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Reading and Writing

Technology provides a wide variety of tools which can be used by people who are blind or have low vision for reading and writing. These tools can be divided into categories based on the modality the user chooses to accomplish reading and writing tasks: visual, tactile, auditory. Many readers will choose a combination of these tools depending on the amount of reading and writing required and the task to be accomplished.

Tools for Reading Print Visually

These tools fall into four broad categories:

  • large print
  • non-optical devices
  • optical devices
  • electronic devices

Large Print

Standard print is usually in a 10-12 point size. While large print was often thought us as 18-24 point, today computers and printers can produce text in any size the user desires and in a variety of fonts. Most users of large print prefer a sans serif font such as Arial or Verdana which do not have embellishments on letters that can cause visual clutter and confusion like those found on Times New Roman and other serif fonts.

Non-optical Devices

Tools that do not optically magnify or change the image being viewed.

  • Lighting options—appropriate lighting conditions can greatly improve one’s ability to read printed information
  • Natural—natural lighting is a great source of lighting for reading especially when it can be controlled with blinds, shades, or curtains.
  • Book/reading stands—allow the reader to place reading materials at a comfortable position for reading and are available in portable, desktop and floor models.
  • Light filtration systems—better known as sunglasses or colored filters, these devices can be very useful especially in brightly lit environments.

To view a short video about non-optical devices choose one of the following links.

Optical Devices

These devices magnify the image of the material being viewed and should be prescribed by an eye-care specializing in low vision. The most widely used optical devices are spectacles or eye glasses and contact lens. When these do not provide enough magnification users can turn to hand-held or stand magnifiers.

To view a short video about optical devices choose choose the following link.

Electronic Devices

    Video Magnifiers or CCTVs —A video magnifier, also known as a closed-circuit television system (CCTV), allows the user to view an enlarged image of text or pictures that are placed under a camera. The image is displayed on a monitor or television. There are video magnifying systems that are mounted on a permanent stand and are very powerful but not easily moved, as well as portable hand-held systems that can travel with the user from location to location, to the store, and back home again.
    Regardless of which type of video magnifier is used, the concept is the same. The user places the material to be viewed under the camera and the camera projects the image onto the screen. The user can increase the size of the image and change the color of the type and the background. Some models connect to a computer, which allows the student to use one monitor for both systems. The computer screen can be split, with half the screen showing the information from the computer and half showing the information under the video magnifier’s camera.
    A video magnifier is also considered to be an optical device because it changes the image of the material seen by the eye. Read more about video magnifiers and learn about specific models on afb.org.
  • Scanners and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) —Scanners have now become a global technology that many people use. When combined with special software that can recognize letters, known as optical character recognition (OCR) software, however, they become an assistive technology tool that can transform print into alternative formats that can be read by people who are blind or visually impaired. For example, one might receive an important document in print. With a scanner connected to a computer the printed document can be scanned and convert into an electronic file that can be displayed as text on the computer monitor. The text can be read using several different methods, such as a screen-reading program, a screen magnification program, or a refreshable braille display. A computer word-processing program can be used to print the text it in the user’s choice of print sizes and fonts. Some people with visual impairments use conventional OCR software, while others prefer a specialized scanning system. Some visually impaired users prefer a reading machine, which is a stand-alone system with a scanner, the OCR software, and voice output all in one unit. After the page is scanned the user can listen to its contents. Learn more about scanning and OCR systems.

Tactile Tools for Reading Print

Braille Translation Software

Print material that is in electronic format (either typed or scanned into a computer) can be translated or converted into braille by using a braille translation program. Typically these programs are used by teachers of students with visual impairments or teaching assistants, along with a braille embosser, to produce materials in braille for a student. During middle school or high school, some students begin to take responsibility for preparing their own braille materials using a scanner, OCR software, a braille translation program, and a braille embosser. If your child will find this ability helpful in college or later at work, it would be a good idea for her to learn how to do it during high school. You’ll want to discuss with her other education team members whether this is an appropriate activity for your child. Find more information on braille at AFB.ORG.

Braille Embossers (Printers)

A braille embosser is a piece of hardware that can be thought of as a braille printer. Rather than printing documents in ink print, the braille embosser produces material in braille. To get correctly formatted and translated braille, the embosser must be connected to a computer that has braille translation software on it. Most embossers produce braille only; however, some are also capable of producing raised images of graphics.

Students who read braille also usually write in braille, using a variety of low- or high-tech devices. If your child writes in braille on a computer or personal digital assistant (PDA), the teacher of students with visual impairments can use braille translation software, which converts the text and prints it out for you, the teacher, or anyone else who reads print.

To view a short video about braille transcribing software and braille embossers choose one of the following links.

Braille Writing Tools and Tools for Tactile Graphics

Writing Braille

Students who read braille also usually write in braille, using a variety of low- or high-tech devices. If your child writes in braille on a computer or personal digital assistant (PDA), the teacher of students with visual impairments can use braille translation software, which converts the text and prints it out for you, the teacher, or anyone else who reads print.

Slate and Stylus

The slate and stylus are inexpensive, portable tools used to write braille—just the way paper and pencil are used for writing print. Slates are made of two flat pieces of metal or plastic held together by a hinge at one end. The slate opens up to hold paper. The top part has rows of openings that are the same shape and size as a braille cell. The back part has rows of indentations in the size and shape of braille cells. The stylus is a pointed piece of metal with a plastic or wooden handle. The stylus is used to punch or emboss the braille dots onto the paper held in the slate. The indentations in the slate prevent the stylus from punching a hole in the paper when the dots are embossed. Slates and styluses come in many shapes and sizes.

Slate and Stylus Videos

Braillewriters

Mechanical braillewriters work a little bit like typewriters. They have six keys—one for each dot in a braille cell—a space bar, a backspace key, a carriage return, and a line feed key. Braillewriters use heavyweight paper. The most popular braillewriter is the Perkins braillewriter, made by the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts.

One high-tech device devoted to writing in print is the Mountbatten Brailler. The Mountbatten Brailler combines a mechanical braillewriter and computer in one device. It has the same keys as a braillewriter, but the keys do not require as much pressure to operate. As your child uses the Mountbatten, she can feel the braille paper to see what she has written. The Mountbatten has computer technology built into it so that files can be stored and retrieved at a later time, and the device can also “speak” aloud what is brailled. The Mountbatten is typically used with younger children or with children who have additional disabilities and limited hand strength.

To view a short video about different braille writing devices, please click on one of the following links.

Perkins Brailler

Mountbatten Brailler

Auditory Tools for Reading Print

Audio Books

Perhaps you’ve listened to a book on your CD player as you’ve taken a long drive. Audio books are part of the mainstream culture. Your child can take advantage of the same audio books as others, but she also can use audio books that have some additional features for people with visual impairments. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic produces many textbooks in audio format. These textbooks need to be played on a special player that allows your child to move quickly to a specific page, bookmark information, look up words in a glossary, and much more. The National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has recreational books in audio format. Some of these books are on audio cassette and some are available as electronic files. To play the books one needs a special player that is free through NLS. Books can also be downloaded and listened to on a computer or accessible PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Bookshare.org is one web site that provides this type of service.

Writing Tools for Auditory Readers

Readers who prefer their printed information in an auditory format may choose to use visual or tactile writing tools. They may choose handwriting tools or tactile writing tools such as a braille writer. Many of these individuals will choose to use a computer with word processing software for lengthy writing tasks or some other device with a standard QWERTY keyboard. Others may choose to use speech recognition software (dictation software) which allows the user to speak to the computer and have it turn their speech into text.

Some tools are better for short reading and writing tasks while other tools are better for longer reading and writing tasks. Successful readers and writers will obtain a toolbox full of tools and learn which tool to choose for accomplishing specific tasks efficiently.

Writing Tools for Visual Readers

Many of the tools used by individuals who are blind or visually impaired for accessing print or accessing electronic information are used for writing as well. For example, if your child uses a computer, she will be able to write by means of a typical word-processing program and use a screen-reading program, refreshable braille, or a screen magnifier to read what he has just written. Another method of “writing” for some visually impaired people is dictating information to an audio recording device or speaking to a computer that uses speech recognition software instead of writing in print.

Writing Print

Children whose vision allows them to write print may often find that using dark felt-tip markers or other devices that leave dark markings on a page lets them read what they are writing more easily. The sharper the contrast between your child’s writing surface and the words she is writing, the easier it will be for her to produce legible text and read it as well. Black or navy ink on ivory paper may be best, although some children prefer white or yellow paper. (Bright white paper may cause glare.) There is also special paper with dark, wide lines (known as bold-lined paper) available that can be helpful as well. She can also place her paper on a dark-colored nonskid mat to avoid writing off the page.

Writing Guides

Various writing guides or templates allow your child to sign her name, address an envelope, or fill out a simple form. Writing guides are typically made of dark cardboard or dark plastic and are used by laying them over white or light-colored paper. They work by having a cutout space or raised lines where someone can write, helping the writer stay on the line or in place. Some writing guides have elasticized cord or string stretched across them to help with writing that drops below the line; for example, the letters g, j, p, and q.

Other writing tools include using raised-line paper and clipboards with tactile lines and open spaces for writing