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Assistive technology refers to computer aids that enable persons with disabilities to perform everyday tasks at home, at school, at work, and at play. These technologies have leveled the playing field, and opened up many avenues of opportunity to provide people with disabilities a fighting chance for educational and career development, as well as full integration into society and the economy.

Following is a description of some of the commonly use technologies that are available today. All of these products can be purchased through the Torres Foundation for the Blind. The prices listed here are in US dollars and subject to change. All profits from the sale of the technology are used by the Torres Foundation to support the many programs and services that we provide in the blind community.

Screen Reading Software (JAWS for Windows)

A screen reader is a software program that uses synthetic speech technology to verbalize screen output for computer users who are blind. Screen readers are multilingual. The information can be read in character, word, line, and full screen units depending on what is required by the user. Speech rate, pitch, volume, word pronunciation and personality can all be configured to individual preferences. Screen readers primarily depend on the location of the active cursor to determine which information should be read. For example, if the cursor is focused on the first item of a menu, that menu item will be spoken. When the cursor is moved to the next menu item, the screen reader reads the next menu option. Along with speech output, screen readers can also display the information in Braille on a refreshable Braille display. JAWS for Windows (JFW) from Freedom Scientific is the most popular screen reading software on the market today.

JAWS for Windows is highly customizable and is frequently updated to keep up with the latest computer software and hardware. Visit the JAWS section of the Freedom Scientific web site to learn more.

  • JAWS for Windows (Freedom Scientific) $895.00 - $1095.00 depending on version

Screen Magnification Software

Screen magnification software programs enlarge text and graphics that appear on a computer display for people with low vision. Magnification can range from 1.1 times regular size text to 16 times regular size text. The program also provides a variety of viewing and cursor tracking options. These features enable users to customize the system to accommodate their particular low vision needs when reading the computer screen.

Most screen magnification software systems are intuitive and relatively easy to learn. Both the mouse and special keystrokes are used to operate the program. The software can also read the text at the cursor location outloud through the computer speakers. For example, a user could place the mouse pointer over a block of text and have the program read the text outloud.

The Torres Foundation sells the MAGic and ZoomText screen magnification software programs.

  • MAGic (Freedom Scientific) $345.00 - $595.00 depending on version
  • ZoomText (AI Squared) $395.00 - $595.00 depending on version

Video Magnification Systems

A closed-circuit television (CCTV) or video magnifier uses a stand-mounted or hand-held video camera to project a magnified image onto a video monitor or a television (TV) screen. It is a device that is used by people with low vision to read printed materials (i.e. textbooks, pictures, maps, etc.). They can project images in regular color, black-on-white, white-on-black, and a wide variety of other color contrasts. It is also possible to use the device for tasks such as writing, sewing, and much more. The high-end systems allow for integrating the computer image and the CCTV image in a split screen or full screen switch display on the computer monitor. This makes it possible to only have one monitor for both the computer and CCTV.

Stand-alone Video Magnifiers

The stand-alone video magnifier sits on a desktop and comes with a moving table that is located under the video camera. The user places the material to be read on the table under the camera and uses the zoom feature of the camera to focus and magnify the document. The table can then be moved left, right, up, and down as needed for reading. As the table is moved the text on the page scrolls across the screen in the magnification set by the user.

  • TOPAZ Desktop Magnifier (Freedom Scientific) $1995.00 and up depending on screen size and model

Portable Video Magnifiers

Hand held video magnifiers usually come with a 4 to 7 inch monitor which makes them very portable. They can also be attached to a larger monitor or standard television. However, TV hookups do not produce the sharpest images. The hand-held camera comes with its own lighting and rollers. Reading is accomplished by setting the magnification and focus, then placing the item to be read on a flat surface and, rolling the camera across the document. Hand-held video magnifiers are sufficiently flexible to allow the user to read just about any printed information in reach (i.e. medicine bottles, food containers, stereo control panels, etc.).

  • OPAL (Freedom Scientific) $795.00

OCR Reading Systems

Optical Character recognition (OCR) reading systems enable the user to scan and read printed materials. These systems can be purchased as stand-alone units or PC software. OCR software is used along with a scanner and speakers to convert printed text into computer text that can then be read using synthetic speech. The software discards unrecognizable objects such as pictures or hand writing. The stand-alone devices do not require a computer and are great for people who may have difficulty using computers.

  • OpenBook software (Freedom Scientific) $995
  • Kurzweil 1000 software (Kurzweil Education Systems) $995
  • SARA stand-alone device (Freedom Scientific) $2795

Accessible PDAs

Accessible PDAs are small, portable devices with braille and QWERTY keyboards for entering information. They use a speech synthesizer and/or braille display for output. The user enters the information on the keyboard and has the option of transferring it to a larger computer with more memory, reviewing it using the built in speech synthesizer or braille display, or printing it on a braille or ink print printer.

PAC Mate

The PAC Mate is an accessible PDA that is built around the Microsoft Pocket PC. Blind users can use synthetic speech or refreshable Braille technology to access the many information management features available on the Pocket PC. Users can take notes, send and receive email, create spreadsheets, and surf the Internet with PAC Mate. It is a hand-held device which makes it highly portable. It is perfect for a person who is blind to take notes in a classroom or business meeting.

  • PAC Mate (Freedom Scientific) $2395 - $5595 Depending on model

Refreshable Braille Displays

Braille displays reproduce the information that appears on a computer screen in braille. The device is connected to the computer via USB, parallel, or wireless Bluetooth and usually sits on a desk under the keyboard for easy reach. It operates by raising and lowering different combinations of pins electronically to produce in braille what appears on the current line in focus of the computer screen. It is sometimes referred to as a refreshable braille display because it is constantly updating to reflect the new information that has come into view. As the user navigates from one line to another the information on the new line is displayed in braille. Most refreshable Braille displays have controls that allow the user to quickly and easily navigate through text on the computer screen. Sizes usually range between 20 and 80 cells of Braille.

  • PM or Focus Braille Displays (Freedom Scientific) $1400 - $6995 depending on number of cells and controls