March 30, 2017

Assistive Technology in the Middle Lane

by

Assistive Technology in the Middle Lane

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.
____________________________________________________________
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
____________________________________________________________
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)
[email protected]
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
____________________________________________________________
Head-worn video magnifiers are also available, offering hands-free stereoscopic operation. The cost of these kinds of units range from $2,500 to $10,000.
Directory of Head-Worn Electronic Magnifiers
eSight
eSight: (855) 837-4448
Iris Vision
IrisVision, Inc: (855) 207-6665
NuEyes
NuEyes: (800) 605-4033
seeBOOST
Dallas Lighthouse: (214) 420-6577
____________________________________________________________
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 .
____________________________________________________________
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)
[email protected]
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
____________________________________________________________
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
____________________________________________________________
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: [email protected]
SoLux
(800) 254-4487
____________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________
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
____________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________
Our thanks to the American Foundation for the Blind for providing a helpful resource for this article.
____________________________________________________________
Corrections and additions to the above directories are welcome. Send to [email protected]
____________________________________________________________

We offer resources and free materials for those living with low vision.

View Resources