Software to Help Blind & Visually Impaired People to Use the Computer Better
Sight is something that most of us take for granted, and we don’t stop to think about how hard our lives would be like if this sense would be taken away from us. Everyday tasks, such as operating a computer, or even walking to the supermarket would be very hard, but not impossible.
As technology evolves, there have been advances that allow people who have lost their sight to live a normal life and take care of themselves. Using a computer is something that almost everyone does, and with the help of some specialized software or dedicated hardware, blind people can now do this just like everyone else.
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Dedicated devices and software for blind people
In terms of hardware, blind people can use a few devices that make their lives easier. For instance, to input information to a computer, they can use both braille keyboards or microphones. Speech to text (dictation) has come a long way, and even with the eventual mistakes, it is still a viable option for visually impaired people who want to use a computer.
Some manufacturers have developed braille displays, which use a mechanical system to push pins through a rubber surface and recreate text that would be normally shown on a computer screen. While the technology is inspiring, it still needs some development in order to perfect it and offer a better integration with computers. In terms of software packages, there are some developers that have created screen readers, which read the text that is shown on the screen and output it in audio format that the users can hear. This is the single most important tool that users with visibility problems can use.
Of course, these tools are not perfect and they will not allow a person to use a computer to 100% of its capacity, but nevertheless, providing the possibility for a blind person to use a computer to some extent is a great achievement.
What software for blind people can you use
As we mentioned before, there are a few software programs that offer screen reading capabilities, and blind people can use them in order to operate a computer. These programs can be installed on a normal computer, without the need for any other specialized device.
All of them offer basically the same function. They integrate with the operating system and read to the user what is happening on the screen, as well as the content from web pages, folders or emails. These programs go hand in hand with audio control programs (speech recognition) that allow the user to control a computer by speaking to a microphone. Also, we featured some screen magnifiers that some might want to use. These are developed for those who have limited eyesight, and need larger text so they can read it. Before installing these programs, keep in mind that both Windows and Max OS x have an integrated tool dedicated for this task.
Most of these programs are free to download, so anyone who is visually impaired can use them, and be able to use a computer like everyone else. The following list will show you a few such programs and you can choose which is best for you, depending on what operating system you use.
- JAWS – Free Demo / $895
- MAGic Screen Magnification – Starts from $395
- ZoomText – Starts from $399 (multiple programs offered)
- NVDA – Windows (Free)
- Apple VoiceOver – Mac OS X (Free)
- Orca – Linux (Free)
- BRLTTY – Linux (Free)
- Emacspeak – Linux (Free)
- ChromeVox – Free tool for Chrome users. It can be downloaded from the Chrome Extension Store.
- ChromeVis – Chrome Extension that acts like a magnifying glass for those who have low eyesight.
- WebAnywhere – This is a free tool that works pretty much on any web browser and operating systems.
Besides these programs, users can seek other specialized solutions, which, although not free, they do offer some great products for those who have limited eyesight. Websites like Screenreader or Tichnut are continuously improving their products by adding better support and more features.
Although these technologies are not perfect, they are invaluable for those who live their lives without the use of their eyes. We hope that future technologies will allow these people to control computers with their minds, but until this technology is available for everyone, we will just have to make use of what we have. We hope that these programs will help those who are visually impaired, and if you know other programs that offer such features, feel free to leave us a comment.