There is currently no resource centre at PAB or in Peterborough for information and advice on the different living aides and gadgets available for blind and partially sighted people.
Technology can really make a world of difference to blind and partially sighted people. There are lots of gadgets, from talking clocks to computer equipment. However, some of them are not cheap and the cost can sometimes make them unrealistic. Often the best gadgets are the cheapest and simplest and will allow you to:
- To accomplish everyday tasks with independence
- To remain living independently within your home
- To participate in your favourite recreational activities
- To continue doing your job or studies
If you feel you need an assessment with a view to obtaining equipment to help with your sight loss, please call Peterborough City Council on 01733 74 74 74 (option 4) and request a referral to the Sensory Impairment Team.
To give you an idea of the equipment that you might find useful, we have detailed some below. Most of these are available from the RNIB shop where you can also see many more products available. Call 0303 123 9999 or email Helpline.Mailbox@rnib.org.uk to order their free catalogues on mobility aids in braille, large print or audio CD.
The Low vision Clinic at Peterborough City Hospital can provide a range of magnifiers and lighting equipment on permanent loan for those not wanting to invest in some of the more expensive equipment.
Talking Calendar Watches: These often feature easy-to-see white faces with bold black hands and numbers. Most have a one-button operation to announce time, day, date and month etc. There can be audible settings for time and date by using the recessed mode button and you can sometimes have the option to turn the voice off, if only an easy-to-see watch is required. Most use standard watch batteries.
Smart Phones: Screen readers are now available for most smart phones and are cheap to buy. The iPhone has perhaps the best built-in screen reader, but the Android phones (screen reader called TalkBack) are catching up. Downloads for older Nokia phones and Blackberry devices, can enable some basic functions. Many smart phones can also become portable reading machines using a OCR app which are cheap and even free.
Large Keypad Mobile Phones: With their basic functionality, these phones are simple and easy to use for these who just want to make and receiving calls. Most will have large clear keypads with separated keys to make feeling the buttons easier. They will also have easy to read displays and dial direct memory buttons for calling your favorite numbers at the touch of a button. Most are also SIM Free so can be used on any phone network.
Landline Telephones: A telephone with big buttons makes dialing much easier. Some phones also allows you to add pictures (or easy to see symbols) for your four most important numbers so that you can dial their number at the touch of just one button. Whether you opt for clear pictograms for emergency services, or photographs of family and friends, it makes the phone much more personal and intuitive to use.
Talking Clocks: Keep track of the time and make sure you don’t oversleep, with alarm clocks that can have a number of clever features. The analogue face often has large, clear numerals, and can often show the time in digital format too. It will speak the time in response to the press of a button, and most have an audible alarm function. With some models, you can programme them to announce the time every hour, if you wish.
Remote Controls: Programmable remote controls can be used to replace multiple standard remotes – making watching TV a lot easier. Often the units can learn commands from your existing controlers so could be programmed to control the channels of your external freeview box, whilst also controlling the volume of your television. They often have large clear buttons and are compatible with major brands of TV, DVD, set-top box, etc
Special Glasses: Binocular telescopic glasses are perfect for watching TV, sporting events, movies, theatre, bird watching, or any other distance viewing activity in which a magnified image would be helpful. These binocular telescope glasses will focus on objects from 10 feet to infinity and can provide 2.1x magnification and some can be adjusted so that each eye lens can be focused separately making them very adaptable.
Portable Lights: Good daylight is the best for reading and detailed tasks – but it isn’t always available! A portable daylight lamp means that you can always have the right kind of light where you need it which will reduce stress on your eyes and can prevent headaches. Many lamps can also fold up which means they are perfect for holidays or other work and events where you know that the light level will not be sufficient.
Talking Labels: Devices such as ‘Penfriend’ can create talking labels for food containers, music collections or other household items. They are usually battery operated pocket sized devices with a built in microphone, speaker and neck lanyard so it’s always on hand. Touch the pen to the label you are going to use and record a spoken message (e.g. food type or expiry date). When the pen is next placed over that label, it will play your message.
Voice Pads: These are battery operated single message voice pads which are often rectangular plastic units with adhesive pads on back. These will have a record button (and sometimes a recording light) so you can record messages about the object you will be attaching it to such as cards, CDs, storage containers and food packets. Many allow ID labels or pictures and symbols to be attached too and can come in a variety of fun colours for children.
Liquid Level Indicators: This clever portable device gives an auditory and/or vibratory alert when the liquid has reached the top of the cup or mug. An intermittent beep and vibrations indicates the liquid is nearing the level with a faster beep and continuous vibration on reaching the level. Suitable for hot and cold drinks and is battery operated so is suitable to take on holiday or days out. Some also have magnets for easy storage on a fridge door.
Talking Measuring Jugs: Confidently measure out ingredients for your favourite recipe. Ingredient details are often announced automatically in a clear voice. Most have easy to select weight or volume buttons and a tare function that allows ingredients to be added without emptying the jug. Most removable measuring jug are also microwave and dishwasher safe. Brightly coloured jugs will also stand out on your kitchen worktop more.
Talking Kitchen Scales: These scales allow you to continue baking and cooking. They often have a large bowl with a useful pouring spout. Weight is usually announced in a clear voice and also displayed on the clear LCD display. The scales usually weighs in either grams and kilograms or pounds and ounces and announces in graduations of 1g. Many have tactile and large print operating buttons on the scale so you can easily identify them.
Talking Microwave Ovens: Microwaves with speaking controls and reminders, often with tactile keypads which is easy to wipe clean, talking clock, adjustable speech volume and independent talking timer. Spoken requests usually include to stir or turn food during cooking, confirmation of functions selected and time remaining. They often have both ‘basic’ and ‘programmed’ operations and instructions in large print or audio.
Braille Scrabble: This popular word game is now available for English language braille readers. Each of the letter tiles has a braille label, as well as clear print labelling. The playing board has tactile dots with tactile dashes on the word squares. The clever tile-lock design means that the letter tiles sit snugly on the board, even when rotating on to the next player using the built-in stand. Many other board games are available.
Large Button and Talking Calculators: Many pocket calculators have small and fiddly buttons which are too close together. Large display calculators have both big keys and LCD displays, and some can also speak both the input figures and the results too. Answers are normally reported in digits or units and there is often a repeat answer function and on/off volume switch. Some have headphone sockets so can be used in quiet places
Keyboards: There are several keyboards available for adults and children such as this XL Print Black on Yellow Keyboard. Suitable for all computers and designed to give users an easier and more accurate way to type on the keyboard, minimizing typing errors and reducing eye strain. Other simplified keyboards can have reduced keys (only 63) or colour coded vowels, consonants, numbers, punctuation marks and other keys.
Screen reader software: A screen reader takes information from a computer or mobile phone screen and speaks it with a synthetic voice or displays it on a refreshable braille display. This means you don’t have to be able to see that computer or mobile phone screen to use it. It can often relay more information too, like, whether a tick box is ticked or unticked, or if some text is underlined. Most new computers come with a screen reader.
Screen magnification software: A screen magnifier can magnify everything on a computer or mobile phone screen. Only part of the original screen image is visible, but a magnifier can follow the point of interest identified by the cursor. Computer screen magnifiers will usually include extra features such as the ability to change screen colours etc. ZoomText, MAGic and Supernova Screen Magnifier are currently popular choices.
Reading machine: These use a camera or scanner with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to turn a printed document into electronic text which can be displayed on screen in large print or read out by a screen reader. Machines can be standalone (combines the reader, software and display unit as one device) or Computer based (scanner and OCR software is added to your computer) which is cheaper and offers more flexibility.
Video Magnifier or CCTV: This is a magnifying aid that consists of a camera and monitor (TV or computer screen could also be used). The magnification level is much greater than a hand magnifier, and often has a choice of foreground and background colours. Available in desktop or portable variations, and some have a distance camera, so may be used in a classroom, for example. Often comes combined with a reading machine.
Refreshable Braille Display: A braille display is used in conjunction with a screen reader to display screen information in a tactile form. It consists of a number of cells which have eight pins which can be moved up and down to form braille characters. The top six pins for the braille characters, and the additional two pins are used to relay formatting or other information. Unfortunately, braille displays are very expensive.
Braille Embosser and Translation Software: Braille translation software can be used to convert an electronic document such as one in Microsoft Word, into braille at the touch of a button. The result can then be printed by a desktop embosser, which is a printer that either uses pins to indent the dots onto paper or polymer platen to create a smooth, rounded dot for improved readability. Most have a convenient USB connection.
Notetaker: Some notetakers are specially designed for use by blind and partially sighted people. These have a QWERTY (standard type) or braille keyboard, but output speech rather than using a computer screen, and as a result are much smaller than mainstream laptops or netbooks. Some variations have a braille display as well. A notetaker will have a calendar and contact database, and most have email and internet capability.
Voice Recognition Software: Provides an alternative way to control or input information to a computer or mobile phone. You talk to the computer or phone and what you say is interpreted as commands or converted to electronic text. There are issues with using it alongside screen magnification or screen reader software on a computer, which means it should only be considered by someone with a physical problem with the keyboard.
Talking Computer Software: There are several talking computer programs that can be installed onto a standard PC. ‘Dolphin Guide’ is one of the most simplified versions, so even people with little computer experience can feel confident surfing the internet or writing letters and emails. The system talks you through simple step-by-step instructions/choices and allows you to customise word and menu sizes. Click here to find out more.
RNIB Technology Support Squad
As well as the PAB, the RNIB can also offer advice on the equipment that would be useful to you. They are the leading charity offering information, support and advice to almost two million people with sight loss. Their Technology Support Squad is a free national service that can set up and help you use your technology: from learning how to use your new landline or mobile phones to getting started with a new computer or laptop. So if you need help choosing the right product for you, or you have a new technology product or gadget and you don’t know how to set it up or access the basic features, you can contact their helpline on 0303 123 9999 or click here to visit their website.
Other companies selling equipment for blind and partially sighted people include:
- Optelec – selling a large variety of magnifiers for all purposes. Click here to visit the website.
- Optima – selling a range of products from magnifiers to lighting. Click here to visit the website.
Try before you buy
If you would prefer to try and test products before buying, your nearest resource centre is at Huntingdon Society for the Blind (approximately 30 minutes by car). Click here to visit their website or contact them using the details below to find out more.
Huntingdon Society for the Blind
8 St Mary’s Street
Solihull is your nearest RNIB shop where you can try out and buy all of their aids and equipment (approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes by car). You can contact them directly to find out more.
Sight Loss Resource Centre
Solihull Central Library
Tel: 0121 704 6989
For more information please contact the PAB or RNIB.
RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind)
105 Judd Street
0303 123 9999