March 30, 2017

Assistive Technology in the Middle Lane

Posted in: Daily Living

by Dan Roberts

(This presentation to the April 2017 session of the International Low Vision Support Group is also available in audio-visual format. The following transcript may be freely printed and distributed.)

When it comes to assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired, so many options present themselves that it may be helpful to visualize them on a three-lane highway. Devices in the slow lane are basic low-tech optical and non-optical aids. Devices in the middle lane use electronics and digital technology to make some slow lane tools faster and easier to use. Devices in the fast lane make use of Internet, satellites, computers, smart phones, and beacons, mostly for purposes of speedier communication and easier navigation.

Individuals are free to select the lane they like, depending upon their needs and goals, and they are welcome to switch from one to the other as those needs and goals change. Needfulness should be the determining factor. Ethyl, for example, likes to talk on her landline phone. For walking, she uses a long cane, and she has no problem navigating her assisted living community. For entertainment, she visits friends and family, listens to the radio, and attends descriptive movies and plays. She uses Braille to read and maintains an indoor garden. Ethyl is quite happy in the slow lane.

Harold, on the other hand, is a self-described gadget geek. He can’t afford the cost and monthly expense of high-priced devices like computers or smart phones, but he does enjoy his portable GPS for walking around the neighborhood, and his desktop and portable magnifiers come in handy for reading his mail and sorting his stamp collection. Like Ethyl, if he wants to communicate, he uses a basic cell phone. And, while his local library is an excellent resource for audio and large print books, he is saving up for a new or used reading machine. He says he doesn’t need or want all of the “toots and whistles” of computers and smart phones, no matter how hard his kids try to convince him otherwise. Harold is definitely a middle lane guy.

And the middle lane is where this presentation focuses. Realizing that many older adults have had little or no experience with the new technology, and, understandably, possess neither the means nor the desire to catch up, this information is for them. The middle lane offers a tremendous number of low tech accessibility devices, so here they are, sorted out from the equally numerous high tech devices of the fast lane.

Most of the current products are categorized here, with phone numbers, when available, for each distributor. This phone number can be used for inquiring about specific items or for ordering a dealer’s catalogue. For those listening to this program through an ILVSG-affiliated support group, a list of this contact information has been provided to each group facilitator. For those fast-lane folks who are accessing the program online, links to assistive technology dealers may be found here .

NON-OPTICAL DEVICES

Non-optical devices enhance or replace vision without use of a prescription lens. Such products currently on the market are:

Braille Devices

Compasses, watches, rulers, paper, salt and pepper shakers, money Braillers, tactile maps, games, label makers, ID tags

Non-prescription sunglasses

Measuring cups

Oven mitts

Remote alarm clocks

Giant face clocks

High contrast pens

Tactile pens

Tape measures

Writing guides

Mobility canes

Boil alert disks

Bold line and embossed writing paper

Plate guards

Large button and voice-activated TV remote controls

Needle threaders

Audible/tactile padlocks

Large print products:

Calendars

Checks and deposit registers

Books and magazines

High contrast and textured cutting boards

Signature guides

Egg separators

Bump dots

Liquid level indicators

Vegetable slicers

Wallet organizers

Large button telephones

Talking Devices

Recent technological advances have propelled visually impaired people into a whole new realm of non-optical devices. Development of digital voice recording and speech synthesization has brought electronic books and talking products:

Calculators

Prescription labels

Blood pressure meters

Timers

Scales

Compasses

Watches

Clocks

Alarm clocks

Battery testers

Reader pens

Stud finders

Thermometers

Thermostats

Bank note readers

Color identifiers

Voice recorders

Identi-Buttons

Bar code readers

Glucose meters

OPTICAL DEVICES

Optical devices use lenses to enhance near or distant vision. Close-up devices are most effective with lighting built in. Optical products currently on the market are:

Magnifying pill cutters

Magnifier nail clippers

Magnifying mirrors

Handheld magnifiers

Monoculars

Telescopes

Binoculars

Telescopes are for monocular, or one-eyed, distance viewing, and binoculars are for stereoscopic distance viewing. Both can be adjusted as needed to accommodate your acuity. Both can also be built into prescription glasses for hands-free use.

Video magnification glasses

The same technology has been applied to video magnification glasses, which are wearable 3D units that perform like hands-free digital magnifiers.

Surgical implants

ARGUS II

Implantable miniature telescope (IMT)

Important: A low vision specialist can determine the right type of device or devices that will help with the tasks to be performed.

Directory of Distributors of Optical and Non-Optical Devices

(Where phone numbers are unavailable, links have been provided. For a comprehensive links directory to more distributors, select this link.)

Beyond Sight: (303) 795-6455

Chicago Lighthouse Tools for Living: (800) 919-3375

Enablemart: (888) 640-1999

HumanWare: (800) 722-3393

Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

LS&S Group: (800) 468-4789

Maxi-Aids: (800) 522-6294

Telesensory (U.K.): 0843 289 8224

The Bookbinder Group (U.S.): (800) 535-9436

VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Zoomax USA: 844-496-6629


PERCEPTION ENHANCING GLASSES

The newest thing to come down the pike are perception enhancing glasses. They not only see for you, but they describe through the earpiece who or what they see, using artificial intelligence for recognizing places, signs, and objects. A device called OrCam is the only one of its kind right now, but a similar product may be on the market in about five years. The main difference will be its use of ultrasound to detect objects.

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ELECTRONIC VIDEO MAGNIFIERS

In addition to enlarging from two to many times, video magnifiers offer the option of viewing black letters on a colored background or colored letters on a black background. Controls for contrast and brightness are also standard. Many video magnifiers also provide other special on-screen features and controls. Some of them will also allow you to freeze the image, and the more advanced ones will adjust, or “wrap”, text to fit the screen, eliminating the need for constant shifting of the printed material. Video magnifiers come in several styles: handheld, portable, desktop, and head-worn.

Portable and handheld video magnifiers can magnify almost anything within reach. Some portables are large enough to magnify entire book pages, while handheld cameras are useful mainly for functional reading, such as product labels or recipes. Some are on rollers, which make them easier to move across a flat working surface. Portable magnifiers can cost around $3,000, while smaller handheld products will run closer to $1,000.

Directory of Portable and Hand-Held Electronic Magnifiers

Amigo
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161

Aukey
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Aumax
Enablemart: (888) 640-1999
Aumed
Magnifying Aids: (800) 919-3375

Butterfly
Zoomax USA: 844-496-6629
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Candy
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Capture
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Color Mouse
Bierley Associates: (800) 985-0535

Compact 4 (dome magnifier)
Optelec: (800) 826-4200

Compact
Optelec: (800) 826-4200

Crystal
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375

Explore
Humanware: (800) 722-3393

Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118
LS&S: (800) 468-4789

Eye-Pal (also OCR)
ABiSee: (800) 444-4443

Eye-Q
Enablemart: (888) 640.1999

Fusion
Ash (Ireland): +353 45 882212
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

La Voice Solo (also OCR)
Magnification Resources: (866) 278-1850

Liberty
Enablemart: (888) 640.1999
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-33755

Looky
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Magni-Cam
Synapse: (800) 317-9611

Mattingly SMART
Mattingly Low Vision: (888) 642-0842

Max
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161
Nanopac: (800) 580-6086

MaxLupe
LS&S: (800) 468-4789
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

MiniMax
Chicago Lighthouse Tools for Living: (800) 919-3375
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Mobilux
Eschenbach: (800) 487-5389
Visual-Tech Connection: (800) 589-8835
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020

MonoMouse
Bierley Associates: (800) 985-0535

ManoTouch
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Nemo
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161

Olympia
Telesensory (U.K.): 0843 289 8224
The Bookbinder Group (U.S.): (800) 535-9436

ONYX
Freedom Scientific: (800) 444-4443

Opal
My Vision Aid: (866) 379-5319

Pebble
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161
LS&S: (800) 468-4789
The Visability Store: (404) 602-4358
Sight Connection: (800) 458-4888
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Pico
Telesensory (U.K.): 0843 289 8224
The Bookbinder Group (U.S.): (800) 535-9436

Portix
Clarix: 408-409-733

Prodigi Portable (also OCR)
Humanware: (800) 722-3393

Quicklook
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375
Eschenbach: (800) 487-5389
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

RUBY
Freedom Scientific: (800) 444-4443
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Sapphire
Freedom Scientific: (800) 444-4443

Smartlux Digital
Eschenbach: (800) 487-5389

Snow
Zoomax USA: 844-496-6629
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

The Traveller
Optelec: (800) 826-4200

Versa
(phone unavailable)
Rehab Mart

VisioBook S
Chicago Lighthouse Tools for Living: (800) 919-3375

Visolux
Eschenbach: (800) 487-5389

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Desktop video magnifiers, also called closed circuit televisions, or CCTVs, come in many makes and models, sizes, price ranges, and capabilities. They enlarge anything within range of their cameras and display the images on a screen. They use a stand-mounted camera to project a magnified image onto a video monitor or a television screen. Some products have an adjustable camera on an arm for viewing at a distance or close up. Cameras that are mounted on a fixed stand require the reading material to be placed under the camera and moved across and down the page. To make the process of viewing easier, a table that is movable from the top of the page to the bottom and side to side (referred to as an xy table) is used with most stand-mounted cameras. Typically, video magnifiers that use a camera mounted on a fixed stand are in the $1,800 to $4,000 price range. Lower cost video magnifiers that plug into a TV are in the $400 to $1,000 price range.

Directory of Desktop Magnifiers

Acrobat
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161
Vision Aid Systems: (800) 765-7483
Aroga: (800) 561-6222
Magnification Resources: (866) 278-1850

Aladdin
Telesensory (U.K.): 0843 289 8224
The Bookbinder Group (U.S.): (800) 535-9436

Atlas
Telesensory (U.K.): 0843 289 8224
The Bookbinder Group (U.S.): (800) 535-9436

Aurora
Zoomax USA: 844-496-6629

ClearNote
Optelec: (800) 826-4200
Visual-Tech Connection: (800) 589-8835

Clearview
Optelec: (800) 826-4200

DaVinci HD
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161

Eclipse Touch
Enablemart: (888) 640.1999
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375

Explorer
Magnisight: (800) 753-4767

Eye-C
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

Freedom Machine
(no phone number available)
Vision Technology

IBIS FHD
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

iView
VisionAid (U.K.): 01775 711 977

InSight
(no phone number available)
Vision Technology

LaVoice Solo (also OCR)
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375

Merlin
Aroga: (800) 561-6222
Beyond Sight: (303) 795-6455
ULVA: 855-GO2-ULVA
Magnification Resources: (866) 278-1850
VisAbility Store: 404-602-4358

Mezzo HD
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020
Magnifying America: (800) 364-1610

Panda
Zoomax USA: 844-496-6629

Premier
(no phone number available)
Vision Technology

Presto
LS&S: (800) 468-4789
Florida Reading & Vision
(no phone number available)
info@floridareading.com
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020

Prisma AF
Maxi-Aids: (800) 919-3375
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020
Prodigi (also OCR)
Humanware: (800) 722-3393

ProSeries
(no phone number available)
Vision Technology

Select
(no phone number available)
Vision Technology

Smartview 360
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020

STRIX
Florida Reading and Vision Technology: (800) 981-5119

Synergy SI 22″
Humanware: (800) 722-3393

The Detective
Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

The Investigator
Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

The Prisma
Magnifying Aids: (727) 526-2020

The Solution
Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

The View
(no phone number available)
Vision Technology

TOPAZ
Freedom Scientific: (800) 444-4443

Triad Color Magni-Cam
Innoventions: (800) 854-6554

TVi Color
Magnification Resources: (866) 278-1850

VEO HD CCTV
Reinecker USA: 888-733-2352

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Head-worn video magnifiers are also available, offering hands-free stereoscopic operation. These kinds of units are the most expensive, ranging from $7,000 to $15,000.

Directory of Head-Worn Electronic Magnifiers

eSight
eSight: (855) 837-4448

NuEyes
NuEyes: 800-605-4033

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AUDIO BOOKS

Audio books are now mostly on compact disks (CDs). They are recorded by professional readers and can be found alongside printed books in commercial bookstores. Audio books can be played on any stand-alone CD player or on a computer with a disk input .

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DIGITAL TALKING BOOKS

Talking books used to be on cassette tape in analog format, meaning that the reader’s voice was physically stored and played back in real time. Today, talking books are mostly digital files, meaning that the voice is stored, like computers, as combinations of the digits 1 and zero. This allows users to skip instantaneously to specific places in the book, insert bookmarks, and more—no longer having to wait for rewinding or fast forwarding.  Digital talking books also allow users to increase or decrease the speed of the reading using speech compression. This cuts pauses between words rather than just increasing the speed at which the book is played. So the narrator will seem to be reading very quickly without sounding high-pitched like Alvin the Chipmunk. Probably the most beneficial advantage of digital talking books is that several books may be contained in only one tape or disk, making them many times more convenient and economical.

Digital talking books will play only on specially-designed stand-alone players or computers. The stand-alone machines are the easiest to learn to use, and they can be small and portable. They are also the most affordable players for people who do not own a computer. For people who are qualified, the National Library Service’s Talking Books program provides hundreds of thousands of titles on digital tape at no cost through participating local libraries. And they even provide a free machine on which to play them.

Directory of Digital Talking Book Products

Book Port Plus
(no phone number available)
sales@aph.org

Milestone
Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

PLEXTALK (player/recorder)
Sinano Kenshi Corporation: (310) 693-7600

Professor
Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

Talking Books
National Library Service: (888) 657-7323
Local Libraries

Telex Scholar
Independent Living Aids: (800) 537-2118

Victor Reader
Humanware: (800) 722-3393
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PORTABLE GPS NAVIGATION

Digital speech has been combined with satellite guidance research to build portable talking Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to help navigate through unfamiliar territory. Some units provide route directions, while others use ultrasound to detect objects in the user’s path and alert the user by vibrating or chirping as the person approaches the object. The vibrating or chirping feedback generally accelerates as the user nears the object.

Directory of Portable GPS Navigation Products

Kapten PLUS GPS
Leader Dogs for the Blind: (888) 777-5332

Miniguide (obstacle detector)
LS&S Group (U.S.): (800) 468-4789

Pamtrad (U.K. and Europe): 0115 9816636
Trekker Breeze

Humanware: (800) 722-3393

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LIGHTING

It’s surprising to a lot of people with low vision that something as basic as adequate lighting can be so effective at helping to continue their everyday activities with little or no assistance. Specialized lightbulbs and lamps provide higher levels of lighting to assist with reading or other daily activities. Some lightbulbs are capable of mimicking natural sunlight, illuminating the entire room. These “daylight” or “full spectrum” lamps are not, however, recommended for up-close task lighting, since their high blue content is thought to be hazardous over time to the retinas of people with low vision. The safest lamps are those rated with a heat temperature of 5000 Kelvin or lower. Generally, around 4000K provides the best and safest white illumination for good contrast and color recognition.

Directory of Products Specializing in Safe Task Lighting

Berryessa Designs
(no phone number available)
www.berryessadesigns.com

Jinn Lighting (Shenzhen) Co.,Ltd
(no phone number available)
www.made-in-china.com/showroom/szjinn

RobinSpring32 3200K compact fluorescent
(no phone number available)
Email: mumford.robin@gmail.com

SoLux
(800) 254-4487

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OPTICAL CHARACTER RECOGNITION SYSTEMS (ELECTRONIC READERS)

Optical character recognition (OCR) systems provide persons who are blind or visually impaired with the capacity to scan printed text and then have it spoken in synthetic speech.

Initially, a printed document is scanned by a camera. OCR software then converts the images into recognized characters, and the synthesizer in the OCR system then speaks the recognized text. The user can select the kinds and speeds of voices, and the reading can, in most machines, be rewound, paused, and forwarded.

Prices of self-contained OCR systems range from $3,000 to $5,500.

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Directory of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Products

Eye-Pal (also CCTV)
ABiSee: (800) 444-4443

La Voice Solo (also CCTV)
Magnification Resources: (866) 278-1850

Optelec ClearReader
Optelec: (800) 826-4200

Orcam MyEye (headworn)
The Low Vision Store: (888) 216.1912

Poet Compact 2
Baum USA: 855 620-7985
Baum UK: +44 20 8133 9432

Portset Reader
Portset Systems (U.K.): +44 (0) 1489 893919

Prodigi (also CCTV)
Humanware: (800) 722-3393

SARA
Freedom Scientific: (800) 444-4443

Simon
LS&S: (800) 468-4789

Smart Reader
Enhanced Vision: (888) 811-3161

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This has been an attempt to cover the entire realm of middle lane low vision devices available as of early 2017. It is a vast array of medium technology that doesn’t even touch upon the miracles to be found in the fast lane. The point being that one can do quite well without computers, smart phones, artificial intelligence, and internet-based appliances. If, however, a person would like to take a look at the fast lane, a complete directory of higher technology products is available on the Living Well With Low Vision website.
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Our thanks to the American Foundation for the Blind for providing a helpful resource for this article.
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Corrections and additions to the above directories are welcome. Send to director@mdsupport.org
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