In the end, the team produced a system that can rotate a 3D model, zoom in and zoom out on an object, and show it in split sections – such as showing the top and bottom of a cup beside each other. Users can also feel the shape with multiple fingers or their whole hand, which enhances the information they can interpret from the display.

“The feedback we received showed that, even with this coarse display, we can still get meaningful interactions,” said Siu. “That suggests there’s a lot of potential in the future for this kind of system.”

HaptiRead: New Atlas reports on an ultrasound haptic system that projects readable Braille into thin air. For people who rely on Braille, reading displays and signs in public can be a challenge, but a new system could help make things easier. HaptiRead is a haptic feedback device that uses ultrasound pulses in precise patterns to reproduce Braille text in midair.

The HaptiRead system is a panel made up of 256 ultrasound transducers, emitting frequencies of up to 200 Hz – strong enough for a user to feel the pressure on their skin. This kind of technology has previously been put to work to create things like holograms you can touch.

But HaptiRead has an arguably more noble goal in mind. This device projects up to eight haptic points in the air as far as 70 cm (27.6 in) away, which can be arranged to represent different characters in the Braille alphabet.

A built-in Leap Motion depth-sensing camera figures out where a user’s hand is and directs the ultrasonic points towards it. That can help guide a user towards the device in the first place. Plus, there are no moving parts to clog up, and users do not need to actually touch a surface, removing hygiene issues. The system can also be set up to display more complex information, such as charts and graphics.

The team says there’s still much more testing and development to do, but this preliminary study shows that the HaptiRead technology has promise.

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