You may have a number of reasons for not using a computer up until this point. Maybe you've felt that technology is depersonalizing. Perhaps you tried using a computer briefly, became overwhelmed, and haven't touched one since. Or perhaps you simply never felt the need to learn to use a computer in the first place.
Whatever your reasons for not using a computer, your change in vision status is a good time to rethink how technology can help you maintain your independence. An accessible computer can be one of your most valuable tools. Consider just a few of the tasks of daily living you will be able to accomplish independently using a personal computer:
- Keeping in touch: E-mail is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family. The social network Facebook is another way to reengage in family life and keep in the know.
- Keeping up with the news: Most local and national newspapers, including the New York Times and USA Today, now publish online editions. These online editions often include a great deal of additional content not available in the print editions. If there is a subject that interests you, even narrow-focus topics like community theater or one of the companies in your stock portfolio, you can have Google News send new, relevant articles on this topic to your e-mail inbox.
- Handling finances: Online banking allows you to not only keep track of your balances, but you can also monitor spending and pay bills—nearly all of which you can have sent your way online so you don’t have to look for them in the mail.
- Shopping: You will marvel at the shopping opportunities that will become available to you online. If you can find it in a store, you can almost certainly purchase it online. In many communities you can even grocery shop online and have everything delivered right to your front door.
- Catching up on your reading: Most books are now available in digital formats, including those you can read on the Amazon Kindle, and those digitized by Project Gutenberg, a vast repository containing nearly every work of literature available in the public domain. You can also register for Bookshare, a membership service that allows individuals with print disabilities to search, download, and read for free nearly 200,000 titles, including the latest bestsellers.
- Saving money: Using a computer, you can speak directly to that distant relation or pen pal who lives halfway around the world, with no long distance charges, even to another country.
- Staying entertained: From accessing your local TV schedule to renting and watching the latest hit movies, you won’t miss your printed TV Guide subscription or trips to the local video store. And don’t worry about reading the labels on your music CDs. Using a screen reader or screen magnification, you can find the music you want online, discover and purchase new music, or listen to it for free or via a low cost subscription.
- Reading your mail and other important documents: With a computer, you won’t need to hire a reader to help you go through your mail. Instead you can use an image scanner and an optical character recognition (OCR) program such as Kurzweil 1000 or OpenBook to turn letters, fliers, and books into machine-readable text that your computer can speak to you. Even cans and boxes from your pantry can be identified for you using a hand scanner connected to your computer and the Internet.
How a Computer Provides Access for Users with Visual Impairments
Computers use special programs, operating systems, and applications, to perform tasks as varied as solving advanced mathematics problems to displaying your grandchild’s latest artwork on a screen. Though it might seem that the majority of a computer's functionality relies on vision, the truth is that text lies behind most of what a computer does, from calculations to web pages. And since text can be output in an audible format, under the right circumstances and with the right training, computers are actually highly accessible to people with visual impairments. Think of it this way: When you type an "A" on a computer keyboard, you can either see that letter show up on the screen or hear it read aloud.