Everyday we do tasks that many of us may take for granted, like getting dressed in the morning or shopping at the grocery store. These seemingly simple chores can pose a challenge for the visually impaired. With the latest in technological advances however, the visually impaired can accomplish these tasks like everyone else.
Denise Philipp is a teacher in the blind department at the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. She says, "we live in an age where everyone has to use a computer". The visually impaired are no exception! With the invention of screen readers, there's no need to be able to see a computer screen because the computer actually talks to you. Philipp says, "it's going to tell them the letters and words they're forming, but its also going to give them navigational cues".
In addition to screen readers, keyboards are an essential tool visually impaired students use to access everything a computer has to offer. Philipp says, "they can't use a mouse, so they need keyboard commands to tell them where to get to in a program".
Braille can be very expensive, so not all students have access to a computer keyboard with Braille. With a different tactile clue and the power of memorization, students don't need Braille on each key. Philipp says, "there's a little raised line on the F and J keys so the blind user can orient themselves to the keyboard".
Students with low vision may prefer to use their eyes when working on a computer rather than screen readers and they can with a splash of color. Philipp says they use "high contrast keyboards with the yellow keys with bold black letters on them".
Like on any computer, students can change font and color schemes to make the screen easier to read. Philipp says a main focus for the visually impaired is "how to enlarge the print and things around them so that they have access to it". Closed Circuit TVs come in handy if the object students are trying to see is not on a computer screen. Philipp explains, "they can change the contrast, so that maybe instead of the words being black on a white page, which is difficult to read because there might be glare coming off that white page, we can reverse it so its a black background with white words".
Patricia Levy, a visually impaired student, uses magnifiers like CCTVs because she says, "they help me get good grades in school". Enlarging and contrast gives students the freedom to see things for themselves. Patricia says using enlarges images puts "less strain on my eyes".
CCTV's aren't the smallest of portable devices, so then what? Not everything has Braille, but that's where technology comes in. Philipp says, "newer technology like the iPad, you can download apps that are barcode readers". An application like Tap Tap See allows the blind to know the difference between a can of peaches and a can of apples at the grocery store. You just take a picture and it tells you in detail what it is.
With technology, students can interact with their environment with complete independence. Philipp says, "by teaching our students technology, it's opening up the world so that they have more books to read and access to things in the environment that they're not automatically getting through their vision".