I started learning about assistive technology for low vision when I was in high school, and I remember the feelings of being overwhelmed with the amount of different technologies that were available for people with vision loss, and excitement over getting to learn how everything is implemented and how I could use it in my daily life.
Since then, I have studied assistive technology in college and created my website Veronica With Four Eyes to introduce readers to the amazing world of low vision assistive technology. Here is an A-to-Z list of different types of assistive technology for low vision, and how they are used. I believe that if someone is proficient with all 26 items on this list, they will be an accessibility superstar!
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio, is an additional narration track that describes visual information for people who otherwise might not be able to see it. Audio description can be played openly where everyone can hear it or on an assisted listening device (ALD) where only the person wearing headphones can hear it.
- Many movie theaters offer audio description for new release films, and guests listen to the audio tracks on an ALD
- Streaming video providers including Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and more have open audio description on select content
- Amusement parks like Disney World/Disneyland make audio description devices available for guests that provide information on various areas in the park
- Audio description is available for many plays and musicals, including Broadway productions. Guests can listen to descriptions on an ALD or on their personal phone
- Several museums incorporate audio description into exhibits, including art museums and national parks
- Fast Facts About Audio Description
- Described And Captioned Media Program Review
- How To Use Audio Description Devices at Disney World and Disneyland
- Using GalaPro Audio Description at Chicago
- Visiting The Museum of Modern Art With Vision Loss
- Visiting The Gateway Arch Museum With Low Vision
Blindness canes are used by people with low or no vision to navigate unfamiliar environments. People typically learn how to use blindness canes from orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists that are trained to help people navigate their environment in a nonvisual way. Blindness canes come in many different styles, with options for customizing colors, tips, handles, length, and more.
- The rolling marshmallow cane tip is one of the most commonly used blindness cane tips, and is the one that I use every day on my college campus
- Blindness canes can come in many colors, including custom colors- I love my pink and purple canes!
- The state department/state unit for vision impairment can provide canes for free or at a low cost
- The rigid NFB canes with metal tips are also a popular choice and can be ordered for free online through the NFB’s White Cane Program.
- Decoding The Tips of Blindness Canes
- Five Questions To Ask When Buying A Blindness Cane
- How To Order Custom Colors for Blindness Canes
- Navigating College Campuses/College O&M series
- Services Provided By State Department/State Unit for Visual Impairment
- Free White Cane Program | National Federation of the Blind (nfb.org)
Computers are an example of mainstream technology that have several built-in features that can be used as assistive technology for people with low vision. While each operating system has different names for various accessibility features, computers generally feature settings including text-to-speech, screen readers, screen magnification, large print, and options for displaying information in various formats.
- I use my computer to complete assignments for my classes, typing answers and enlarging text as needed
- Another option for displaying content is to use screen mirroring, which allows a user to duplicate their device display to another monitor, making it easier to see information up close
- Laptop computers and desktop computers are both great options for people with low vision- one type of computer isn’t superior to the other
- The most common operating systems include Windows, Mac, and ChromeOS
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Computers
- Why I Prefer My Schoolwork Digitally: Updated Edition
- Questions To Ask When Choosing A Laptop For College
- Questions To Ask When Choosing A Desktop Computer For College
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Windows 10
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For MacBooks
The device camera that is built into a cell phone or tablet can be used as assistive technology in a pinch, and is frequently used by people with low vision to quickly magnify things, especially items such as restaurant menus, signs, and short documents. There are also many different assistive technology apps that utilize the device camera, so users should be familiar with how to stabilize an image and take a clear photo.
- I used my device camera to zoom in on a handwritten note and have the text recognized by an app on my phone
- Device cameras can be used with visual assistance apps like Be My Eyes, Aira, and Seeing AI for identifying information
- Another option is to take a picture of an object and zoom in within the phone gallery to read the text
- Reading Handwriting With Assistive Technology
- Google Lens Review For Low Vision
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision
- How I Use Be My Eyes With Low Vision
- BeSpecular App Review For Visually Impaired Users
Many people with low vision also have a print disability, which is defined as the inability to read standard print. It can be difficult to find physical copies of large print books, and traditional printed books don’t allow users to customize the font size or background color, so electronic books are a great resource for people with vision loss. Electronic books can be displayed in large print or read out loud
- Bookshare, National Library Services Talking Book Library, and Learning Ally are all examples of services that provide accessible books for users with print disabilities, including visual impairment
- Accessible Educational Materials for K-12 students are provided by a state accessible materials agency- in Virginia, this is AIM-VA
- eBooks can be read on an eReader, tablet, computer, or other mainstream technology device
- There are a few different file formats for accessible electronic books, including EPUB, MP3, DAISY, and others (see next section)
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: eReaders
- How I’m Using My eReader To Support Virtual Learning
- My Favorite Digital Library Resources For Low Vision
- Ten Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Bookshare
- All About AIM-VA
Accessible file formats can be configured and customized for users with low vision, including options for enlarging the font size, background color, font style, text-to-speech, and others. Some file formats can be displayed in another application like a notetaking app or simplified reading display that does not edit the original file or change the formatting.
- Tagged PDF documents provide multiple options for accessibility, including having text read out loud, displayed in a simplified reading display, or imported and annotated in a program like Notability
- Word/DOCX file formats are a popular choice for writing and editing text
- Users can download content in multiple file formats for improved access- for example, downloading an EPUB and MP3 file and listening to the audio track while reading
- File Formats For Low Vision and Print Disabilities
- Using Blackboard Ally With Low Vision
- Notability and Low Vision
- Capti Voice Narrator App Review
Many people with vision loss use a guide in addition to or instead of a blindness cane for navigating unfamiliar environments. A common term used for people who act as a guide is a human guide- the term sighted guide is not generally used because a person with limited usable vision can still act as a guide for someone. Guide dogs are another type of guide, and requires training for both the dog and the owner to learn how to navigate various environments.
- A human guide can be used to dictate surrounding information or keep someone from bumping into obstacles
- Guide dogs can be trained to help blind and low vision users to navigate their environment
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- Should I Request a Human Guide At a Conference?
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Guide Each Other?
High-resolution images are helpful for users with low vision as they can be enlarged, scaled, and magnified without losing image quality. High resolution images can be found online with search filters or created in another program. They may also be referred to as high quality/HQ images, 4K resolution, or other terms indicating a high image quality.
- Google and Bing have search filters for finding high-resolution images
- High resolution graphics can be created in drawing programs like Paint, PowerPoint, and PicsArt
- Users can scan high resolution images with scanning devices such as scanner pens and mobile applications- I use the ScanMarker Air and Microsoft Office Lens
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Low Vision
- How To Make Music Accessible With Microsoft PowerPoint
- Using PicsArt To Simulate Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Diagrams For Low Vision
- ScanMarker Air: OCR Scanner Pen for Low Vision
- How To Make Historical Documents Accessible For Low Vision
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
Image descriptions/alt text
Alt text and image descriptions are text-based descriptions of visual details in an image written primarily for people who are visually impaired (inclusive of blind/low vision). If an image fails to load on a website, alt text will be displayed in its place, and alt text is also used for search engine optimization.
Image descriptions are similar to alt text descriptions that are used by screen readers, but are displayed so that they can be seen by anyone, usually in the caption of an image
- Social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook support alt text for social media posts, though the exact process for adding alt text varies across platforms
- Automatic alt text is a tool that can help generate basic descriptions for images, but is often inaccurate and fails to capture various nuances in an image
- Alt text can (and should) be added to images on websites, documents, social media posts, and other image content.
- Images without alt text are skipped/ignored and can be frustrating for people who use assistive technology
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Add Alt Text On Social Media
- How To Write Alt Text For Memes
- How To Access Images Without Alt Text
- My Ideas For Improving Alt Text Features On Social Media
Jingles and auditory feedback can provide helpful information for people with low vision that may not notice visual changes in an object or on a screen. These can be used in addition to other assistive technology like screen readers, or enabled by themselves. Another option is haptic feedback, which vibrates or provides another tactile alert- a phone ringing on vibrate is an example of haptic feedback
- Users can enable audio feedback in the “Options” section of Microsoft applications to get information about various functions
- Liquid level indicators beep when a cup is filled to a certain level
- Balls and gym equipment can be adapted for low vision and make it easier to track where a ball or other item is located
- Seven Accessibility Features You Didn’t Know Existed In Microsoft Office
- Science Labs and Low Vision
- Gym Classes and Low Vision
There are several types of keyboards that are designed for people with low vision, including options for large print and dual media (print/braille) displays, high contrast color schemes, modified layouts, and many more. There are also several options for customizing onscreen keyboards for low vision, such as increasing the font size and adding pop-up letters.
- My computer’s keyboard has yellow keys and large black letters that are easy to identify
- Another option for customizing mainstream keyboards is to add vinyl stickers on top of the keys, which can display large print and/or braille
- Many smartphones support keyboard customization features including changing the background color, adding haptic or audio feedback, and options for other text input such as dictation
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Keyboards
- Learning How To Type With Typer
- Texting and Low Vision
- How To Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts in Windows
- Computer Mice and Mouse Alternatives For Low Vision
Large print is an invaluable resource for people with low vision who have trouble reading standard sized font. Large print does not refer to a specific font size, rather it is any font size that is 14 pt or larger. Almost every person with low vision has their own definition of large print, and common accessibility font sizes include 18 pt, 24 pt, 36 pt, 48 pt, and 72 pt font.
- Large print can be incorporated into physical and digital materials, and is often displayed with an easy-to-read font for people with print disabilities
- I have large print settings enabled on all of my personal technology. For my Android phone, I use an app called Big Font to increase the system font size beyond the default Android settings
- One option for displaying large print at a high resolution is to use a teleprompter display, which shows text at a very large size without cutting off information in an unnatural way
- My Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
- Make Any Android Smartphone Accessible For $20
- Ways To Use Teleprompter Apps As Assistive Technology
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
Magnifying glasses are perhaps the most iconic assistive technology for low vision and vision loss, as they help to make everything bigger and make objects and text easier to see. There are several types of magnifying glasses for low vision that are designed for specific tasks, as there is no single magnification aid that can fit all of a user’s vision needs.
- A sheet magnifier can be held over a piece of paper to magnify content on a page
- Handheld magnifiers can be used to examining fine details or reading short amounts of text
- Many low vision specialists have a collection of magnifying glasses that patients can test out to determine which power or display will work best for them
- Another type of magnifier is a video magnifier, which is a specialty battery-powered device with adjustable magnification powers and color contrast options. Like magnifying glasses, video magnifiers come in multiple sizes and magnification options
- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
- All About The Eschenbach SmartLux Digital Video Magnifier
- How I Use The HIMS E-Bot Pro In College
Notetakers are standalone devices that allow users to take notes or document text and read it back from the device, or upload it to a computer or other external service. Braille notetakers are a popular choice for reading and writing braille, and some notetakers have options for displaying content in print and braille simultaneously
- When I was in school, I used a notetaker called the AlphaSmart for students with dysgraphia that displayed information in large print, along with options for uploading files to my computer
- I don’t read braille myself, but many of my friends used braille notetakers in the classroom for reading and completing assignments, as they found it easier to type with a braille keyboard. Even though they would type information in braille, their assignments also had options for displaying text.
- Scribes are sometimes referred to as notetakers, though in this case these are human notetakers that transcribe information that is dictated or read out loud.
- AlphaSmart For Low Vision and Dysgraphia
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
- Ten Fun Facts About Braille: World Braille Day 2019
Overhead lighting can play a role in how well a person is able to see their surroundings. Some people with low vision prefer bright white lights that make objects pop, while people who experience photophobia are more sensitive to bright lights and prefer darker environments or using task lighting.
- I have adjustable smart lights in my bedroom with options for adjusting the color, brightness, and how many lights I want to have on at a given time
- Fluorescent lights can be disorienting for some people with low vision, and they may prefer softer surface lighting such as lamps, or wear tinted glasses to mitigate effects of glare
- Additional task lighting such as clip on lights or table lamps can be added to make a workspace or desk easier to see
- Lighting And Low Vision
- How Tinted Glasses Help My Light Sensitivity
- Flashing Lights and Photosensitivity in the Classroom
- Assistive Technology For Fluctuating Eyesight
- Five Common Technology Behaviors That Hurt My Brain
When displaying information with larger font, having a larger paper size can help with making text easier to read, as text is less likely to be cut off. Other characteristics of paper that should be considered for people with low vision can include the paper color, weight, and how information is copied onto the page
- Large print may be cut off on smaller paper sizes or be difficult to read with lines being cut off
- I prefer to have science and math assignments printed on larger page sizes as it was easier to display equations and work through problems
- When using high contrast writing utensils, ink may bleed through lightweight paper- I prefer to use large cardstock if I have to write something in pen or marker
- Paper Size and Low Vision
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
- Paper Colors And Low Vision
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Printers
Gray pencil lead on white paper is difficult or impossible to read with decreased contrast vision. Quality pens that have bold, thick tips and saturated colors are a better option for writing with low vision and providing feedback for students.
- 20/20 style contrast pens are a popular option for teachers of the visually impaired and writing large text
- I have a huge collection of colorful Sharpie pens in different sizes and colors for writing assignments and quick notes to myself that I can read later on
- For art projects, I prefer to use markers or other materials with bold colors over colored pencils or items that provide poor contrast
- Writing Utensils and Low Vision
- How I Use Technology To Improve Handwriting
- Art Classes and Low Vision
- Tips To Make Proofreading Feedback Accessible For Low Vision
Raised dots and Tactile Materials
Raised dots and tactile materials provide information about objects through different textures, shapes, colors, and sizes. This is different from braille, which displays information about letters and numbers, though raised dots and tactile materials can be used alone or in addition to braille.
- Adding a tactile dot to a medication bottle to identify the type of medication
- Using raised lines and other textured graphics for displaying information in a math class
- Adding a tactile dot to the oven label to know where the dial is
- Developing a visual model by feeling a 3D printed object or page with raised details
- Assistive Technology For Medication Labels
- No-Tech Solutions For Drawing Graphs With Low Vision And Dysgraphia
- How To Create Tactile Images With Everyday Objects
- Fast Facts About Tactile Pavement
Simplified Reading Display
One of my all-time favorite tools for reading digital content with low vision is a simplified reading display, which applies a consistent font size, font style, and background color to digital text. This makes it easier to read content without having to zoom in on a page, edit content, or enabling other accessibility settings. Other names for simplified reading displays include reading view, distraction-free reading, reading mode, and similar.
- I use Microsoft Immersive Reader to check my Outlook email and read documents in Microsoft Word
- When using a web browser, I can activate Reading View on my iPad or Immersive Reader in the Edge web browser to enlarge text in a web article
- Offline web reading apps like Pocket apply a consistent font size and background color to web content that can be read without an internet connection.
- Simplified Reading Displays and Low Vision
- How I Use Microsoft Immersive Reader With Low Vision
- Pocket App Accessibility For Visual Impairment
Text-to-speech and Screen Readers
Text-to-speech is used by people with vision loss or print disabilities that impact the ability to read standard text. They can be activated on an as-needed basis by selecting a shortcut, pressing a button, or using a keyboard/gesture shortcut. Once text-to-speech finishes reading all the information on a page, it shuts off until the user activates it again. Text-to-speech does not use any specific gestures or require the user to change how they interact with their device.
A screen reader is another tool used by people with vision loss that reads information out loud on a webpage or in an application. Screen readers allow users to navigate their device using a keyboard or a series of gestures, and are typically “always on”- if someone has a screen reader enabled, it is reasonable to assume that the user would be unable to use their device if the screen reader were turned off.
- Select-to-speak, Speak Text, and Read Aloud are all examples of text-to-speech programs that are built into mainstream technology devices, including Android, Apple/iOS, and Microsoft products
- Narrator, JAWS, NVDA, ChromeVox, TalkBack, and VoiceOver are examples of popular screen readers for Windows, Chromebooks, Android, and Apple/iOS devices
- Screen readers and text-to-speech programs are proprietary/locked into one operating system. VoiceOver for Mac cannot be installed on a Windows computer, and JAWS for Windows cannot be installed on Mac
- How To Use VoiceOver With Low Vision
- How To Use Select-to-speak on Android
- Enabling Temporary Accessibility Settings For iPad
- How To Use Text-To-Speech With Low Vision
A line tracker makes it easier to display a small section of text at a time and follow along with a page or document without getting overwhelmed by a large amount of text. Another example of assistive technology for low vision that serves a similar purpose is a typoscope, which can display 1-5 lines of text at a time.
- When taking standardized tests, I was allowed to use a blank index card as a line tracker for reading
- Simplified reading displays often have line tracker options for displaying 1-5 lines of text on the screen at a time
- Line trackers can also be used to help with writing in a straight line for people with dysgraphia
Virtual assistants and smart speakers
Virtual assistants, voice assistants, and smart speakers can help people with vision loss interact with mainstream technology without having to look at their screen. Virtual assistants can look up webpages, perform calculations, taking photos/video, check the weather and time, open applications, and perform several other types of tasks.
- Amazon Echo devices use the Amazon Alexa assistant, which has several options for built-in skills and creating custom skills
- Apple devices use Siri, which can compose messages, open applications, turn settings on/off, and other interactive features
- Android’s Google Assistant performs many of the same functions as Siri, and can also be used with the Google Lens camera for identifying objects
- If a user does not want to speak, many virtual assistants also have an option for typing requests
- Amazon Alexa Archives | Veronica With Four Eyes (veroniiiica.com)
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Smart Speakers
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
- Ten iOS Shortcuts For Visual Impairment
Wayfinding applications are used by people with vision loss to orient themselves to different spaces and travel independently. Wayfinding tools are part of developing orientation and mobility skills (also known as O&M), and can be used alongside a blindness cane or guide dog.
- Mainstream GPS applications such as Google Maps and Apple Maps can be used with additional accessibility settings to get information on routes and directions
- Specialty GPS and wayfinding applications are designed for blind and low vision users and often incorporate their own accessibility settings
- Some wayfinding applications have options for indoor navigation as well as outdoor navigation
- Wayfinding applications are available for online and offline use, and there are also services that can provide access to real time assistance from humans, such as Aira
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
- Using GPS Apps On College Campuses: College O&M
- How I Learned To Navigate My Internship Building With Low Vision
- Using Aira With Low Vision
External displays can be connected to another device to enlarge items or mirror the display. With an external display, information can be enlarged or presented at a closer distance for improved readability. There are options for wireless connectivity with tools such as Bluetooth or wireless sharing, as well as the option to use a cable to connect a device to a screen.
- I use a Google Chromecast to enlarge my phone screen on the TV when doing technology demonstrations or streaming video from a smaller screen
- My laptop connects to a larger monitor when I am at my desk- the display is duplicated so I can magnify information more easily
- A video magnifier can be connected to a TV or larger monitor to increase the display size, which is helpful when multiple students need to view the same information
- Ways I Use My Google Chromecast For Virtual Learning
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Televisions
- Classroom Technology That Benefits Low Vision Students
Yellow on black/high contrast display
Black text on a white background can be difficult to read due to glare. Another option for displaying text and information is to use yellow text on a black background or another type of high contrast display, which can make it easier to read information and avoid eyestrain. Another name for a high contrast display is inverted display/invert colors.
- High contrast displays and inverted colors can be enabled on mainstream technology tools like computers and tablets
- Simplified reading displays and video magnifiers often have options for high contrast displays
- Other high contrast color schemes that are popular with users that have low vision include white text on a black background, yellow text on a blue background, and green text on a black background.
- How To Use High Contrast in Windows 10 and Windows 11
- Choosing High Contrast Color Schemes For Low Vision
- Digital Accessibility and Chronic Pain
Zoom functions can magnify text on a screen either by using built-in gestures or a screen magnification program. Most zoom options support up to 500% magnification and offer multiple view options, including lens, docked, and full screen.
- Pinch-to-zoom gestures on touch screen devices
- Control-+ keyboard shortcut for web browsers and productivity applications
- Magnifier, Zoom, and ZoomText are examples of screen magnification programs available for mainstream technology devices
- Windows Magnifier and Low Vision
- Enabling Temporary Accessibility Settings For iPad
- Zoom Magnifier and Low Vision