By Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT

First, Some General Considerations

  • The person who is blind, visually impaired, or has low vision should have as much input as possible in the selection of an adapted watch or clock.
  • A timepiece that seems “easy to use” for a fully sighted person may not be appropriate for an individual who is blind or has low vision.
  • How easy – or difficult – is the battery insertion and removal? Is it possible to change the batteries independently?
  • Does the timepiece have an alarm? Is an alarm an important feature for the person?
  • Is it possible to set the time and alarm easily and independently? Some timepieces, especially talking timepieces, may require many steps to set the time and alarm.
  • Does the watch have an expansion band or a buckle band? Many times, a “stretchable” or expansion band is easier to get on and off independently.
  • Try to keep in mind the principles of universal design: simple, familiar, durable, and easy-to-operate are usually the best choices.

Selecting a Low Vision Timepiece

  • Consider the size of the watch and clock face: A woman’s watch will have a smaller clock face and numerals, while a man’s will be larger and likely easier to read.
a low vision watch
  • Many people with low vision prefer the larger size and visibility of a man’s watch.
  • Does the person prefer a digital or analog (i.e., hour and minute hands) clock/watch face? Let the person with low vision make the choice.
  • If analog, examine the arrangement of numerals on the dial. Are all numbers represented, or only 12, 3, 6, and 9? Again, let the person with low vision make the choice of numeral visibility and placement.
  • Whether digital or analog, consider the contrast between the clock/watch face and numbers. Usually, black numbers on a white background, or white numbers on a black background are the easiest to see.
  • At left: A man’s low vision watch with white numerals on a black face and an expansion band.
  • When selecting a wall clock, look for large, plain numbers or letters on a contrasting non-glare background: black numbers on white or white numbers on black. Position the clock at eye level, if possible.

Selecting a Talking Timepiece

  • Examine the voice quality: Is it a male or female voice? Male voices are usually (but not always) easier to hear. Let the individual user make the decision.
  • Can the volume be adjusted? Be certain that the person can hear the voice and time announcement before purchasing a talking timepiece.
a man's talking watch
  • Examine the size and location of the controls and buttons, as well as the number of steps required to set the time or the alarm. Some talking timepieces have very small controls and may require many steps to set the time and alarm.
  • Are other languages available? Many talking watches are now available in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
  • Does the watch have time, day, and date functions? Does the person require these functions? If not, look for a simpler timepiece.
  • Some talking watches and clocks adjust automatically for Standard and Daylight Savings time and don’t require resetting.
  • At right: A man’s talking watch with a digital display and a buckle band.

Selecting a Braille Watch

Many adults and older adults may be reluctant to try a braille timepiece because he or she “doesn’t read braille.” braille watch Braille timepieces, however, do not contain braille letters or numbers; instead, they use a pattern of raised tactile markings: (a) 3, 6, and 9 are marked with two dots, (b) 12 is marked with three dots, and (c) the remaining hours are marked with one dot. Braille watches are more accurately described as “tactile” timepieces:
  • Reading the time on a tactile watch requires opening the crystal and touching the raised markings and hour and minute hands.
  • Most tactile watches open at either 3:00 or 6:00.
  • Some tactile watches open by pulling up on a latch; others open by depressing a button.
  • Examine the location and durability of the latch, the hinge, and the opening.
  • A man’s larger tactile watch face is usually easier to read initially.
  • Above left: A man’s stainless steel braille watch with an expansion band.
Read about choosing an adapted clock.

Where You Can Find Adapted Timepieces

You can find these and other specialty timepieces in Sources of Specialty Products. You can also find good-quality low vision and talking watches and clocks in your local “big box,” department, and drug stores.