Tech & Gadget Gift Ideas for Low Vision

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While there are a lot of devices designed specifically for low vision, there are plenty of regular gadgets that can be helpful for people with macular degeneration. 

Below are a few ideas, if you’d like to take a look:

A bright craft light – so they can get extra brightness when they need it. LED versions, like this one, are great because they don’t get too hot, even after they’ve been on for a while.

A pair of glasses that cut out blue waves from screens– to fight eye fatigue when they’re using the computer, phone, or other devices. (See this post for more.)

A subscription to the New York Times crosswords — so they can solve puzzles on a back-lit screen.

A nice pair of headphones– to make them comfortable as they listen to music, podcasts, or audio books. Consider whether they’d prefer “on-ear” headphones, which compress against the ear, and “over-ear” ones that cup around the ears. These are widely lauded as the best on the market, but there are plenty of less expensive options.

An Audible membership– so they can download audiobooks. (Or, ask if you can help them get connected to their public library, where they may be able to rent audiobooks for free.)  If the person you’re shopping for does not have a smartphone where they can download apps, consider giving them one of your old phones—if it’s an iPhone, you can probably set it to “airplane” mode and enable wifi so they can use it without a phone plan. An internet connection is also needed. 

A Google Home – so they can ask about the time and weather, set a timer, listen to podcasts and music, or get information just by using their voice. Note: Google Home needs access to stable wifi. Also, it needs to be connected to a phone through the Google Home app. If you’re setting up the Google Home for someone without a smartphone, you could add the app on your own phone to set up the device.

An iMac or Macbook– so they can take advantage of the bright screen and Accessibility tools, which include easy settings for mouse pointers, display size, and text-to-speech options. Though they cost a small fortune, Apple products have built-in Accessibility settings that can make it much easier for someone with low vision to use them. Plus, the retina display on Macs is heavily pixelated and the brightness is more intense than mos other screens I’ve used. As my vision has gotten worse, I’ve switched from PCs to Macs because of their screen intensity and Accessibility options. Here’s but one review of the iMac with retina display.

A trackpad for their desktop– so they can zoom in an out as they browse the web, write emails, or do any other tasks. I use both a mouse and a trackpad with my iMac and the combination has made it much, much easier for me to use most programs. 

An iPhone or iPad — so they can have extra help everywhere they go. The same Apple Accessibility features mentioned above apply to these devices. From Siri to VoiceOver to Diction, an iPhone or iPad would probably be the ideal gift for someone with low vision. An iPhone or iPad with a data plan would also be a great gift for someone who is without an internet connection, because they could use their data to access apps like Audible. Here’s a good guide from iMore, see especially their how-to list for Siri.

I recognize that many of these ideas are far from inexpensive, so to close, here’s one idea that has nothing to do with tech:

An outing to get a meal or to run errands — so they can enjoy a few hours with you.

Podcast Episodes about Gradual Vision Loss

While there are some excellent podcasts on blindness (here’s a great list), I’ve struggled to find stories about people who are in the process of losing their vision. The two podcast episodes below are some of the best programs I’ve found that address what it’s like to gradually lose your vision. 

Strangers: Adrian’s Race (2 Parts)

Adrian is twenty-five with Stargardt disease, a form of macular degeneration that affects young people. In this two-part series, Adrian is interviewed about his experience as a teenager with a severe eye condition and his thoughts on maintaining independence as an adult in NYC. You can listen to the two-part series here.

Modern Love: Together Always, in Darkness and in Light

This is a reading of Nicole Kear’s NYT ModerLove essay. Kear has a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which affects both her central and peripheral vision—she lost both in her twenties. In her essay, Nicole describes her experience as a partnering parent. Listen to the episode here.

The following lines from her essay really resonated with me:

“The thing about slowly losing something that feels indispensable is you’re constantly adjusting to the loss. As soon as you find a comfortable balance, something shifts and you have to recalibrate.” — Nicole Kear

Do you know of any other podcasts that document gradual vision loss? Please share, I’d love to find more. 

Glasses that Block Blue Light

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For years, my doctors said that glasses wouldn’t do much for me, since the problem is not in the lenses of my eyes but the retinas.  

It was only a few months ago, when I saw a new doctor as part of a preliminary test for a clinical trial, that I tried out a pair of reading glasses. They have a blue tint that helps minimize screen glare. 

The glasses took some getting used to, but, for me, they help a lot. The magnification keeps me from having to plant my face so close to the computer screen, and the tint helps with eye fatigue and also sharpens the text—no small thing when you’ve got ‘fuzzy’ central vision. I like to use the maximum brightness on all my devices, so the blue tint has made a big difference in eye fatigue. . 

The pair I’m using are these by Polinelli. The frames are pretty small so they work well on my face. They come in different magnification strengths, but, after buying one pair at my doctor’s office, I knew the magnification level to buy and found another pair on eBay for under $20. 

 While I recognize that glasses like these won’t work for everyone, it might be worth asking about glasses at your doctor’s office. I had gone over seven years thinking lenses wouldn’t help me, and now I’m using my glasses whenever I use my computer. 

Have you tried tinted glasses or reading glasses? Any luck with them? I’d be interested to hear. 

Top image source: Smarter Living.

Text-to-Speech Software: Kurzweil

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Have you heard of Kurzweil? I use a lot of different text-to-speech (TTS) software, but Kurzweil 3000 is the most powerful and sophisticated program I’ve tried. It’s designed for educational purposes, and I wanted to post about it here particularly for those who might be experiencing low vision beyond their school days.

Kurzweil can recognize text—meaning you can scan almost anything and it can be read aloud. This includes everyday items that aren’t available as audiobooks or that can’t be read by more basic TTS programs. Plus, the software is multilingual, so it can recognize and read texts in many languages. Though I use it mostly for reading, you can also do word processing, and it’s also possible to download the audio and listen to the text on the go.

I’m a graduate student, so I was able to get free access to Kurzweil 3000 through the disabled students program at my university.

For those not connected to a learning institution, you can download Kurzweil as an independent user—what Kurzweil calls its “single subscription” option. The subscription for single users on the web version costs $500/year, and the subscription gives you access to Kurzweil from different devices. Another option is to do a one-time purchase of the stand-alone version to be used on the specific computer its downloaded to. This version is $1395.

So, it’s by no means inexpensive. But it can be invaluable if you are someone who needs to read through a large amount of material that is not readily available in audio form. They offer a free 30-day trial, at least, so you can test out the program to see if it will meet your needs.

One caveat: if you’re using Kurzweil to read hard-copies, you’d need to have access to a scanner. For small scans, I recommend the app GeniusScan, which you can download for free on your phone. It uses your camera to make a quick, clean scan of whatever text you’re taking a photo of.

More posts on other types of TTS software coming soon, but Kurzweil is one you might want to try for professional or educational purposes.

Have you already tried Kurzweil? I’d be interested to hear about your experience!