While it’s not entirely clear who invented the first pair of prescriptive lenses, it cannot be denied that the first foray into improving a person’s vision has evolved over centuries into many avenues such as digital software for computers, eye surgery, and mobile applications for the blind.
Float talked to five people with blindness or low vision who wanted to share the tools, apps, and technologies they use to make the daily grind just a little easier. Here is what they had to say.
(READ MORE: Look at this white paper on digital assistive wayfinding and navigation (DAWN) technologies.)
Name: Robert S.
“I use a screen reading program entitled JAWS, from Freedom Scientific. It reads the computer screen for me as I write. It spells out each letter, and then with various key controls. it reads me the word, line, or paragraph.
“This is invaluable for me because it allows me to read e-mail, respond to it, and continue in the security field and write blogs, books, and fiction. Being perfectly honest, I probably would have curled up and died without this avenue to express myself and help save lives.”
Accessible Software and Devices
Name: Steve H.
“Up until about 2 years ago, I used JAWS (Job Access With Speech) on various Windows platforms, but when I got Windows 7, I switched to a pay-by-donation reader called NVDA made by a group called NV Access. I have used email, Twitter, Facebook; I have done a lot of writing and much reading; I have used databases both online and off; I’ve filled out many different types of web forms, I am very proficient with search tools; and I seem to be fairly adaptable to changing conditions of software and/or accessibility to it.
“At nearly 66 years, I can say tech has changed my life more than I ever expected. I am a Braille reader and still use it for reading and writing my own stuff; I have just purchased an iPhone (my first real entry into the touchscreen world), and I’ll continue to do my best to participate actively in the work required to make things on the web and in the devices accessible to those of us who are totally blind or have lost vision.”
Name: Carla C.
“An app that has helped me is AbleRoad. It is a site that has customer reviews like many do, except it reviews places for accessibility. You can choose mobility impairment, visual impairment or hearing impairment.
For example, if you type in visual impairment, and then type in what type of place you are looking for (restaurant, etc.) and which town, the app will come back with reviewed public places that are easily accessible for the visually impaired, may have large-print menus etc. It is a great site, especially when you are traveling in an unfamiliar town.”
Additionally, Carla uses an app called TapTapSee.
“Using the camera in my iPod, the app will read items and labels in front of you. For example, it will tell me if I am holding green beans or chicken noodle soup.”
Many Capabilities With JAWS
Name: Shirley C.
Location: New York
“The screen-reading software, JAWS for Windows, from Freedom Scientific has allowed me, a blind individual, to use a computer with ease. With many languages available, it tells you which keys you type and reads the text on the screen, such as in document files, websites, and applications, except for graphic text, though it has a new OCR feature that can read the text from certain scanned images. Not only can I read and compose e-mail and surf the Internet, but I can also create my own websites.
“With JAWS, I’ve written nine books and self-published them, formatting my manuscripts on my own on MS Word, as JAWS tells you the attributes required for formatting such as font type and size, indentation, and font color and style; and you can navigate the menus to insert tables of content and photos, as well as page numbers. I even edited one book for a foreign publisher.
“Most importantly, JAWS has enabled me to obtain my doctor of divinity and start my Christian ministry. Using it, I’m able to teach the Bible in-depth via email, allowing me to reach people across the ocean. You can use JAWS on all the popular applications such as MS Word, Wordpad, Notepad, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and AOL. It comes with its own word processor called HJ Pad, which is what I use most frequently since it takes up little memory and loads fast. JAWS [also] has Braille capabilities.”
Name: Joseph Simmons
“I was almost legally blind, but didn’t know for many years: Since childhood in the 1950s, I was extremely myopic (nearsighted), corrected with glasses until I had Lasik treatment about 15 years ago. Until I wore glasses, I didn’t realize my eyes were becoming progressively worse. The prescription glasses stopped the deterioration of my vision, and over the course of years, my vision improved, requiring thinner and lighter glasses.
“My first Lasik treatment was a revelation – I left the office and could see well enough to drive. I could read and view a 180-degree field of vision no longer framed by lenses. My second treatment made my vision even clearer, as the surgeon eliminated almost all my astigmatism. No further corrections could be attempted, but I felt free of a glass-and-plastic prison after wearing glasses for nearly 45 years.
“I still wear glasses when driving long distances because I want full clarity to read distant road signs. I kept my most recent pair of glasses, and when I look through them I wonder how I could have functioned as a child with such poor vision!”
Assistive technologies for visual impairment are getting better. While Float has primarily made applications for enterprises, we understand the importance of human-centered design. We use this problem-solving method to ensure that our products and services are accessible to various audiences.
If you or someone you know is visually impaired and have a story that you would like to share, please leave a comment below.
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