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.

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!