Tools for Accessing Printed Information

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A variety of high-tech tools exist to help people who are blind or visually impaired get access to the printed information that others can read without assistance. If your child has low vision, he may use a video magnifier (also known as a closed-circuit television system) to help him see the print more easily. If he does not read print, there are devices that can convert print to electronic files that can be read with braille or listened to. Some of these assistive technology tools are described here.

Video Magnifiers or CCTVs

A video magnifier, also known as a closed-circuit television system (CCTV), allows children who have low vision to view an enlarged image of text or pictures that are placed under camera. The image is displayed on a monitor or television. There are video magnifying systems that are mounted on a permanent stand and are very powerful but not easily moved, as well as portable hand-held systems that can travel with the user from classroom to classroom, to the store, and back home again.

Regardless of which type of video magnifier is used, the concept is the same. Your child places the material to be viewed under the camera and the camera projects the image onto the screen. Your child can increase the size of the image and change the color of the type and the background. Some models connect to a computer, which allows the student to use one monitor for both systems. The computer screen can be split, with half the screen showing the information from the computer and half showing the information under the video magnifier's camera.

A video magnifier is also considered to be an optical device because it changes the image of the material seen by the eye. Read more about video magnifiers, watch a short video, and learn about specific models on afb.org.

Scanners and Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Scanners have now become a global technology that many students use, for example, to copy photographs or book covers images into their school reports. When combined with special software that can recognize letters, known as optical character recognition (OCR) software, however, they become an assistive technology tool that can transform print into alternative formats that can be read by people who are blind or visually impaired.

For example, if your daughter receives a homework assignment in print, she can use a scanner connected to a computer to scan the printed document and convert it into an electronic file that can be displayed as text on the computer monitor. She can then read this text using several different methods, such as a screen-reading program, a screen magnification program, or a refreshable braille display. If she wants to print the assignment, she can use a word-processing program to print it in her choice of print sizes and fonts. Or, she can convert the file into braille with a braille translation program and emboss it (print it in braille) with a braille embosser. The text can also be transferred to an accessible PDA (personal digital assistant) and accessed using this device.

Some people with visual impairments use conventional OCR software, while others prefer a specialized scanning system. Some visually impaired users prefer a reading machine, which is a stand-alone system with a scanner, the OCR software, and voice output all in one unit. After the page is scanned the user can listen to its contents.

Learn more about scanning and OCR systems.

Braille Translation Software

Print material that is in electronic format (either typed or scanned into a computer) can be translated or converted into braille by using a braille translation program. Typically these programs are used by teachers of students with visual impairments or teaching assistants, along with a braille embosser, to produce materials in braille for blind students. During middle school or high school, some students begin to take responsibility for preparing their own braille materials using a scanner, OCR software, a braille translation program, and a braille embosser. If your child will find this ability helpful in college or later at work, it would be a good idea for her to learn how to do it during high school. You'll want to discuss with her other education team members whether this is an appropriate activity for your child. For more information about braille production, and to see a short video, visit afb.org.

Braille Embossers (Printers)

A braille embosser is a piece of hardware that can be thought of as a braille printer. Rather than printing documents in ink print, the braille embosser produces material in braille. To get correctly formatted and translated braille, the embosser must be connected to a computer that has braille translation software on it. Most embossers produce braille only; however, some are also capable of producing raised images of graphics. For more information about braille production, and to see a short video, visit afb.org.

Audio Books

Perhaps you've listened to a book on your CD player as you've taken a long drive. Audio books are part of the mainstream culture. Your child can take advantage of the same audio books as others, but she also can use audio books that have some additional features for people with visual impairments. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic produces many textbooks in audio format. These textbooks need to be played on a special player that allows your child to move quickly to a specific page, bookmark information, look up words in a glossary, and much more. The National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has recreational books in audio format. Some of these books are on audio cassette and some are available as electronic files. To play the books one needs a special player that is free through NLS.

Books can also be downloaded and listened to on a computer or accessible PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Bookshare.org is one website that provides this type of service.

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