New Year’s Resolution for Assistive Technology

A man holding a business diagram, featuring different types of technology.

If like many individuals experiencing vision loss, you are finding it difficult to read the text on the computer screen, tablet, or smartphone, you may be completely unaware of what options are available on your existing devices to make them easier to see, or in some cases, read the screen to you. Chances are, if you have a recent loss of vision, you may have no idea that features or technology exists called Assistive Technology (AT) that makes it easier for users with vision loss to access their devices. With the other New Year’s resolutions you may have thought to commit to this year, why not make a resolution to learn what AT is available to make your tech gadgets more usable?

Recently, a client was referred for vision rehabilitation services that included, among other things, difficulty reading her computer screen. When I called to make an appointment for our first meeting, I asked about her computer use. She reported she was using a Mac desktop and often had to use her handheld magnifier to see sections on the screen. When asked if she used a screen magnifier, she reported she’d tried a plastic device that went in front of the screen but found that it didn’t really help.

When asked if she’d ever adjusted the System Preferences on the Mac to turn on the Zoom screen magnifier, built into the Mac, there was a long pause in the conversation. "I didn’t know there was anything like that on the computer," she replied. I knew at that point it was going to be a successful first meeting and that she most likely already had what she needed to see her computer screen more effectively built into the operating system of her computer. It was a very successful first meeting because, at the end of our lesson, she had Zoom turned on the computer, magnifying the screen two to three times, making the text much easier to read. She also learned the few keyboard commands needed to increase and decrease the magnification. Because the computer screen was placed next to a window, there was also a demonstration of how much clearer the screen was when the glare was reduced by drawing the blinds when using the computer.

This recent training is by no means unusual, in fact it is very typical—clients with recent vision loss have been using computer technology visually with generally good sight for many years, as have most of their acquaintances, so there has never been any training or resources provided for using the computer with reduced vision or none at all. This is often not addressed in the doctor’s office, and many individuals with a recent loss of vision are left to uncover these resources on their own.

If you’re reading this, you’ve already started looking, so congratulations! Your next resource can be the VisionAware Service Directory. This is a national list of services by state and category of service. For a comprehensive list of services, select "All" from the drop-down menu or "Computer/Assistive Technology Training" for a more targeted search on technology training. This directory will point you to state and local agencies with vision rehabilitation therapists, assistive technology specialists, orientation and mobility specialists, and low vision therapists, all of whom will either have some training in assistive technology or can point you in the right direction.

Additionally, the federal Assistive Technology (AT) Act provides financial assistance to states to help support programing to provide AT training, device demonstrations and loaners, and funding for consumers who will benefit from AT. Look up your state in the ATAP Directory of AT Act Programs for additional resources that are not limited to blindness and low vision tech.

An older man and woman at a desk in business attire working on a computer together

If you too have a Mac and didn’t realize you had a built-in screen magnifier, try pressing, Command + Option + 8 to turn Zoom off and on, and once on, Command + Option + Plus to increase the magnification and Command + Option + Minus to reduce the magnification. Users will find more options in the Apple Menu under System Preferences, Universal Access. For more accessibility shortcuts, check out Mac Accessibility Shortcuts on Apple’s Support website. For other types of computers and assistive technology, check out Low-Cost Computing on VisionAware.

A vision loss may change the way you use a computer to some degree, and the first step is figuring out what you need. It’s a new year, and there are more assistive technology features than ever before. Make a commitment to yourself to find out more about them!

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