Overview of Assistive Technology for Families with a Visually Impaired Child

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Technology is everywhere in today's society—from the computer you are using to visit the FamilyConnect website to the debit card you used at the grocery store this morning, to the remote you click to change channels on your television. Your child who is visually impaired will use technology in all facets of her life. Sometimes it will be the global, everyday, technology that all people use, sometimes it will be assistive technology designed for people with vision loss, and sometimes the two will overlap.

As your child grows, her technology needs will change. At the same time, the technology available to her will be changing as well. To help your child make the best use of both global and assistive technology to maximize her independence, you will need to know about these ever-changing options. It is important to keep in mind that there is no one single "miracle" tool. To achieve success in school, and later in the world of work, people who are blind or visually impaired need access to a toolbox filled with a variety of tools, so that they can select the appropriate tool for any given task.

Some children may need only a few assistive technology devices, while others may benefit from using several in combination. The descriptions of technology on FamilyConnect are offered only to help you become familiar with the different types of assistive technology that exist, not to recommend any one product as appropriate for your child. To know what assistive technology tools are right for your child, you will want to consult with a teacher of students with visual impairments and other educational team members. If your child is already in grade school, she may benefit from an assistive technology assessment to determine what tools are appropriate to help her access information and keep up with her schoolwork.

Some Types of Assistive Technology

There are a number of different ways to categorize assistive technology tools. One simple way is to separate devices that use lenses to enhance vision from those that don't, and to reserve a special category for so-called high-tech devices.

Nonoptical Devices

The term nonoptical devices is sometimes used to refer to the simplest tools that generally involve no lenses, computers, or electronics. These tools enhance a child's use of her vision. Examples of nonoptical aids include:

  • A reading stand which brings material closer to a child's eyes
  • Bold markers for writing
  • Dark-lined paper, which is easier to see when writing
  • A large-print calculator to use when working math problems
  • A hat or visor to decrease the glare of overhead lights or the sun

Optical Devices

Optical devices, sometimes known as "low vision devices," use lenses to help people make better use of their existing vision. They include various types of magnifiers and telescopes. An electronic device, known as a video magnifier or closed-circuit television system (CCTV), which uses a camera to project an enlarged image on a TV screen or monitor, is also considered an optical device.

"High-Tech" Assistive Technology

Many people reserve the term assistive technology for equipment and devices that provide access to the environment and print information using computer hardware and software and other electronic equipment. Thus a video magnifier can be considered both an optical aid and a "high tech" piece of assistive technology.

Different kinds of software programs help people who are visually impaired get access to the information on a computer. Screen magnification programs enlarge the image on the computer screen, while speech-reading software is able to read the text aloud.

What Tools Different Children May Use

Keep in mind that the tools which will be used by any one child will be individualized for that child's visual abilities, cognitive abilities and needs at home, school and in the community. The following lists illustrate the array of tools any one child may use.

A child with low vision might use these tools:

  • eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • a handheld or stand magnifier
  • a slant board for bringing material closer when working
  • colored overlays to put over printed material to provide better contrast
  • bold-lined paper to help stay on the line when writing
  • a bold marker for writing
  • a calculator with a large-print display
  • a digital recorder
  • a computer with screen enlargement software
  • a video magnifier

A child who is blind might use these tools:

  • a braillewriter
  • a slate and stylus
  • raised-line paper for writing or graphing
  • a signature guide used to position a pen when signing one's name
  • a calculator with voice output that speaks what is on the screen
  • a digital recorder
  • a talking dictionary
  • a computer with screen reading software
  • an audio book player

A child who has multiple disabilities might use a combination of the tools for children with low vision and blindness and in addition may use:

  • a switch to operate a toy or appliance
  • a communication device that speaks when a button is pressed
  • a communication book that has pictures, raised symbols, print or braille in it that the child uses to express herself

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