Low Vision Aids for Computer Users
In general, visually impaired people can use the same low vision aids for viewing a computer screen as they do for regular reading activities. These include eyeglass-mounted magnifiers, handheld magnifiers and stand-alone magnifiers.
But also, special software has been developed to either display computer data in large print or read the material aloud in a synthetic voice.
These adaptive low vision devices let partially sighted people do the same computer-related tasks as fully sighted people such as word processing, creating and using spreadsheets and viewing Web pages online.
Most computer operating systems and Internet browsers allow you to increase the size of Web pages and text on your computer screen to make them more visible to partially sighted users.
Here are a few simple tips for adjusting text size:
- In most browsers on a PC you can enlarge a web page on your screen by holding down the Control ("Ctrl") key on your keyboard and tapping the "+" key. (If you use a Mac, use the Command-shift keys.)
- To zoom out, tap the "-" key while holding down the Control key (or Command-shift keys).
- To return the view to actual size, tap the "0" (zero) key while holding down the Control or Command key.
- You also can hold down the Control or Command key, then use the wheel on your mouse (see below) to increase or decrease the size of the web page.
- Some browsers also offer the ability to adjust only the text size (but not pictures or other web page elements). Look for this setting in the "View" menu.
- When using Outlook or other email programs, open the Help menu and search for "zoom." You will find specific instructions for enlarging text in emails. The same goes for Word and other word-processing programs.
Below are three images of one of our articles, as shown in the Google Chrome browser. In the top image, the article text size is set at 100 percent. Below, the text has been enlarged by clicking on the larger-font symbol in our header. Below that, the text has been enlarged with Ctrl+.
In Google Chrome, you can use Ctrl+ multiple times, until the text is the best size for you. Keep in mind that Ctrl+ enlarges not just text, but images, too.
Large-print display software goes the extra step and displays not just larger text on your screen, but also larger icons, mouse pointers and other navigation items.
Another option is to use a screen magnifier placed in front of your display. But with the prices of flat-panel screens coming down, you might instead consider purchasing a larger display that's 19-24 inches with a diagonal measurement.
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Voice Computer Systems
People with tunnel vision from glaucoma or central blind spots from macular degeneration may find it difficult and tiring to read an entire computer screen. This is one reason that "talking computers" were invented.
Talking computers are based on optical character recognition (OCR) systems that first scan text in a word processing document or Web page and then convert the text to sounds. The result is a synthetic voice that reads aloud not only the actual text but also important navigation items such as the cursor location. Voice systems are available from several major software companies.
Some people with low vision prefer using keyboard commands instead of a mouse, because impaired vision can make it more much difficult to precisely position the cursor on the screen with a mouse.
Making the effort to memorize those keyboard commands may help you work faster at the computer, with less frustration.
If you would rather use a mouse, you may want to invest in one that is ergonomically designed for comfort and ease of use.
A wireless optical mouse is another good option, because your movements aren't limited by the wire leading from the mouse to the computer. If you sometimes experience hand cramps, try using a bigger mouse that lets your hand stay in a more open position, instead of clenched up.
A common source of frustration is a mouse set at a speed that is too fast or too slow. If you're a Windows user and you can't control your mouse because it seems to "zoom" across the screen, you can adjust this by clicking on the Start menu, then Control Panel, then Mouse. There you'll find all kinds of mouse behavior settings, including the pointer speed.
Glare and Contrast Adjustments for Low Vision
If you have low vision, you should consider using higher contrast settings on your computer screen. You'll find appropriate settings this way:
- Select Control Panel on your PC.
- Open the Display Properties dialog box and choose Appearances or Settings.
- Under the Appearances and Themes tab in more modern software, select the High Contrast option.
- Under Control Panel in modern software, you also might have a tab for Accessibility Options containing tips for low vision adjustments.
If you have a Mac, select System Preferences and then Displays. You'll then find options for adjusting screen resolution to increase contrast and to change the appearance, which allows you to select colors.
Dark text displayed against light backgrounds generally is considered the best color combination for those with low vision.
To reduce glare on your computer screen, make sure you close curtains to prevent reflections from outside lighting. Also, try adjusting the position of your computer screen to reduce glare. Special screens and hoods are available to fit around your computer screen to maximize visibility.
Flickering Screens and Other Problems
If you are one of the few people still using a tube-style display (also called a cathode ray tube or CRT) with your desktop computer and you notice the screen "flickers," be aware that this can cause computer eye strain.
Usually you can eliminate the flickering sensation by adjusting the CRT display settings. If you use Windows, go to the Display menu within Control Panel. Click on the "Advanced" tab and adjust the refresh rate of the screen to 70 Hz (hertz) or higher. This should eliminate the flicker and increase viewing comfort.
Also, consider upgrading to a flat-panel screen. These thin screens use different technology (usually LED-backlit LCD, which means light-emitting diode-backlit liquid crystal display) that doesn't cause flickering. So they tend to be more comfortable for long-term viewing and cause less eye strain than CRT screens.
[Page updated May 2014]