How can you read when you have a visual impairment?

Mark, Henshaws Community Development Manager and expert on all things tech, is back to give us some of his reading solutions when you have a visual impairment and the different technology available.

I will try to be brief to give us a quick understanding of the types of technology available for people living with sight loss, which can enable them to read text – whether that’s printed or electronic.

There are plenty of different devices, so there’s no doubt that you should be able to find one that suits you. There are some devices that will help you to read through magnifiers and others that will allow you to read via voiceover technology. I’ll cover both below:

Optical (glass) Magnifiers

What are they?

These go way beyond something Sherlock Holmes would use – the concept is similar to that of spectacles.

An optometrist (possibly at the hospital) would prescribe a particular type with a particular magnification. If the patient’s eyesight gets better or worse, the prescription would need to change accordingly.

Optical glass magnifiers are often available through the NHS; contact your local GP for more details, or ring us on 0300 222 5555 for more advice.

An image of a white and green handheld optical glass magnifier

Electronic Magnifiers

What are they?

The same principle as an Optical Magnifier – they allow the patient to magnify the text and adjust the magnification with ease, they allow better colour combinations, contrast and a larger viewing screen. They come in all shapes and sizes; it’s all about what you want to read and where you want to read it.

Here are three examples:

A digital magnifier over a magazine, showing the text magnified on the screen.

Mouse Magnifiers

What are they?

Mouse magnifiers, commonly known as ‘monomouses’, are a type of handheld electronic magnifiers that are shaped like a computer mouse, which can be plugged into a TV or PC (depending on the model).

There is a small camera on the bottom, so you place the mouse over a document or image, and it will use your TV or PC to project the magnified image. They also have a number of different colour contrast settings, such as inverting or making text white on black.

All the above take advantage of the person’s residual sight – the aim is that they can read what they want to read with relative ease.

Now then – this is where things get interesting. For some people reading in a conventional way isn’t possible; so the boffins have invented something called…

OCR (optical character recognition)

What is it?

In a nutshell, it’s a device that takes a photograph of the text and converts it to speech; basically by pattern recognition, artificial intelligence and computer vision – it reads for you!

I’ve covered OrCam before in my previous blog, and I’ve created some short videos covering how to use it (see below):

OrCam is the only standalone portable device; however, there are other products that use OCR technology for people living with sight loss:

And if you fancy both magnification and OCR, there are products that utilise both, such as:

I cover how to use a Desktop Magnifier, which uses magnification and speech technology, and its different features in a short video here:

That about covers the basics of how someone with a visual impairment is able to read; of course, it all depends on the person and what they’re comfortable using. The bottom line is, no matter what your sight level, there will be a device for you that will enable you to read printed or digital text.

There are also plenty more apps and voiceover technology that can be used – but we can cover that another time!

If you’d like to find out more, receive training or even just have a chat with other like-minded people about technology, we have a number of different groups and courses across Greater Manchester and Liverpool. You can find the group that suits you on our page here, or contact our First Step team on 0300 222 5555.

This blog was originally posted in February 2017 but was updated in February 2018 to reflect the latest technology available.

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