Technology offers many solutions for older individuals facing a loss of independence. Often the core issue is vision impairment due to causes like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that forces an otherwise healthy and alert individual to start relying on others. AMD affects central vision, the area that is crucial for identifying faces, seeing details, reading, writing and performing other daily tasks, leaving the individual affected with only peripheral vision.
Fortunately, there are a number of assistive technology products available today that can help people with AMD and other vision impairments to live independently, cope with day-to-day tasks and stay in their own homes. Products such as portable and desktop video magnifiers, screen reading and magnification software and scanning and reading appliances are just some of the solutions available.
By introducing these products into their daily lives, many have been able to regain their independence and improve their quality of life, simply by being able to read again, enjoy family photos, take up hobbies and generally do more for themselves.
Desktop Video Magnifiers
A desktop video magnifier uses a live motion camera and a large video monitor to display text, photos and objects at a greatly magnified scale. A sliding reading table under the camera makes it easy to move a book or magazine smoothly back and forth to read at high magnification. Foreground and background colors can be selected that make the text stand out more while reducing eye fatigue.
Handheld Video Magnifiers
A great companion to the desktop video magnifier is the handheld video magnifier. Most people try using a magnifying glass as their vision deteriorates, but find the distortion too difficult to deal with once they go above about 3X magnification. A battery-powered video magnifier provides high magnification without the distortion and can be easily carried about the house or on a shopping trip. Most of these products also offer the ability to change display colors to bring out the text in high contrast.
Scanning and Reading Appliances
A scanning and reading appliance takes a picture of a printed document and converts it to speech, so those with low vision can listen to their mail, book or magazine. Connect a monitor, and the text is redisplayed in large font wrapped to fit the screen. Some devices are smart enough to recognize columns and ignore pictures, so they can read a typical magazine page. They can also read across columns, as on a bill.
Even with the help of a video magnifier, long reading sessions can be fatiguing. A
scanning and reading appliance lets seniors sit back and listen to a book as they control the reading speed and volume. Most scanning and reading appliances include a flatbed scanner and can take some time to scan and process a page before they begin to speak.
Certain models, like the SARA™ CE (Scanning and Reading Appliance - Camera Edition), use a camera instead of a scanner, so they are much faster. The device starts reading with a human-sounding voice in seconds when a page is placed under the camera.
Talking Book Players
Listening to books on tape has long been an option for those with low vision. However, tapes are very tedious to navigate, offering only play, pause, fast forward and rewind controls. Developments in technology have made the experience of listening to an electronic book much more like reading an actual printed volume. Electronic book publishers can now use the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY for short) to make their books more easy to navigate. With a DAISY player, a low-vision person can now move through the talking book from chapter to chapter, from heading to heading and can go to a specific page; set multiple bookmarks; and jump forward or backward by fixed increments, always opening the book where they left off. DAISY makes navigating reference works, like dictionaries and encyclopedias, easier.
DAISY book players are available that fit in a pocket or purse, and DAISY books are available to low vision subscribers at the National Library Service, Learning Ally and Bookshare. They can also be used to read text files such as letters and instructions aloud.
Screen Magnification Software
Seniors often give up on using a PC once vision problems set in. This means they no longer enjoy the benefits of the Internet, e-mail and social media sites for information, entertainment and keeping up with family members. Screen magnification software such as MAGic® can make a PC accessible again by magnifying what is on the screen and enhancing the mouse pointer and cursor so that they are easy to follow. With synthesized speech, MAGic can tell users what the mouse moves over or read an entire e-mail or article aloud.
Seniors who adopt these products to cope with their limited vision find them to be life changing. They are often amazed that technology can be so simple to use—and in the comfort of their own homes.
Senior Care Products, Winter 2011