Technology, for individuals with a vision loss, particularly a newly acquired loss, can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, technology can be anxiety provoking, no matter what your vision is like, and if you do have a recently acquired vision loss, it may be precisely what is going to get you back to reading, locating resources, and into the workplace again.
It is often very difficult for an individual who may not be comfortable, or experienced with technology, in the first place, to imagine learning it, sometimes for the very first time, with less vision than they once had. In addition, there may not be ready access to someone who can provide the Access or Assistive Technology (AT) training needed to access the computer with a screen magnifier or screen reader, the technology often used to make computers more usable with a vision loss.
Getting Started With NLS Talking Books
One of the first steps to learning more about Access Technology may be the National Library Services (NLS) Talking Books program. Many people are unaware that the NLS offers a digital Talking Book player to anyone with a disability negatively impacting access to print. The player is available at no cost, and the books are sent through the postal service postage paid, so there is no charge for the books. The Talking Book Player is an easy-to-use device, with some great features, that make it a perfect tool for learning more about access technology, or just a simple way to get back to reading.
If you’re already familiar with the NLS Talking Book Player and thought it was limited to just reading audio library books, take a second look! Magazines, mp3 audio files, and podcasts may also be played on the Talking Book player, making it a very versatile learning tool. Users may download books and magazines directly from the Library of Congress website (see below), or a wide variety of other content websites, install the files onto a flash drive or blank Talking Book cartridge and listen to them on the player. If you are not a computer user or familiar with downloading files, ask a family-member, librarian, or other volunteer for assistance. Once you have the audio files on the flash drive or cartridge, you play them just as easily as any other Talking Books.
Resources to Get Started:
To become a patron and get the Talking Book Player, download an application for the NLS Talking Book Program from: https://www.loc.gov/nls/pdf/application.pdf.
To review or print out NLS Talking Book Player training materials, go to: http://www.loc.gov/nls/networkdocs/digitalbooktraining/
The National Library of Congress also hosts BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download), which is part of the National Library ServiceTalking Book service. BARD will provide access to the National Library of Congress Talking Book Library online, so patrons don’t need to wait for their books to arrive via postal mail. To complete an online application go to https://nlsbard.loc.gov/NLS/ApplicationInstructions.html.
BARD Talk on the Web Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) http://www.bardtalk.com/faq.php covers many questions related to downloading files to flash drives and NLS Talking Book cartridges.
For a list of retailers selling the blank NLS Cartridges and USB cable for transferring files, check out http://www.loc.gov/nls/cartridges/index.html. Remember, the USB cable for these cartridges is not a standard USB cable!
Free Audio File Downloads
Whether you are a computer user or not, the NLS Talking Book Player will permit you to tap into the wide variety of audio content available on the Internet. In addition to listening to books and magazines, you may want to take advantage of the many podcasts (digital audio recordings) on access technology that are available at no cost.
Alternative Download Sources
BARD is only one of many places to find books, magazines, and instructional podcasts that can be downloaded and played on the Talking Book Player. Try these alternatives:
AIRS LA (Audio Internet Reading Service of Los Angeles) has a great selection of audio magazines, podcasts, and newspapers that can be downloaded to NLS Cartridges or flash drives. For individuals with a vision impairment there is no charge to download files from http://www.airsla.org. Don’t let the title fool you, there’s no requirement to be a resident of Los Angeles to use the service!
Seminars@Hadley offers one of the best sources of podcasts related to access technology for blind and visually impaired users. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about the Apple iPad’s VoiceOver screen reader, for example, download the iFocus series for free, and get hours of great training! Users will also find a wide variety of other archived podcasts related to employment, adapted daily living skills (ADLs), braille, and much more. Go to http://www.hadley.edu/seminarsathadley.asp to search the archives.
Another great resource for training is the Talking Computer Magazine from the UK. There is a whole section on Training Guides done by Jim Gamage covering the latest version of Windows 10, a handy primer on editing documents with a screen reader, and much more.
Lastly, the UK’s Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) offers many podcasts as part of their Insight Radio program, including Tech Talk, a weekly summary of the top technology news with a focus on access technology.
Diving Into The Deep End
Once you become acquainted with some of the resources available using the Talking Book Player, you might grow a bit more excited about getting a PC with a screen magnifier or screen reader. With a collection of audio tutorials handy for the Talking Book Player, you may even feel like you have your own personal tech trainer at your side!
Resources For Low Cost Computing
If you’re getting started with computers and on a budget check out Low Cost Computing for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired on VisionAware.org. It is not an audio podcast but it is worth printing out for future reference.
If you have a vision impairment, you may qualify for a low cost refurbished computer from Computers for the Blind, that comes with some accessibility software pre-installed!
Consider, as another alternative, an Apple–certified refurbished Macintosh computer or iOS Device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch) form http://www.apple.com/shop/browse/home/specialdeals. Apple offers the VoiceOver Screen Reader and Zoom screen magnifier pre-installed on their computer operating systems.
Remember, if you are using a Windows 7 PC or newer, you have a screen magnifier built-in! Lowvisiontech.com has a Windows Screen Magnifier Tip Sheet, which includes links to tutorials and keyboard shortcuts. Press the Windows key with the number pad “+” to open the magnifier and increase magnification. The Windows key with the number pad“-“ decreases the magnification, and Windows key with “esc” will turn the magnifier off. In the magnifier settings you may select a partial screen area to be magnified, or a full screen magnifier. It is worth noting, but just barely, that Windows does offer a screen reader called Narrator that may get you started with screen reading, but it lacks the features needed for all but the most basic computer tasks.
After taking the plunge with one of these low cost computers, you may find yourself in need of some tech support. Try these resources:
No cost tech support is available for Apple users who use any accessibility features on their products by calling Apple Accessibility toll free at 877-204-3930. My calls to Apple Accessibility have been great experiences, with knowledgeable, patient tech support personnel.
Microsoft too offers no cost tech support through their Disability Answer Desk at 800-936-5900.
Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind also offers no cost tech support for visually impaired users of access technology hardware or software, by calling (888) 825-0080.
If you are new to access technology, feeling intimidated by technology in general, or just wondering how you’re going to manage with a vision loss, “Welcome!” Take a deep breath, order yourself a Talking Book Player from the National Library Service, and get your feet wet at your own pace. You have many alternatives, and with a little effort you’ll find something that fits both your budget and style.