All of the Technology in My Dorm Room


I spend almost my entire day using some type of technology. It’s very rare to see me without at least two of my devices, and when working in my room, I’m often using three or more at once.  While I do consider myself technology savvy- my major does have technology in the name, after all- I’m not using anything particularly advanced, and I have found that these devices can benefit students no matter what their major or skill level with technology is.

Here is a list of the devices I brought to college with me and what I use them for. Please note that I chose to exclude my E-Bot Pro and Eschenbach SmartLux, as I did not want to include assistive technology devices in this roundup.

HP Sprout desktop computer

I love working on my desktop when it comes to my virtual classes, as it has a giant touchscreen display as well as the capability to be hooked up to multiple monitors. It comes with a unique touchpad display which doubles as a 3D scanner so I can enlarge objects and view documents on the upper and lower screen. It syncs with my laptop nicely and I’m yet to encounter a document or file that couldn’t be made accessible by that computer.  Read here why I love having a desktop computer in college.

Microsoft Surface

I purchased this my senior year of high school and it still works like new. It fits on even the smallest desks in my classrooms and also has amazing battery life, with ten hours on a single charge. It’s also very lightweight to carry and I can type on it for hours without a problem. The small display is not a problem because I have many accessibility settings enabled. While I can run programs like Photoshop and Microsoft Visio on the Surface, I choose to use my desktop whenever possible, as my Surface has issues running several intricate applications simultaneously.

iPad

I’m not really an Apple products user, but I can’t imagine life without my iPad. With so many accessibility apps available and beautiful large font displays (read about accessibility settings here), it’s one of the best inventions of the century, in my opinion. I also use it to talk with friends and family after class, look up information, and can rarely be found without it.  In addition, all of my textbooks are on my iPad- read more about digital textbooks here.

Chromecast

At $35, the Chromecast is one of those devices that has paid for itself time and time again, with many coupons for free movie rentals and Google Play credit. I love it because I can broadcast anything from a Google Chrome tab, be it from my phone, iPad, or computer. It’s also great for watching longer videos while working on my iPad, or streaming Netflix.  Read my full review here.

Android phone

I use many accessibility apps on my phone, and also often cast the display to my Chromecast so I can easily see messages and work with other apps. I also use it as a USB storage device for my computers when I lose my flash drive. A lot of the apps my college recommends that students download, like the bus schedules and emergency services apps, are also on my phone.   Read my posts on making Android accessible using third party apps here, and with native settings here.

TV

I don’t really watch a lot of cable TV, though I do get free cable with my apartment and use it to watch local news. My TV typically is acting as a second monitor for something, or being used with the Chromecast.

Laser printer

My Brother laser printer has been an incredibly useful resource when I have to print something for class or check for formatting issues. The scanner function has also been helpful, as well as being able to quickly make copies. Since I got it on super sale, it wound up being cheaper to have a printer in my room than to pay for printing at the library.

Amazon Echo Dot

This is the newest addition to my technology collection, and it’s been extremely helpful. Besides making it extremely easy to listen to music, I have used it to order products, set alarms, check the weather, set reminders, as a calculator, and even as a translator. I’ve used it so much, my suitemates thought at one point that I was genuinely talking to a person named Alexa.  Read my full review here.

Having all of this technology in my room has helped me a lot as a student with a disability. I access materials in a different way than most students, and having the resources to make things accessible quickly has been invaluable. For a lot of people, technology makes things easier, but for people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision


About a month ago, my friend recommended an application to download on my phone. I wasn’t sure if they had thought about this, but there are many apps, even popular ones, that are inaccessible to people with low vision or photosensitivity. Right as I was about to ask, my friend said “don’t worry, the text can be enlarged to your size and there’s no strobes.” I was happy that not only my friend had checked for these things, but that the app developers had thought ahead of time and made their app accessible to people with low vision and photosensitivity.

Too many times, accessibility is considered a last minute thing to add to an application. With so many people identified as having a disability, app developers should be more aware of how important it is to consider diverse users when developing an application. Here are seven accessibility settings I check for when downloading an application, either on my Android phone or iPad. While this is targeted towards users with a disability, this also helps seniors and adults who simply forgot their reading glasses.

Can text be enlarged?

While some applications support the operating system’s default text settings, there are other apps that use their own fonts. Check that these fonts can be enlarged to a legible size- typically, I use a size 24 font, though bigger is almost always better. If there are different font style options, that is awesome too- people with certain print disabilities benefit immensely from weighted fonts like Comic Sans.

Can screen readers be used?

Many users use a tool like VoiceOver (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) in order to access text. Adding alt text image descriptions is also important so the user isn’t left guessing what was in the picture. If the image is purely decorative, write “null” or “decoration.” And please, have a skip navigation option, so the screen reader isn’t reading through unnecessary information.

Is everything displayed?

When the font is enlarged, make sure that all text, as well as buttons, are displayed on the screen in a logical manner. Some apps have text run off the screen, or do not enlarge buttons, which makes it impossible to use the app.

Is there sufficient contrast?

Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Having options to change the colors of the background or other buttons can be helpful in ensuring that users are able to see an app clearly. Having a night mode with a dark color scheme also can help reduce glare.

Are there strobe or flashing effects?

I have used a couple of applications that had random strobe or flashing light effects, or that used strobe notifications that could not be disabled. I even had a phone for about an hour that was a giant strobing mess. These apps were uninstalled immediately, and the strobing phone was returned as well. While a light at the frequency of a car blinker is fine, do not use strobe or flashing light effects, especially in red/blue colors, and give the user no way to disable them. For more information on who can be harmed by these effects, read this.

Can I use my own keyboard?

Some applications prevent the user from accessing a third party keyboard, or even the speech-to-text option. Allow users to be able to use any keyboard for maximum compatibility.

Do I have to think about using this?

If the user has to remember a complex series of steps to take because of accessibility settings being enabled, then the app isn’t worth using. One of the main design principles is that if the user has to think while using a product, then the designer has failed. Make sure users don’t have to jump through too many hoops.

Accessibility is very important to me, and I am always grateful when developers keep users like me in mind. While there are so many other disability areas to remember, I hope developers will continue to remember those of us with low vision and photosensitivity when creating apps.

Google Chromecast Review

Occasionally, I have trouble focusing my eyes to read text on my phone or tablet. In these cases, zooming in is futile, and I find it easier to focus through the top half of the bifocal in my glasses. Instead of bending my head at weird angles or holding my device up higher, I use a Google Chromecast to project my screen onto the TV- no wires or cables necessary.

The Chromecast is a $35 device that allows the user to connect their computer, tablet, or phone to their TV. The device is plugged into a HDMI port on the TV, and it also uses a power outlet. By using the same wifi hotspot as the other device, the Chromecast can project internet tabs, apps, and more onto a TV. My family has at least three of these devices in the house, and I even brought one to college with me. Here are some of the ways I have used it, both as assistive technology and just as a useful resource with my various devices.

Setting it up

To set up the device, simply plug one end into the wall and the other end into the HDMI port of the TV, which is best described as a rectangle with a smaller rectangle on top. After that, go to the Chromecast set up website or app to finish the process, which includes connecting it to a wifi hotspot and giving it a name.

If you are setting it up at college, you may need to register the MAC address first, as I explained in my post about the Amazon Echo Dot, since chances are you have to use a username and password to log on to the school wifi. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet hotspot. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Chromecast app settings, it can be used on a college campus without any complicated networks to set up. I found that I am able to easily use the device no matter what wifi hotspot my other devices are connected to.

Android phone

With most later versions of Android, 6.0 and up, the user can easily cast their entire phone screen by swiping down on the status bar and selecting cast. I use this late at night when I have trouble focusing my eyes on text messages, or when I am using an app that has small font. This is also useful when I am demonstrating a function on my phone to someone, as it is more practical to look up at a screen than to look over my shoulder.

iPad

Many apps on the iPad support streaming to Chromecast, including Netflix, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google Video, and others. I use Google Chrome the most out of those three apps to broadcast tabs I am working on, watch videos, enlarge files, and more. YouTube has also been very helpful when I have to take notes on something at the same time- the video or app doesn’t have to be open on the iPad in order for it to broadcast. With the Google Video and Netflix apps, I have been able to watch movies with my friends who live in other states and iMessage or talk about the movie at the same time.

Google Chrome

With my desktop and laptop computers, I have been able to mirror tabs open in Google Chrome onto my TV flawlessly. Because some websites are impossible to zoom in on, I often will broadcast them to the TV to read information better. Extensions such as Adblock are still able to be used on the screen. Most recently, I broadcast a PDF file that I opened in Google Chrome to the TV so I could see it better.

Bonus offers

At times, the Chromecast will have special offers available for users. Some offers have included free trials, free movie rentals, and even Google Play credit which can be used to buy apps, movies, books, games, TV shows, etc in the Google Play store.

Overall review

In the two years I have been using it regularly, I have found this device to be incredibly useful and an affordable alternative to a smart TV, and it’s incredibly easy to use- my parents who describe themselves as technology challenged are able to use the device with ease. With all of the bonus offers, the device has paid for itself, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who benefits from a larger screen.

I received no compensation for this review and purchased this item on my own.  This is a completely unbiased review.

E-Bot Pro Review

Over the summer, I had the fun of visiting the assistive technology lab affiliated with the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired. The day I visited, a vendor was demonstrating a new CCTV that had been approved for use on standardized tests and that used my beloved iPad. I was super excited to see what it was.

E-Bot Pro system with iPad and projector with book underneath

The E-Bot Pro by HIMS inc., is a relatively new CCTV that looks like a projector. It can be cast onto an iPad screen via the E-Bot Pro app or plugged into a larger monitor, though I typically find myself using it on my iPad. It is controlled using either a joystick or on the touch screen of the iPad using familiar gestures like pinch to zoom in and dragging a finger across the display to move the camera. Speaking of display, it can accommodate several different color modes such as white on black, yellow on black, black on green, and more, as well as allowing the user to adjust for contrast. It takes up only about 12″ of space on a desk, though I would recommend having a two desk setup or a large table to use it on just so you don’t risk knocking it over.

I was blown away by how clear text reads on the E-Bot Pro, especially with fonts that tend to be blurry for me such as Times New Roman. The images are shockingly clear and the zoom (up to 50x) is very easy to adjust. The system also is able to OCR documents and use its own built in screen reader and voice guide to help the user. I did find it had some issues with images that were very light gray, like pencil, and also with fonts smaller than 6 pt. In cases like this, I just ask someone to trace over the image using a high contrast marker or pen. Other than that, the camera works flawlessly, and I appreciate the automatic scrolling mode that allows the camera to move while I read information on the screen. Another cool thing the camera does is rotate. I’m not limited to seeing just what’s directly below the camera- it rotates about 270°. I find this especially helpful when the professor is drawing on the board, and have also used the functionality to read signs outside my window. The camera isn’t loud at all and it doesn’t distract other students.

Teachers and school administrators alike may panic over having a wireless device in the classroom. However, the E-Bot Pro is not connected by Bluetooth, but by its own wifi hotspot. While the device is connected, the user cannot access any other internet sources, and if guided access is enabled, the device is restricted to only the E-Bot app. I used this device to take exams in the classroom for my geology class this semester, and my professor not only embraced it, but was fascinated with the technology. I was able to complete assignments at a large table with my screen facing a wall so people couldn’t see over me.

If you find yourself not being able to afford the E-Bot Pro (after all, it is $3500), there are still opportunities for you to be able to use one. I received mine at no cost to me as part of my vocational rehabilitation services through the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired, since it helps me succeed in school and achieve my goal of employment. Another option is to talk to your school district’s assistive technology or vision impairment coordinator about buying the system, and say that you and other students to benefit from. Alternatively, look at other school districts or organizations that may have one for you to use, like an accessibility library, state assistive technology system, or similar.

Overall, the E-Bot Pro is one of my favorite high-tech devices, and I would recommend it to anyone who is semi-proficient with technology, or at least with the iPad.

Note- This post is not sponsored nor was I paid to write it, I just genuinely love this device!

Ten Ways to Reduce Eye Strain With Technology

I don’t watch any TV, proudly says a person who spends her entire day on her computer, iPad, phone, and other assistive technology devices. When I first meet someone who doesn’t understand vision loss, they often are confused as to how I can see my devices, shortly followed by how I can use them for such long periods of time. Here are ten ways I help to fight eye fatigue when using my devices. While this is targeted towards people with low vision, anyone who uses computers for a long period of time can benefit from these techniques.

Blue light filter guard for Google Chrome

This extension helps to remove blue light, which can cause fatigue, eye strain, and blurry vision. It puts a warm tint over the page allowing the user to look at the screen for long periods of time. This has never affected my ability to see pictures, as images look very natural against this background.  I use this extension.

Computer glasses

I found myself in the computer lab all day with virtual classes in high school. My low vision specialist recommended computer glasses, which have a special progressive bifocal, for helping to prevent me from bending my head funny as I try to read through my bifocal. I got mine through LensCrafters, and they took about seven business days to receive them. One downfall is that it’s impossible to see when the user looks away from the screen- when there was a fire alarm one day and I got up without changing glasses, I walked into the wall next to the door.

Non prescription tinted glasses

One of my friends likes to use these when using electronics, and it helps them to see with a high contrast display. These have a yellow tint to them and help to reduce eye strain further. I have not tried wearing them over my thick glasses so I’m not sure how they will fit, but I do like the wraparound design. Here are the ones they have.

Anti-glare screen filter

This is a glass filter that hangs on the outside of the computer monitor. This is not helpful for touch screens, however for desktop computers that don’t use touch, it’s a great way to further filter out light and glare, making text easy to see. My mom has this on her home computer and it really helps. We use this model.

Reducing white point on iPad and iPhone

To do this, go to settings, then accessibility, and then display accommodations. It can be found on the bottom part of the menu. Mine is reduced to 50°

Color filter on iPad

This helps to filter out blue light on iPad. It can be enabled in display accommodations and then the color accommodations menu. I have a color intensity about 1/3 down the line and the hue at 100%.

F.lux

This free application is available for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and even Linux. Simply tell it what area you live in and what lighting you have and it does the rest, intelligently blocking out light, especially at night. You can download it at www.justgetflux.com

Eye pillow

Eventually, my eyes do get tired and I like the feeling of compression on them and total darkness. My eye pillow is one of my favorite purchases from Amazon and has a hot and cold side to it depending on what kind of relief I’m looking for. I find leaving this on for twenty minutes is invaluable.  Find it here.

Microsoft Office backgrounds

My friend taught me this when I was in tenth grade. If you find the background behind the document you’re working on to be too bright, you can go into options and change the color of the background to dark gray/black.

Automatic brightness

What is better, a super bright screen or a super dark screen? For me, I prefer to use the automatic brightness settings across my devices to decide for me. Naturally, I prefer slightly darker to avoid triggering my photosensitivity, and I can adjust the automatic settings when needed.
Despite popular belief, you will not go blind by looking at a screen too long or too closely. This was true with the first cathode ray televisions, although with LCD/LED displays, it is no longer true. So use your devices for whatever you need them for, and avoid developing eye strain while doing so!

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Four Online Services Libraries Have For Low Vision Users (and everybody else!)


I’m used to walking into libraries and sighing because I’m in a giant building of things I can’t see. Most of the large print sections at libraries I’ve been to consist of romance novels, which I show no interest in reading, or books that have larger than average font that I still can’t see. Luckily, there is a growing number of libraries supporting these awesome services that allow a person like me with a print disability to read what my family is reading. All of these are free with your library card at participating libraries.  For more on accessing college libraries, click here.

Zinio Magazines

This allows users to download magazines from a variety of topics and read them free of charge on their devices. I frequently read food magazines, but there are so many different genres that there is something for everyone. Text can be scaled as large as necessary and pictures are high contrast as well.

OneClick Digital

Audiobooks that can be played through an Android, Kindle, or iOS app downloaded from their website, or downloaded from a computer and onto another device using a special file manager that can be found online. I like how everything is sorted by genre and how easy it is to find things.

OverDrive

Check out up to eight books at a time for up to 21 days and read either on an Android, Kindle, or iOS app, or download to your computer and convert the file using the free Adobe Digital Editions software and put it on any ereader you want- just know the title will disappear after you return it. I like the large amount of new releases, but it can get frustrating when there are too many people requesting the book.

Freegal Music

Accessed through freegalmusic.com, users can download three free songs a week from a massive catalog, or stream for up to three hours a day. There are audiobooks available and they are downloaded as MP3 files and can be played wherever MP3s are played. I download them to my iPod.

Because of these websites, I have been able to increase my access to materials that are accessible to me and so many other people.  I am so grateful that libraries are adding items that aren’t just books, they are services that can benefit a large amount of people.  Check today to see if your local library allows access to these services!

 

How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision

The iPad is considered one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 21st century, especially in terms of accessibility.  Personally, I have seen the amazing effects of having an iPad in the educational setting, at both the high school and college level.  It’s also been fantastic for making resources accessible, like digital textbooks.  However, before the iPad can be used by someone with low vision, it must be configured first.  Here are the settings I enable for the iPad/iPhone to help make the device possible to use for those who have low vision. All are found in the accessibility menu under general settings unless otherwise noted.  Altogether, it takes about ten minutes to enable all of the settings listed below

Zoom

Zoom magnifies the entire screen and is great for using apps that have smaller font, such as ones for restaurants. It can be adjusted to window zoom while typing so that the entire screen isn’t distorted. Note that screenshots taken with zoom enabled will not display the zoomed in image, but the whole screen. Zoom can be activated after being turned on in settings by double tapping with three fingers

Magnifier

This is a built in magnifying glass with the device’s camera, and different than using the zoom function. It is activated by triple clicking the home button when enabled. This is super helpful when I am somewhere and can’t see small items.

Display Accommodations

Color Filter- This allows for a tint to allow users with different forms of color blindness to access their devices, but I personally use it to add a background tint to reduce blue light. I have it on a mild intensity and full hue.


Reduce White Point
– This makes whites on the screen less sharp and is extremely helpful for reducing glare. Mine is at 50%

Text

Larger text– Turn on large accessibility sizes and make text even larger! I have it on the largest available which is equivalent to about a size 36 font


Bold text
– Creates larger weighted font that is easier to distinguish

Button shapes

Puts backgrounds on buttons so they are easier to notice.  It can best be described as a subtle, shaded effect with easy to distinguish shapes.  The target area is also large, meaning the buttons are easier to press.

Increase Contrast

I reduce transparency and darken colors to create a high contrast display, a feature that integrates well with the button shapes.  This is not overly noticeable to other people who use my iPad, and I have found it does not have much of an effect with color display in photos- all colors look good.

Reduce motion

I reduce motion to disable animations that can hurt my eyes.  This is tremendously helpful for people who have prisms in their glasses, as fast moving animations can cause vertigo for some.

Accessibility shortcut

By triple clicking the home button, you can edit accessibility settings. I have guided access and magnifier on mine.  Siri is the default accessibility shortcut.  If more than one application is set, then a small menu will be displayed when the home button is triple clicked.

Restrictions

Found in general, this is the parental controls section of the device. While it may seem silly to set your own controls, this eliminates the gif keyboard in the new version of iMessage if you restrict websites for adult content. I recommend putting all of the websites you access often in always allow first.

By enabling these settings, a person with low vision will be able to harness all of the capabilities of the iPad and use it to enhance their ability to use assistive technology.

How to make iPad accessible for low vision