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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 5

Resources

Selecting Products for Seniors with Vision Loss

In this article, we discuss a selection of products of particular interest to seniors with vision loss, but useful to people of all ages.

The products covered here were selected based on the queries we receive most frequently at the AFB Information Center from older Americans who have recently been diagnosed with vision loss—such as age-related macular degeneration or cataracts—their family and friends, and professionals who may be new to the rehabilitation field. These consumers often have not received training in the use of adaptive technology, and frequently are not aware that adaptive products exist for performing certain everyday tasks.

If a product is sold by more than one vendor and is fairly easy to locate for purchase, we refrain from citing a specific vendor or brand. MaxiAids, Independent Living Aids, and LS&S Products are good resources to investigate for most of the common products. For unique products sold through a limited number of vendors, we provide more specific information.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to call AFB's Information Center at (800) 232-5463 or e-mail us.

Tasks Related to Health and Well-Being

Many seniors have health concerns in addition to vision loss. There are a number of adaptive products available that can help seniors independently manage and monitor common medical health tasks including monitoring body weight, body temperature, and blood pressure, along with diabetes and prescription management.

Talking and Large Print Scales

There are many talking and large print scales on the market to choose from. Keep in mind that if you opt for a large print scale you usually must remain standing for the accurate weight to be displayed, and you should not bend down to read the display. If you have trouble seeing print from a distance, or if you anticipate that your vision will worsen over time, a talking scale may better suit your needs.

Talking and Large Print Thermometers

Clinical thermometers, many FDA approved, are also fairly easy to find. Talking models are more commonplace than large print varieties. You can choose among models that take temperature by being inserted in the ear or placed under the arm or tongue.

Talking and Large Print Blood Pressure Monitors

The September 2004 issue of AccessWorld evaluated several home blood pressure monitors and recommended options for those who are able to read larger fonts on a display as well as those who rely on speech output.

Accessible Blood Glucose Monitors

Seniors with diabetes will want to read past AccessWorld articles about accessible blood glucose monitors, such as the one in the January 2008 issue that compares several models.

Adaptive Technologies for Medication Identification and Management

Many seniors with vision loss are understandably concerned about confusing medications, missing dosages, and other important issues related to medication management.

Some people with vision loss use reliable low-tech strategies such as tactile markers (e.g., different textures of rubber bands) to differentiate between various bottles of medicine, or a large-print version of the standard seven-day pill organizer found at your local pharmacy or through vendors of adaptive products.

There are also technology-based products available that can go a step further with over the counter medication and prescription management assistance. The talking MedCenter System alarm clock organizes a month's worth of medications with four daily alarms. The verbal, visual, and alarm cues this calendar/clock provides will help keep you on track with your daily dosages.

The Talking Rx is a recording device that attaches to standard pill bottles and speaks prescription information aloud. Your pharmacist reads all the information into the device, and you press a single button to listen to it. You must purchase a separate device for each medication, but the devices are reusable.

A similar device is the ScripTalk Station, reviewed in the January 2009 issue of AccessWorld , which uses synthetic speech to read prescription label information aloud by scanning each bottle. ScripTalk Station is now free-of-charge to people with vision loss. Because the device uses synthetic speech, some people with hearing impairments may have difficulty understanding the speech output. For more information, contact the manufacturer, En-Vision America.

Tasks of Daily Living

This section will cover the three areas of daily life we are most frequently asked about at the Information Center: keeping track of information, cooking, and using the telephone.

Adaptive Writing Instruments and Writing Aids

While computers and electronic notetakers have revolutionized the way in which some people with vision loss take down information, many seniors are not comfortable using these devices and want to know about adaptations that will allow them to continue to hand-write notes.

Depending on your level of functional vision, 20/20 pens, which make bold lines, and bold-lined writing paper may be all that you need. If you prefer high contrast, you can find a pen or marker that writes in white ink at most office supply stores, and use it with black construction paper or other dark-colored writing surface.

A writing guide, which serves as a template for writing in a straight line, can help you fill out checks and envelopes and sign documents and full-page greeting cards. Large print calendars and address books are also available at stationery and office supply stores.

A man using a signature guide.

Caption: Signature guides assist with signing documents and filling out checks.

Voice Recorders for Information Management

If you are not comfortable hand-writing, taking down information by voice recording is a great alternative. With the large amount of recording devices out there, it can be a daunting task to choose one for a senior with vision loss. We recommend finding a device with a simple interface and just a few buttons on the keypad, so it doesn't take very long to learn to use it. Here are some examples:

With a recording keychain, you can push one button and record a simple message, usually around one or two minutes. Because these devices attach to your keyring, you'll always have yours with you when you're out and about. These recorders are great for shopping lists, for taking down the phone number of an acquaintance you meet while doing errands, or even for recording directions from your house to a favorite destination.

Another option is the Digital Memo Card recorder, sold by Future Aids, which is the size and shape of a standard credit card, conveniently fits into a wallet, and features a 90 second recording time.

A step up from these single-message recorders is the Voice Recognition Memo Book sold by Independent Living Aids. This recorder offers 60 subjects with 12 seconds of recording time each, and allows you to organize your recordings in four chapters divided by subject matter.

Braille

Senior citizens can absolutely learn braille—it is never too late to start! If you find standard braille materials difficult to work with, you might find jumbo braille easier to read—particularly if you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, that has limited the sensitivity in your fingertips. Jumbo braille uses larger dots that are much easier to distinguish by touch.

Future Aids sells a model of jumbo braille slate that even has slots for adhesive labeling tape, so you can make labels for canned goods, appliances, DVDs, VHS tapes, and CDs. While it's true that the majority of braille items are published and manufactured in standard braille, but several companies sell jumbo braille playing cards and a few books.

Cooking Aids

Are you famous for bringing the blackberry cobbler to every family reunion? Or do you bake chocolate chip cookies for your grandchildren when they visit each weekend? Do you worry that vision loss will cause you to give up your love of cooking? The good news is that there are so many adaptations for cooking that we can't possibly cover them all here. In fact, these gadgets are so useful to people with and without vision loss that they are extremely commonplace in all types of stores.

Below is a roundup of some of the most popular kitchen and cooking aids. If you don't find something you need here, we encourage you to do your own research—chances are good that a solution is out there.

There is a wide variety of large print and tactile print measuring cups and spoons on the market for measuring wet and dry ingredients. You may want to think about high contrast when buying these items, such as using a black or dark-colored measuring cup when working with ingredients that are light in color like milk and flour. Or, you can eliminate the use of cups and spoons altogether by using a talking kitchen scale. Many varieties of kitchen scales are sold through vendors of adaptive products; most models toggle between displaying weight in either grams or ounces.

The Talking Measuring Jug, sold by Independent Living Aids, displays weight in ounces, pints, milliliters, or liters. While designed for measuring liquid, you can also weigh some solids with it.

Many people with visual impairments use a liquid level indicator, a small device that attaches to most any container with prongs and emits an audible sound when the liquid nears the rim. No more worry about overfilling a cup of hot coffee while using this device.

Many gadgets have been created to deal with slicing, cutting, and chopping food. Many people with vision loss learn advanced skills that allow them to safely use a standard knife, but this takes time. If you've recently started to experience vision loss, expect to take some time to learn nonvisual techniques for safe cutting and knife handling. Until you've mastered the nonvisual techniques, we suggest an optimum protocol for safety.

A reverse contrast cutting board, for example, allows one with low vision to use either a white or black surface for cutting, ensuring the most high contrast option can be achieved. Think how much easier it is to see a white onion on a black surface as opposed to a standard white or wooden cutting board.

Steel-lined gloves will protect your fingers when cutting. No matter how many times you slip and the knife blade touches a finger, you will be safe from injury when wearing these gloves.

There are many cutting guides available—pie wedge templates, brownie square cutters, apple corer/slicers, banana slicers, etc.—which all provide uniform or creative slicing with a little extra safety.

There are two cooking websites of interest to chefs with visual impairment. Low Vision Chef is the site of a professional chef who now has macular degeneration. The site sells products that she has found that make cooking with low vision easier. Vision World Foundation is the parent company of Cooking Without Looking, the first TV show created for people with vision loss. Guest chefs who are blind or visually impaired come on the show to create their culinary specialties, giving tips on how to cook and bake, stay safe, and have fun in the kitchen. The 30-minute show can be viewed on the Vision World Foundation website. It also airs twice monthly on WXEL-TV42 PBS in Palm Beach, Florida, and is being prepared for national distribution for PBS.

Telephone Aids

Many seniors with vision loss fear being unable to dial their phone in an emergency. Many adaptations are available for standard landline telephones that address these fears.

Telephones with large keypads and/or large print numbers on the buttons are available in retail and specialty stores and catalogues. A variety of color schemes exist, such as white numbers on a black keypad, which you may find easier to see than the standard white keypad with black letters.

If you've lost some sensitivity in your fingertips, you may want to consider a phone that operates on voice commands. Several models of this type are on the market. Sighted assistance may be needed for the initial setup of these phones.

AccessWorld provides extensive and continuing coverage of cell phones and we encourage you to search our site for reviews. Designed with seniors in mind, the Samsung Haven, the Jitterbug, and Snapfon include features for both hearing and vision loss.

Recreation

We frequently field calls from seniors who have recently lost their vision and feel they must now give up all the activities they enjoy and lead a boring, grim life. This is absolutely not the case.

A sighted and visually impaired cyclist ride a tandem bike.

Caption: Tandem biking is enjoyed by many people with vision loss.

Adaptive Products for Crafts

Many of the crafts you enjoy as hobbies are possible to do with vision impairment, it just takes a combination of practice and the use of some adaptive products.

Horizons for the Blind sells a huge selection of craft books in alternate formats. Origami, plastic canvas, latch hook, knitting, and crocheting, are just a few of the crafts for which they offer large print or braille versions of commonly used patterns. The books also include instructions on making various items, such as potholders, refrigerator magnets, afghans, clothing, stuffed animals, and dolls.

Adaptations for sewing are also available, including needle threaders and pre-threaded needles. For measuring thread, cloth, and other items, a large print or talking tape measure can be just the right solution.

Games and Word Puzzles

When it comes to card games and board games, the old favorites—and some newer ones as well—have been adapted for the visually impaired. There is no reason why you can't continue to spend Friday nights participating in your poker tournament, or beating your grandson at checkers. The many card games sold in large print and braille editions include UNO, standard playing cards, and Phase 10. Board games are adapted in a variety of ways. Tic-tac-toe, checkers, Chinese checkers, and chess use tactile and high contrast versions of the standard playing pieces. For games such as Monopoly and Scrabble, large print and braille replace the standard print found on the gameboard and game pieces. There are also large print and tactile versions of dice and dominos on the market.

Large print versions of word searches and crossword puzzles can be found very easily, by visiting a local bookstore or vendor of adaptive products.

Adaptive Technologies for the TV

There is no reason to miss the next season of American Idol, your favorite soap opera, or the evening news just because you are experiencing vision loss. Some find that just replacing their old TV with a flat screen version allows for a clearer picture. You can also try a TV screen magnifier, which will provide around 2x magnification.

You may also want to adapt your TV's remote control. Most TV remotes today have rows and rows of tiny buttons that are not distinguishable by touch—this can be a major source of frustration when just trying to turn on the TV, change channels, or adjust the volume.

The Tek-pal universal remote has only 6 buttons, each over three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and is one of the easiest remotes to use. There is no setup—just install the batteries, and it will work with most any television. The On button is a circle, the Off button is a square, Channel Up and Down buttons are opposite-pointing arrows, as are the Volume Up and Down buttons on the other side.

Some adaptive remotes have the standard variety of buttons on a much larger keypad. Some of these models are also illuminated for easier use while watching TV with the lights off. There are also voice-activated remotes that may work well if you've lost some of your sense of touch.

The access items discussed in this article will hopefully help you regain some independence and help you increase your activity. Losing vision in no way has to mean losing out on life. Simple adaptations, an open mind, and a positive attitude can make all the difference.

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Copyright © 2011 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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