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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Lesson 19: Resources for Restoring Your Technology Skills

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Apple Watch, modeled on wrist, with paired iPhone nearby

As you have learned by now, experiencing vision loss requires learning new ways to do many things, from determining what time it is, to organizing your kitchen and pantry. This series of lessons has covered many useful tips, such as putting a rubber band around your blood pressure pill bottle so you can distinguish it from your ulcer medication or pinning your socks together before you toss them in the hamper so they’ll still be mated after laundering.

Computers, smartphones, and other digital technologies can also provide a giant boost to your everyday independence and quality of life. In this lesson, you'll be introduced to a range of American Foundation for the Blind resources that describe the technologies that make it possible for people with visual impairments to use a computer or touchscreen mobile device to live independent lives.

Lesson Goals

  • Find out how you can use assistive technology in everyday life;
  • Gain familiarity with AFB and other resources on technology;
  • Learn about options for making a computer accessible;
  • Learn tips on mobile device accessibility.

Click here to review the learning checks before reading the lesson.

Assistive Technology in Daily Life

Illuminated Big Button Remote Control

Assistive technology can feel like an overwhelming and vast subject, but don't despair—you don't need to learn everything at once! An excellent introduction to the ways assistive technology can help you in your daily tasks is this article on AccessWorld, “A Day in the Life: Technology that Assists a Visually Impaired Person Throughout the Day,” by Bill Holton. This article offers solutions to life's challenges from the moment you wake up through the end of the day. Here are a few recommendations found in the article about how technology can help you all day long:

  • Wake up to the sound or vibration of an accessible alarm clock.
  • Take the correct medication with the help of a talking prescription bottle or other device that both identifies your medication and reminds you to take it!
  • Keep up with the world through your talking computer or cell phone. (Try using the existing accessibility features on your computer, such as screen readers and screen magnifiers.)
  • If you are heading out of your home and need directions, try an accessible GPS to go with your mobility cane, or use Google or Apple maps on your smartphone.
  • Check out your bills with OCR features available through the KNFB reader app for your smartphone
  • Get some help reading labels on canned goods. Use the free "Be My Eyes" app for the iPhone to connect to a network of volunteers. The app uses your device's camera to initiate a video session with a volunteer who can look through your phone and identify which can of food you want.
  • Time for some recreational activities? “Surf TV with an illuminated Big Button Remote; try out secondary audio tracks where a narrator describes the program's action; go to a movie—many movie theaters offer special headsets on request that play an audio description track."

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on accessible alarm clocks, products for managing your health, and other accessible products for everyday tasks.

AccessWorld, a monthly online publication from the American Foundation for the Blind, holds a wealth of information about access technology. You can find information about smartphones, household appliances, online gaming, navigation and identification apps, and more.

AFB also offers many articles on using technology in everyday life. There are articles about social media; online shopping and banking; using technology for reading, entertainment, and prescription management; accessible identification systems; selecting home appliances; and using GPS. See the Additional Technology Resources list at the end of the lesson for links to these articles on using technology in everyday life.

Accessible Computers: Introductory Information for the Computer Novice

If you haven't used a computer regularly, you might be feeling like there isn't much point in starting now. What you may not realize is that, with the help of a few key pieces of software, computers can give you easy access to a huge range of information, services, and tasks that might otherwise be more complicated or time consuming to find or get done.

Senior couple in home office with laptop

Use the following articles on AFB to get a sense of what becomes possible when you embrace assistive technology for computing and how to select a computer for your personal use.

Low Price Computers

If your finances are such that you cannot afford an expensive new Windows PC, as a person with a visual impairment you are eligible to purchase a refurbished Windows desktop or laptop computer, pre-configured with a screen reader, screen magnification software, and a suite of other essential software applications, for under $200. These affordable, accessible computers are provided at cost by Texas-based Computers for the Blind (info@computersfortheblind.net; 214-340-6328), a volunteer organization that has provided well over 6,000 accessible computers to visually impaired individuals across the US.

Master the Keyboard Without Vision

It's important to develop good skills for moving around the keyboard without vision as you develop your new computer skills. Even if you have some usable vision, learn to keep your eyes on the screen so you don't lose your place.

This AFB article, “The Importance of Keyboard Skills for Computer Access for Users with Visual Impairments,” covers keyboard layout, differences between the keyboards found on Mac and PC computers and laptops, and a variety of other important keyboarding topics.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on typing products and typing teaching software.

Dolphin Guide

If this is your very first time behind the keyboard, consider purchasing a Windows computer along with a software package from Dolphin Computers called the Dolphin Guide. This review, “Dolphin Guide from Dolphin Computer Access: A Suite of Access Programs that Simplify Computer Use,” from AccessWorld will give you a sense of the program’s purpose and capabilities. You can also view or listen to an introductory video that features a variety of people with visual impairments talking about how they’ve found Dolphin Guide helpful. While the software is a bit pricey, the company does offer a 30-day free trial, so you can try before you buy.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for a link to the Dolphin Guide Introductory Video.

Dolphin Guide replaces mouse controls and most keyboard commands with an extremely easy-to-use numerical menu structure.

You may need sighted help to install the Dolphin Guide software, but you can set Guide to start automatically each subsequent time you start your computer. When Dolphin Guide is activated, the normal, potentially confusing Windows desktop is replaced with a simple menu-driven list of options. If you have low vision, you can enlarge these menus and adjust the colors to best suit your visual acuity. If you have extremely limited vision, or no vision at all, you’ll be able to listen because the Dolphin Guide speaks every command in a clear, easy-to-understand digital voice.

With Guide, the only keyboard keys you will have to know to perform tasks are the number keys, the Spacebar, the Escape key (ESC), the Arrow keys, and the Enter key.

Guide offers a numbered menu. For example, here is the beginning of the menu for the opening screen:

Press 1 to send and receive e-mails

Press 2 to write letters and other documents

Press 3 to access a website

Press 4 to scan and read a book, magazine, letter, or printed page

Other choices will enable you to play an audio CD or video DVD, access a dictionary or thesaurus, record a voice memo, create and consult your calendar, and keep track of your finances.

Using a Standard PC or Mac Computer

Making Your Computer Easier to See Through Built-In Color and Contrast Options

If you just need a little bit of help to get back to using the computer, try this on Windows computer: Press the Windows key and the letter U at the same time. This will summon the Microsoft Ease of Access Center.

Making Your Computer Easier to See Through Built-In Magnification Options

Windows

Consider turning on the Windows Magnifier, which can also be found in the Ease of Access Center. Alternatively, you can press the Windows + (plus) key combination to increase magnification, and Windows - (minus) key to reduce it.

You can use Magnifier’s “Zoom” control, or the Windows + (plus) key to magnify the contents displayed on the screen up to 16 times. Windows Magnifier offers three different ways to enlarge the screen.

Whenever you start Magnifier, the program’s toolbar appears briefly, then gets out of your way. You can summon it again by clicking the magnifying glass icon on your screen or the Magnifier icon on your computer’s taskbar.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on how to make your Windows computer screen easier to see with Windows Magnifier and a list of Magnifier hotkeys.

Apple

For accessibility options on Apple computers, read “Apple OS X Accessibility Options for People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision,” on AFB. This article introduces a range built-in access options.

Pressing Command + Option + F5 will give you the complete list of accessibility options for OS X, including color, contrast, magnification, and VoiceOver options.

Using Your Computer’s Built-In Screen Reader

Windows

You can also have your Windows PC read text, menus, and other controls aloud using the Narrator screen reader. Read the “Low Vision and Blind Computer Screen Access Using the Windows Narrator Screen Reader” section on “Windows Accessibility Options for People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision” from AFB.

Another free screen reader is NVDA.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for information on how you can download and use NVDA for free.

Browsing the Web with a Screen Reader

Just as print documents can be structured with styling such as headings, bulleted lists, and text blocks, websites have structure as well, and screen readers make use of this. Unlike print documents, however, webpages also have many kinds of interactive content. There are many types of elements on a webpage, but the most common ones are headings, lists, graphics, and links. The most basic way to navigate through a webpage while using a screen reader is with the Up and Down Arrow keys. This will move your focus to every element on the page in order, including non-interactive text. The Tab key will move your focus by interactive elements, such as links and buttons, but usually skips over bulk text elements. One good strategy for reading a new page is to jump through it by heading to get a feel for the page’s structure. On a webpage, pressing the H key by itself will move to the next heading. You can also navigate to the next link by pressing the K key. Holding Shift will move you backward. You can activate a link by pressing the Spacebar on your keyboard. This will either take you to a new page or a different part of the page you are currently on.

With these basic commands, you can pretty effectively read a webpage. A good way to navigate a webpage is to scan the page by heading and then use the up and down arrow keys once you’ve found something you’re interested in.  Each screen reader has its own specialized commands that you will need to learn.

AFB offers an in-depth look at the screen readers and screen magnifiers that come pre-installed on modern PC and Mac computers, as well as a range of third-party options. Depending on the type of computer you have, you will want to read the appropriate section of the series to find the right information for you. 

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on pre-installed screen readers and third-party options.

Web Browsing with Magnification

If you are browsing the web using a screen magnifier, there are a few additional settings that can help increase your enjoyment and productivity.

In most browsers, the F11 key will toggle you from normal view to full screen. The latter will hide all of those menu bars and other icons that can be distracting. Also in the View menu of most browsers, there is a “zoom” button that will enable you to enlarge the current webpage.

If you are using a mouse, the Control and the scroll wheel on the mouse will shrink and enlarge in Internet Explorer.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on web browsing.

Using Mobile Technology: Cell Phones, Smartphones, and Tablets

If you were a smartphone or tablet user before you began to lose your sight, you know how dependent we can become on these portable devices and how useful they can be. If you did not use mobile technology before your vision loss, now that you are experiencing a visual impairment, these devices can be incredibly helpful to have with you, not just for the ability to make phone calls, but also to identify currency, objects, or items when you're out and about; to know where the closest bus stop is and get voiced directions to its location; and to be able to tell colors when you're out shopping for clothes, among many other uses.

Just like with desktop and laptop computers, screen readers and screen magnifiers offer access to mobile devices. Read this series on AFB, “Cell Phones, Tablets, and Other Mobile Technology for Users with Visual Impairments,” for a wealth of information about the benefits and use of mobile technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. Along with information about touch screen access, you’ll find discussions of apps designed specifically for people with visual impairments.

Tips for Using a Touch Screen Mobile Device

When sighted people use a touch screen smartphone or tablet, they tap icons or slide a finger across the display in order to make things happen.  But what if you can’t see those icons clearly enough, or not at all?

Both iPhones and Android smartphones include two built-in accessibility features: a screen magnifier and a touch screen reader. Smartphone magnifiers do just that—magnify the screen and use larger fonts, enhanced contrast, alternate color schemes and other techniques to make it easier to see. Touch screen readers use human-sounding, synthesized voices to read and review the screen, much like Narrator for Windows or VoiceOver for Mac. However, unlike those screen readers, which use keyboard commands to navigate around a page or site, smartphone screen readers use special touch gestures to get the job done.

For iPhone, iPad, and the iPod touch, this screen reader is known as VoiceOver for iOS. On Android phones, the touch screen reader is called TalkBack. Windows touch screen tablets can also be accessed using magnification and the Narrator screen reader. 

Mobile Device Screen Readers

"VoiceOver" or "text-to-speech" are common terms for software programs that convert text displayed on the screen of a mobile device to audio output, making it possible for people with visual or learning impairments to access these devices. Regardless of the brand or style of mobile device, a common feature is a smooth glass display, called a touchscreen, that responds to tactile input. In addition, an on-screen keyboard is a common way to enter or edit text on mobile devices.

The VoiceOver Screen Reader for Apple Mobile Devices

The easiest way to turn on VoiceOver is to ask the Siri digital assistant to do it for you. Press and hold the Home button—the round button beneath the screen on your device—and when you hear the beep, say, “Turn on VoiceOver.” Note: You can also turn VoiceOver off by instructing Siri, “Turn VoiceOver off.”

With VoiceOver turned on, touch the display in different places to hear the names of different icons or snippets of text.

In order to effectively use the Apple mobile VoiceOver screen reader or on your iPhone or iPad, it is very important that you learn how to move around or navigate to the text or apps (other software programs) that are installed on your device.

iOS Gestures

The term “gestures" describes the range of movements you can make with your fingertips on the surface of a mobile device's touchscreen in order to control what the device does and also to learn about what is currently displayed on the screen. Below you will find descriptions of some of the most commonly used gestures in in the Apple mobile operating system, which is called "iOS.".

Swipe Gesture

To swipe, touch the screen with your fingertip or fingertips and smoothly swipe either up, down, left, or right. A swipe can be made with multiple fingers. Remember to keep your fingers slightly separated when using a swipe gesture that requires multiple fingers. Get into the habit of looking around on the screen by starting toward the upper left-hand corner of the screen just as you would if reading a page of text. Use a one-finger swipe to the right to listen to all of the apps or other items on the screen. Here are a few additional gestures that involve using your fingers for swiping.

  • One-finger swipe right or left: selects the next or previous item that gains focus
  • One-finger swipe up or down:  choices are given depending on the rotor setting (see below)
  • Two-finger swipe up: reads all from the top of the screen to the end of the page
  • Two-finger swipe down:  reads all from the current position to the end of the page
  • Three-finger swipe up: moves down the page
  • Three-finger swipe down: moves up the page
  • Three-finger swipe left: moves forward one page
  • Three-finger swipe right: moves back one page

Tap Gesture

This gesture is exactly what you would expect: a quick tap with one or more fingers. Again, remember that when multiple fingers are required, be sure to separate your fingers slightly and make the tap rather quickly (to differentiated this gesture from the tap-and-hold gesture covered below). Here are some additional gestures that use the tap.

  • One-finger double tap: activates the item that has focus
  • Two-finger single tap: starts or stops audio or the current item being read aloud
  • Two-finger double tap: when focus is in an edit box, starts dictation feature; another two-finger double tap ends the dictation feature
  • Three-finger single tap: tells what is currently visible on the screen and its position
  • Three-finger double tap: turns VoiceOver off or on
  • Three-finger triple tap: turns screen curtain off or on
  • Four-finger tap at the top of the screen: tap with four fingers at the top of the screen: Focus goes to the first element on the page
  • Four-finger tap at the bottom of the screen: focus goes to last item on screen
  • Four finger double tap: Turns on or off voice over help

Tap-and-Hold Gesture

This gesture requires that you do not remove your finger(s) at the end of the final tap. A typical use for this gesture is you want to rename a tab, button, or app.

  • Two-finger double tap-and-hold: brings up an edit box where you can type a new name

Scrub Gesture

Place two fingers, slightly separated, on the screen and draw the letter "Z" to dismiss a notification or go back one screen.

Flick Gesture

The flick gesture is typically used when you are given choices from a list or a spin selector that contains days, numbers, etc. The flick is done just as if you are using your finger to flick something off of the device’s screen.

Using the iOS Rotor

The rotor contains a list of choices depending on what application you are currently using. To use the rotor, with VoiceOver enabled, place two fingers on the screen and rotate them as if you are turning a dial. Lift your fingers when you hear the feature you want

Hints

When you are using gestures to navigate your mobile device, you may hear VoiceOver speak additional information or choices. Listen to the hint to learn the gesture that is needed to complete or start the task you're working on.

Practice Mode

Another great way to learn VoiceOver gestures is by double-tapping the screen with all four fingers. This summons VoiceOver’s Practice Mode. Your iPhone or iPad will now speak the function of any gesture you perform.  When you’re finished, press the Home button once to exit Practice Mode.

Using the On-Screen Keyboard

When you double-tap a text entry field, the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard appears on the bottom half of the screen.

Explore this keyboard by using one of three methods:

  1. Lightly touch the screen in various locations. This is known as Explore by Touch.
  2. Slide a finger across the bottom half of the screen until you hear the various keyboard characters spoken.
  3. Swipe your way across the onscreen keyboard using either left or right one-finger swipes.

Notice that the letters are in the same locations as most standard hardware keyboards. Now, when you find the key you want, perform a double-tap anywhere on the screen—it’s that simple.

At first, typing on a touchscreen virtual keyboard can seem a bit daunting. Keep practicing, though. Eventually, things will click, and you’ll be able to move on to the iPhone’s touch-typing mode. Using the touch-typing mode, all you need to do is find the key you want to enter. The simple act of lifting your finger causes the character to be entered into your e-mail or text. Pretty cool, eh?

Getting Help with iOS and Android Accessibility

Apple provides support for Mac computers and users of iPhone and iPad accessibility products. You can reach them via e-mail at accessibility@apple.com.

In the US, you can also reach them by phone between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., at 877-204-3930.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on Apple’s accessibility resources.


Learning Checks

What is the title of AFB's assistive technology magazine?

  1. AT
  2. Computers for the Blind
  3. AccessWorld
  4. Technology for the Visually Impaired

Answer: c

What are the two major types of computer access technology used by people with visual impairments?

  1. Screen readers and screen magnifiers
  2. Guide and VoiceOver
  3. Talking Typist and OSX
  4. None of the above

Answer: a

Mobile technology is helpful for people with visual impairments because with it you can do the following while you are outside of your home:

  1. Make a phone call
  2. Find public transportation options
  3. Identify things in your environment
  4. All of the above

Answer: d

What is the name of the organization that provides low cost computers for people with vision loss?

  1. NLS
  2. Talking Books Mobile
  3. Computers for the Blind
  4. None of the above

Answer: c

Click here to return to the beginning of the lesson.


VisionAware and Other Resources

The following links will take you to VisionAware online resources that support this lesson. Please be advised that information in these links may go beyond the scope of this lesson or this course.

Accessible Products for Telling Time

Accessible Products for Managing Health and Medications

Typing Products and Typing Teaching Software

Talking Typer for Windows from American Printing House for the Blind

Dolphin Guide Introductory Video

Make Your Windows Computer Screen Easier to See with Screen Magnification

List of Windows 7 Magnifier Hotkeys

Learn NVDA: A Free Screen Reader for Windows

Pre-Installed Screen Readers and Screen Magnifiers: Introduction to Computer Accessibility Software

Windows Computer Access Using Third-Party Screen Magnifiers and Screen Readers

Tips for Web Browsing with Vision Loss

Apple’s Accessibility Resources

iBUG Today: Conference Call Training and Mentoring Program

Resource from Berkeley Web Access: Making Computer Use Easier for Elders

Resource from Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Instructional Technology Videos

Resource from AppleVis.com: Community of Blind and Low Vision Users of Apple Products

Additional Technology Resources

The AFB website contains a wealth of information about assistive technology for people with visual impairments. Some of the resources provided in this lesson are articles that are a part of the “Technology Resources for People with Vision Loss” series, which covers a wide range of topics that you might find of interest.

Using Social Media with a Visual Impairment or Blindness

Online Shopping and Banking for People with Visual Impairments

Using Technology for Reading: Solutions for People with Visual Impairments

Using Technology for Entertainment for People with Visual Impairments

Medication Management, Health Monitoring, and Fitness Tracking Tools

Accessible Identification Systems for People Who Are Visually Impaired

AccessWorld Appliance Accessibility Guide Introduction

Smartphone GPS Navigation for People with Visual Impairments

For the Experienced Computer User with a New Visual Impairment


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