Computers and Software for people with sight problems
Computers to assist people with visual problems come in three main types, not suitable, suitable and over engineered.
386 & 486 machines are slow and difficult to upgrade.
Not worth the effort and a waste of money. If free, strip the sound card for spares.
A/ Any Pentium 100 - 200 without USB ports is able to run simple Magnifiers or Document Reading software. With enough memory they can scan documents slowly.
B/ Pentium II’s running at 233 - 350 with 32 Meg of memory can handle most Magnifiers and Voice Reading software without problems. Cheap Scanner’s attached to the USB ports are reasonably fast.
C/ Pentium II’s 400+ with 64 – 128 Meg of memory is ideal for all tasks including voice recognition and fast scanning.
This is the ideal machine for all current tasks.
Any Pentium III or IV is more than any current disability software requires, only the very fast USB2 ports combined with a modern USB2 scanner offer any improvement over older machines.
Windows is the only practical operating system, other systems do exist but getting device drivers and specialist software will be a nightmare.
Windows 95 is a bit old and does not support USB devices.
Windows 98 is good for what we are trying to achieve. Use the 2nd Edition if possible. Ask people to give you their copy when they upgrade! Drivers for USB2 devices may not be available.
Windows ME can have problems with some software. Try it out and experiment if you have time. Drivers for USB2 may not be available.
Windows XP is different to all the previous systems, there may be driver problems with older hardware and many of the programs will not work. If you buy a new computer you will end up with this preinstalled. Support for USB2 is inbuilt.
These devices should have TWAIN compliant drivers.
SCSI scanners are best ignored.
Printer port scanners are very slow and not worth using.
USB scanners are good and cost under £50 new.
USB2 scanners are the fastest but need a special internal card or a modern machine.
Parallel printers are fine.
USB printers are generally faster
Second hand printers can be a problem, most people change printers when they start to play up, do you need there problems when a new USB printer costs less than £40.
These special Brail printers need to be installed according to the manual. They can be tricky to set-up and often interfere with normal printers, manufacturer support in my experience is poor.
Many people with sight impairment do not use a mouse. Many computers however throw a fit if one is not attached. As the error is detected before Windows loads any screen reader installed will be unable to report the problem and the system halts and waits and waits….
Many people with total sight loss do not use a monitor and it is quite usual for this to be switched off when you come to service the machine. One company supplied a mono VGA screen to a client which had me fooled for a time. (When did you last see a B & W monitor?)
Software for people with visual impairment is easy to acquire, some is built into versions of Windows and is suitable for some users. Others require more sophisticated solutions and that for most users means expensive! It does not need to be and there are many free or inexpensive alternatives.
Scan and View
Magnifiers with font smoothing
Magnifiers with a voice
Scan and Read
Zoom Text Extra
Document and e-mail readers
Screen Reader 4
Simple scan and read programmes
Scan and Read Lite
Scan, read and word processor combined
Complete Reading System
This is not a comprehensive list but represents the most common programs available in the UK. Each has its strengths and weaknesses be it ease of use or price. Some will not run alongside other manufactures products, a screen reader may not work with a document reader because they both want to use the sound card. When that happens the computer may “lock up” and nothing works, a blind person will have no audible warning and switching off is the only way out.