Visual Impairment: Screen Magnification Assistive Technology

Having had a sudden loss of eyesight in 1996 I have used screen magnification technology ever since. The first package I bought was Dolphin Lunar. At this point it was on floppy disc and new and the company gave me a couple of free upgrades as it developed. Initially my sight was worse than it is now and I made use of the speech facility. You are able to choose a voice you prefer and regulate the speed at which the text is read. They even have children’s voices which is great for kids with a visual impairment. The problem with the speech facility is navigating around web pages as there is so much advertising and other intrusive text on the page which can make it very frustrating and difficult to use. However I did find it very useful for reading emails.

eye blogYou are able to magnify the text as a full or part screen and select the magnification you require. There is also the option to reverse the screen to have white writing on a black background which some people find easier to see. I wish web developers would be aware that using pale coloured fonts on pale backgrounds make it very difficult to read not just for visually impaired people. You can also change the colour of text and background for the same reason. One you have decided which settings are best for you they can be saved and will automatically appear when you boot up your system. After a few years happily using Lunar with windows I upgraded my computer and tried a different product called Zoomtext. This worked very much like Lunar so was not difficult to get used to.

As you are viewing only part of the page at any one time you have to move your mouse around far more. Unless you have a very large free desk space you will require a ball top mouse which is static and controlled by moving the ball on the top of the mouse.

I also worked with another system whilst working for a large building society. Unfortunately I can’t recall the name of the product but it was very similar. Most big organisations have a product of this kind on their systems and it easier to gain employment with them as they are already using these products. Employers should not be wary of taking on people with disabilities as funding is available for assistive technologies and they will find that they are loyal and hardworking people.

Having lost my eyesight and therefore my nursing career I decided to retrain and have done a counselling course at Leeds Metropolitan University and then trained in hypnotherapy, NLP, stress management and mindfulness meditation. Starting my own hypnotherapy practice. This has required lots of research, reading, presentations and written assignments which would have been impossible without screen magnification software.

I recently upgraded my computer and found that I would need to update my magnification software to be compatible. Both Lunar and Zoomtext were very expensive and having spoken to a friend with a similar visual impairment she suggested I try the built in Windows magnification. I am using it now and it is fine for me but does not have all the refinements of the specialist products I have previously used. The thing I miss most is a toggle between normal font size and my magnification. This was especially useful when wanting to view video or when fully sighted people wish to view the full document.

I also have a larger screen than usual which helps and large print letters on my keyboard. You can buy specialist keyboards but they can be expensive. I purchased stick on large size letters, numbers etc. which work well for me.

I use my computer daily for work, communication, shopping and reading the newspapers online. I find my magnification essential. There are some sites I am unable to use as the minute the cursor goes over text or picture it magnifies it more so that it visible on part of the screen I am not seeing and then frustratingly you move the mouse to view it and it disappears. I recently wrote to a large supermarket chain to tell them I am unable to shop online with them as I can’t see the products. If you are developing a website it might be worth bearing this in mind.

Christine Padgett