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Reading Aids

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Introduction

Most of us take our reading and writing abilities for granted until the onset of a Visual Impairment. If you're losing your vision, one of your greatest concerns may be the possibility that you can no longer read. Fortunately, there is an ever-expanding list of available techniques and technologies to help you read everything from prescription bottles to your mail or the latest bestseller. Whether it's for pleasure or for practical use, reading is too important for you to compromise or abandon because of vision loss. Reading is not only essential for personal independence, but also in Education and as a hobby, it provides many benefits and is still possible for persons who are Blind or have Visual Impairments, thanks to Assistive Devices called Reading Aids. There are a wide variety of different types of Visual Impairments and are therefore also a variety of different types of Reading Aids available. Many persons of all ages have some type of Visual Impairment which can be resolved with the aid of Glasses, such as Reading Glasses, but there are also a variety of other types of Reading Aids, including Large Print Books, Magnifiers and Computer Magnifiers, which can be used to zoom in to make the writing and pictures larger for persons with Visually Impairments who can still read. Computer  Software is also available that can read the content on the computer back to the user, while other Computer Aids can assist persons to be able to operate their computer or electronic devices. Braille Books and other equipment are also available for Persons who are Blind and able to read braille, while Audio Books and Audio Book Players can be used by Persons who just wish to enjoy listening to the content of a book.

Persons with Visual Impairments or who are Blind who wish to remain independent, will need to find a way to read comfortably by finding a Reading Aid that will suite them, it will take time and patience to learn and manage. While there are many reading tools available to you, it's important to remember that any solution will require you to learn to read in a different way. Listening and reading are not the same and require different sets of skills. Audio books, magnification, and other options can be very effective, but also This is one of the most difficult challenges for Persons with Visual Impairments or who are Blind, but thankfully Reading Aids are available throughout South Africa and are sold by Organizations & Companies, who offer a wide variety of solutions and can also advise you on what equipment would best suit your needs. Some of these companies such as Edit Microsystems can also teach persons and offer support to them on how to best use the equipment that they supply.

Employers, Teachers and Lecturers should make Reading Aids available to persons with Visual Impairments, so that they will not be disadvantaged in School or at their job. Below is some information on Reading aids that are available in South Africa as well as the companies that supply them. To view more information about these Assistive Devices and others, read the article below.

Audio Books & Playersaudiobooks

Audio Books & Players are Assistive Devices that enable a Blind or badly Visually Impaired person to be able to enjoy books. They are also useful for the mobility impaired, elderly and people with various other disabilities. An audiobook (or talking book) is a recording of a text being read.

Spoken audio is available in schools and public libraries and to a lesser extent in music shops. Many spoken word albums were made prior to the age of videocassettes, DVDs, compact discs, and downloadable audio, however these were often of poetry and plays rather than books.

Audiobooks are distributed on any audio format available, but primarily these are CDs, records, cassette tapes, or in downloadable digital formats, such as MP3 (.mp3), Windows Media Audio (.wma), Advanced Audio Coding (.aac)), and solid state preloaded digital devices in which the audio content is preloaded and sold together with a hardware device.

Use & Listening practices

Audiobooks can also be used as an educational tool and have been used to teach children to read and to increase reading comprehension. They are also useful for the intellectually Impaired, including those with learning disabilities such as Dislexia.

About 40 percent of all audiobook consumption occurs through public libraries, with the remainder served primarily through retailbook stores. Library download programs are currently experiencing rapid growth (more than 5,000 public libraries offer free downloadable audio books). Libraries are also popular places to check out audio books in the CD format.

Audiobooks are considered a valuable learning tool because of their format.

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Braille & Braille Books

Braille is a tactile writing system used by people who are blind or visually impaired. It is traditionally found in books and is written with embossed paper. Braille characters are small rectangular blocks called cells that contain tiny palpable bumps called raised dots. The number and arrangement of these dots distinguish one character from another. Braille varies from language to language.

These days Braille appears & is used on a variety of objects, so that the Blind can read:

  • Books that are written in Braille
  • Braille computer screens and other electronic devices that supports Braille thanks to refreshable Braille displays. See Computer & Electronic Aids below.
  • Braille watches
  • Money, many countries including South Africa have Braille on their bank notes. See Money under Accessible Features.
  • Signs that appear in public places like shopping centers, which helps the Blind to move about. See Building Regulations under Accessible Features.

Braille usage and the use of Braille Books has declined in the face of the increase in the number of web sites that provide Audio books & other books  that can be read on a computer with the help of screen-reader software.

Other causes for the decline in Braille usage, including:

  • school budget constraints
  • technology advancement
  • different philosophical views over how blind children should be educated.

Braille education, however remains important for developing reading skills among blind and visually impaired children. Braille literacy also correlates with higher employment rates.

Other advances have helped to increase the use of Braille over the years, including:

  • The introduction of Thermoform Duplicator, which copies braille from paper to a Brailon (a sheet of durable plastic).
  • Computer-driven, high-speed braille printers
  • The improvement in the prices, availability & selection of Braille Books over the internet & through Blind organizations.

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Electronic devices & Computers

Computers & other Electronic equipment, such as Tablets, E-Readers, cell phones, etc are extremely useful Assistive Devices, especially if you are Blind or have a Visual Impairment. They are important tools of integration and can be used for a number of purposes including: Work, Research, Entertainment and Socializing, to mention just a few.

These devices can be made easier to use, thanks to the availability of a wide range of Electronic Reading Aids, which can enable the Blind to use Electronic equipment, or assist the Visual Impaired to use Electronic equipment. These devices, not only help the Blind, or Visually Impaired to read the information on the device, but also input information, thus making a Computers & other Electronic equipment, extremely powerful tools for the Blind, or Visually Impaired. The availability of assistive technology is increasing and concerted efforts are being to ensure the accessibility of information to the blind.

Computer & Electronic Reading Aids include devices such as:

  • screen readers
  • screen magnifiers
  • refreshable Braille displays
  • Braille Keyboards
  • Later versions of Microsoft Windows include an Accessibility Wizard & Magnifier for those with partial vision, and Microsoft Narrator, a simple screen reader.
  • Linux distributions (as live CDs) for the blind include Oralux and Adriane Knoppix, the latter developed in part by Adriane Knopper who has a visual impairment.
  • Mac OS also comes with a built-in screen reader, called VoiceOver.
  • The movement towards greater web accessibility is opening a far wider number of websites to adaptive technology, making the web a more inviting place for visually impaired surfers.
  • Modified visual output that includes large print and/or clear simple graphics can be of benefit to users with some residual vision.

Computer & Electronic Reading Aids are covered in more depth in this section: Click on Computer & Electronic Reading Aids to find out more.

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Reading Aids for the Visually Impaired

There are many low vision devices can that can make reading easier and more rewarding for people with macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, tunnel vision and other low vision conditions. Some reading devices require a prescription from your eye care practitioner because they are custom-made for your particular needs. But consult your doctor before buying even nonprescription magnifiers, because he or she can tell you which low vision devices will work best for you, based on your activities and the lens power you require.

There are devices that magnify the words & images, so that the Visually Impaired can see them more clearly. Below are a variety of these Reading aids for both the Visually Impaired & Blind.

Hand-held Magnifiers

The most affordable are hand-held magnifiers, some of which contain small reading lamps for better illumination. Other magnifiers are mounted on height-adjustable stands or hang around the neck.

Reading Glasses

Strong reading glasses come in full- or half-lens styles, or you can obtain bifocals with high-power reading lens segments.

Reading Telescopes

Reading telescopes are another option. They can be hand-held or mounted onto special eyeglass frames with enhanced nose pads and padded bridges, so your nose will carry the weight more comfortably.

Video Magnifiers

Video magnifiers project printed material on a closed circuit television (CCTV) monitor or regular television or computer screen; you can sit as close to the screen as necessary and adjust the magnification, brightness, contrast and color of the display to your liking.

Advantages of this system are that it doesn't add weight to your nose (as in the case of eyeglass-mounted scopes), and you can sit upright in a comfortable position, instead of leaning over a table.

The disadvantage is that it costs more than a simple magnifier or pair of reading glasses. But considering the quality of life benefits that video magnifiers offer a person with low vision, the cost is probably worth it for most people. An example of this is The Freedom Machine by Vision Technology has a high-definition flat panel monitor with fast auto-focus, high resolution and no glare. The monitor adjusts for height and tilt.

A more portable system is a device that rests on your reading material and magnifies it, projecting the image onto a pair of eyeglasses that you wear. You read the material on the glasses as you move the device across the page. You can also read curved surfaces, such as cans or pill bottles, so this device is useful for shopping.

Good Lighting Is Essential

Natural sunlight is the best lighting for reading. Sit near a window for daytime reading. For artificial lighting, purchase "full-spectrum" light bulbs. These bulbs emit light that more closely mimics natural sunlight than regular incandescent bulbs.

Avoid harsh fluorescent lighting, which can cause glare, especially for anyone with low vision. Replace fluorescent desk lamps or kitchen lighting with halogen task lighting or full-spectrum bulbs for better comfort and visibility.

Non-Optical, "Adaptive" Low Vision Aids

People who suddenly find themselves with low vision often are surprised at how essential good eyesight, is not only for reading, but just to get through everyday life.

For the visually impaired, something as simple as checking the time on their watch or being able to see the difference between a ten rand note and a Twenty rand note can become a difficult chore.

In addition to low vision devices and good lighting, inexpensive non-optical adaptive aids can assist with routine daily activities. These devices include:

  • Large-print cookbooks
  • Large-numbered playing cards, clocks, telephones and watches
  • Electronic "talking" clocks, kitchen timers, thermometers, blood pressure meters and even pill bottles
  • Large felt-tip pens and wide-lined paper for writing notes
  • Wallets that separate different bill denominations into different pockets
  • Color-coded pill boxes
  • Voice-recording electronic organizers
  • Signature guides

Many of these items can be found at your local pharmacy, discount store or bookstore.

Reading

A child with moderate visual impairment (a corrected visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/160) works well with visual aids, perhaps even to the point of eliminating the impairment’s effect. A student with severe visual impairment (a corrected visual acuity of 20/200 to 20/400) will have difficulty even with visual aids, but can use vision to some degree in the learning process. Students with profound visual impairment or total vision impairment (corrected visual acuity of 20/500 or worse) cannot use vision as an educational tool and must rely predominately on their remaining sensory functions

Adapting Instruction for Students with Visual Impairments

Just as visual impairments fall along a continuum, so do students’ abilities to see and use learning materials. Someone with low vision or moderate visual impairment can read with magnification aids, which might range from a simple magnifying glass to a computer technology like ZoomText Xtra (Ai Squared), which provides magnification and screen-reading capabilities. Students with profound visual impairment might use Window-Eyes (GW Micro) or JAWS (Henter-Joyce), two screen readers that use a voice synthesizer to read the contents of the computer screen aloud via the computer’s speakers.

Classroom teachers can make many other modifications for the visually impaired student, too. Books on tape can replace textbooks. Tape recorders can capture lectures or assist in composition. Computers can help compose papers, while voice synthesizers can read each page back to the student. Partners assigned within the classroom can provide specific assistance such as help with gathering materials and organizing for work.

Reading Aids for the Blind

Reading Aids that can help the Blind enjoy books and reading, include Audio Books, braille & Screen Readers to name a few. Braille appears in books, which are printed in Braille and is also used on a variety of other objects, such as: signs, money and watches. Braille can also be found on computer keyboards, screens and other electronic devices, thanks to refreshable Braille displays. Reading Aids such as glasses and other devices that magnify the words & images, are only beneficial to the Visually Impaired, who can see to some degree. They will not benefit the totally Blind.

Disclaimer

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