How to make them accessible

In the United States, approximately 1 million adults age 40 and older are blind, 12 million are visually impaired, and 93 million are at high risk for profound vision loss.

Meanwhile, computers have quickly become common, even indispensable, in almost every area of ​​life. However, computers are generally a visual technology, which depends on the ability to see the computer screen and read text. Therefore, computing for the visually impaired may seem like a contradiction to sighted people. Yet advances in adaptive technology have made computer use possible for more blind and visually impaired users than ever before.

A computer accessible to the blind can be a powerful tool for the independence of blind and visually impaired people. Accessible technology enables people who are blind and visually impaired to follow the news, conduct banking and stock market transactions online, buy products online, and stay in touch with colleagues, family and friends.

Read on to learn what you need to know about computers for the visually impaired.

How do blind people use computers?

People who are blind or partially sighted usually use assistive technologies. Assistive technology for the blind is any hardware or software that helps blind and partially sighted people access computers, phones, tablets, and other technologies that traditionally rely on sight. Assistive technology can be simple, like screen magnification, or high-tech, like an updatable braille display.

Specific types of assistive technology for people who are blind include:

Screen readers

Screen readers are software that translate on-screen text into speech or Braille. You can control screen readers for the blind using keyboard commands. This software can read specific words, parts of text, entire web pages or describe where the cursor is on the screen.

Refreshable braille display

Refreshable braille displays allow braille readers to refresh web content like sighted readers do. Updatable braille displays electronically raise and lower the pins. The screen displays up to 80 braille characters at a time and changes as the user scrolls or uses a cursor. This allows the updatable display to function as a Braille computer display.

Refreshable braille displays can be expensive — anywhere from $3,500 to around $15,000 — but are valuable for deaf-blind users who cannot hear text-to-speech screen readers.

You can combine braille displays with screen readers and use both simultaneously. Using both can help the user understand text layout and navigate information that you can’t easily understand by hearing it read aloud, such as tables and charts.

Screen magnification systems

Screen magnification systems are software for the visually impaired that magnify text and images on a computer, phone, or tablet screen. Magnification generally follows the slider, allowing users to magnify the screen area they need to see clearly.

Some screen magnification systems will also allow the user to invert colors or use high contrast color schemes, improving text readability for many visually impaired users.

How can I find computers for blind users?

Almost any computer can be made accessible to blind people with accessibility software or hardware. While many assistive technologies are free or inexpensive – for example, simple text-to-speech apps come pre-installed on many devices – some assistive technologies are prohibitively expensive for many people.

Resources to help people who are blind and partially sighted access technology include:

computers for the blind

Founded in 1995, Computers for the Blind is a non-profit organization that helps provide computers, accessibility software, and technology training to people who are blind and visually impaired. Computers for the Blind refurbishes donated computers, provides pre-installed accessibility software, and sells it to visually impaired people for a low price, typically $200 or less per computer.

NV access

NV Access is a non-profit organization founded in 2006 that has developed a free and open source screen reader, NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA). NVDA supports translation for over 50 languages, as well as many popular applications for Windows computing.

What is the best computer for the visually impaired?

Although there is no best computer for everyone who is visually impaired or blind, you should make sure that the computer and assistive technology you choose can meet your technology needs.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does this hardware or software meet my specific needs?
  • Is this tool easy to use?
  • Is there training available for this product?
  • Is this tool compatible with the technologies I already use and love?

In general, desktop computers have faster processing speeds, larger screens, and higher quality speakers than laptops and tablets. Tablets and laptops are portable and lightweight, but may require additional hardware (such as headphones to clearly facilitate text-to-speech screen readers or a larger screen to use your laptop at home) to accommodate all your needs.

If you’re not sure which computer or assistive technology is right for you, consider asking for a referral to an assistive technology specialist through your company, school, or community. medical care provider. An assistive technology specialist is a professional trained in the use and selection of assistive tools. They can ask you about your needs and help you choose the right products for your situation.