I am very grateful to colleagues for their advice and comments, and now
Bedfordshire & Luton Archives Service uses computer located in searchroom.
The software is Zoom Text
which has a number of different voices to choose from.
Cluster in Manchester University Computing uses IBM Home Page Reader
cheaper than JAWS and they've used it to browse the Archives Hub site
successfully. Only a small percentage of blind people can read Braille, so
audio browsers are more of a priority.
National Library of Scotland has large screen monitors and keyboards and
track balls to help with the catalogue. Their readers find particularly
useful the Aladdin Rainbow video magnifier
It has an excellent range of magnifications, different coloured screens,
highlighting facilities and a moveable base so items of a reasonable size
can fit on (they modified the base to take even larger items). This is meant
for the visually impaired but is regularly used by a wide cross-section of
their readers for reading faint hands, wet letterpress volumes etc.
sent helpful information on the different approaches available for computer
use by people with a visual impairment.
Many public access centres such as libraries provide a screen reader
facility such as Jaws or Supernova. Supernova is often used as it also
includes screen magnification. Public access centres should also make
allowances for other disability types such as those who may not be able to
use a standard keyboard or mouse.
These notes are intended to introduce the major approaches used to address
the needs of people with impairments of vision who use or wish to use a
computer. They are not intended to be detailed or comprehensive. Further
advice and information is available from AbilityNet. These approaches can
be used singly or in combination to enable a visually impaired person to use
a computer effectively.
Simple first considerations;
Access to the keyboard: Typically the letters on a computer keyboard are
small and difficult to see. Large print keytop stickers in several colour
combinations are available. However, acquiring reasonable touch-typing
skills is highly desirable in all cases save those where a physical
impairment prevents this. Touch-typing tutors are available in large print,
on tape and as a speaking computer program.
Screen placement: The placement of the screen can be important. Glare and
window light can make unusable a computer that would otherwise be
Colour: Many people with impaired vision can see some colour combinations
better than others. Colour options are available in practically all modern
programs, or can be achieved by more basic approaches. Windows has a wide
range of pre-defined colour schemes to try. Contact us for a sheet
explaining how to change and modify your colours.
Large screens: Larger-than-normal screens (VDU displays, monitors) produce
a larger-than-normal image.
Specialist manufacturers make screens that are very large - up to 30"
diagonal. Some users get the image size they need without the need to learn
any new or additional computer-use technique.
Laptop screens: The screens on portable computers vary in quality. "TFT"
(or "Active Matrix") technology offers the best visibility and contrast and
is available in sizes up to 14.1" on some models of laptop.
Making text easier to see:
Choice of font style and size: A font such as the one this document is
written in - "Arial", can be easier to see than others which are not uniform
width and have "serifs" (tails) such as "Times New Roman".
In Windows a number of colour schemes (mentioned above) include larger text
of up to 3 times the normal size.
The mouse pointer: In most cases it is quite easy to change the colour of,
and enlarge up to three times, the mouse pointer (arrow). A wider range of
sizes and colours and high visibility effects can be achieved with
Enlarging the text
"Zooming In": A number of programs such as word-processors allow the user
to increase the size of the text in the window where the document appears
quite considerably. This does not affect the size in which the text is
printed out. Most buttons on the toolbar (the row of small pictures at the
top of the screen that can perform an operation when clicked with the mouse)
can be enlarged also by choosing the right option within the program.
Magnification software: A number of products are available that produce an
enlarged image on the computer's screen. The sizes of enlargement possible,
the image quality and the method of control vary. Enlarging characters in
this way always means that only a portion of the whole screen is visible at
any time. Use of such software is relatively simple and is available for DOS
and Windows as well as other operating systems. There are also a number of
word-processing packages specifically designed for use with large
Working without vision:
"Screen reading" using speech output: It is often thought that a graphical
interface such as Windows, with its pictures and "icons", is inaccessible to
those without vision. In fact these operating systems are still, in
reality, text-based and often pictures are purely cosmetic or accompanied by
a text label.
A blind computer user can know what is on the screen by having the necessary
information spoken by a synthetic voice. This could include having each
character or word echoed back as you type. On computers that can produce
sounds and music the speech output can be produced in a similar way, through
the main speakers. In other instances a separate piece of equipment may be
required to make the computer talk.
The software programs that control the speech (called "screen readers") vary
in their reliability and intelligence. The more sophisticated allow the
user effective and reliable "eyes-free" use of the vast majority of DOS or
Windows programs (as well as some running under other operating systems).
"Screen reading" using braille output: As well as offering speech output,
screen reading software can also produce a Braille readout of the text on
the screen. What would otherwise be spoken is displayed on an
electromechanical strip of typically 20-40 cells situated close to the
keyboard. Braille output can be used alone or combined with speech output.
"Screen reading" access to the internet: A program called a "web browser"
is used to view pages on the internet (called "web pages" or "web sites").
These pages contain mostly textual information, but could also include
pictures, music and video or audio clips. It is important to choose the
right software to get best access to these pages.
There are some specialist web browsers that enlarge text and speak the
content of a web page. Also, some combinations of screen readers and web
browsers have the ability to make the reading of pages with complex
structures and layouts even easier than the specialist web browsing
Portable computers and note-takers: Visually impaired people may wish to
have a portable solution to their computer needs. There are many portable
devices that offer note taking, word- processing, diary and address book
Some are specialist machines that have been designed to give speech and/or
Braille output and have either Braille or "Qwerty" keyboards. Others are
essentially laptop computers running screen reading software with speech
output or a Braille display added.
Other helpful technology:
OCR/Scanning: A scanner looks a little like a small photocopier on which
you place a page of text or opened-up book. The text on the page is
converted into text on the screen which can then be magnified or spoken
back. There are many specialist scanners that can "read" the printed page
and automatically speak back the contents. They do not need to be attached
to a computer and do not have a screen. Mainstream scanners, however, are
now typically sold with the necessary optical character recognition (OCR)
software, at a fraction of the cost, and can easily be used by someone who
already has a computer with speech, Braille or enlarged image output.
No scanner can read hand-written text.
CCTVs: Closed circuit TV systems are devices that enlarge print or
hand-written text as required by the user. They may or may not be attached
to a computer. Most common are standalone models. They comprise a single
unit, with a screen above a moveable table on which is placed the item to be
Portable versions are available, with small hand-held cameras that connect
to a television or computer. Those connecting to a computer give the user
the option to view the CCTV image, or the computer image, or both in a
These solutions need not be thought of in isolation. For many visually
impaired users the best solution might combine a number of the strategies
Related RNIB factsheets:
<[log in to unmask]>
Iain E.F. Flett, City Archivist,
Dundee City Archive & Record Centre,
21 City Square, Dundee DD1 3BY, Scotland, UK.
(Callers enter by 1 Shore Terrace)
Tel: +44 (0) 1382 434494 Fax: 434666
Email: [log in to unmask]
Office website: http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/archives
Friends of Dundee City Archives website
Genealogy Unit website:
Email: [log in to unmask]
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