There are many gadgets available to help people with sight loss carry out their everyday tasks.
A low vision assessment will help you to select the most suitable magnifiers and train you to use them. You may need different magnifiers for different activities.
Download Low Vision Aids for details of different types of magnifiers.
Reading and writing
Large print and audio
Publications and products in large print or audio format can enable you to continue reading. Audio and large print books are stocked by most public libraries and many have services for people with sight loss. Calibre, a charity which loans audiobooks, and most retailers can order titles in large print or audio upon request. If you are buying online, add the words ‘large print’ or ‘audio’ to the title or author to improve the search results. The large print products that are available include watches, board games, playing cards, calendars, diaries, address books, big button telephones, calculators and tape measures. Large print crosswords, sudoku and word searches are available from organisations such as The Partially Sighted Society and the RNIB. You can also download and print enlarged puzzles.
RNIB Talking Books has more than 20,000 professionally recorded Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) audiobooks. The subscription includes a DAISY player. DAISY requires fewer discs than a CD and allows you to move easily around the text. National Talking Newspapers and Magazines also offers more than 200 bestselling publications in accessible audio formats. Local talking newspapers are available in many parts of the UK.
Typoscopes are simple, but useful tools. They are often made of black card or plastic with holes cut in them to act as a guide when reading or writing. Some magnifiers have a form of typoscope on to help highlight a line of text.
Pens, paper and printed material
When writing, using a black ink felt tip pen, or gel pen, can make it easier to see. White sticky labels can written on in large black letters and then stuck to items such as CD cases or medication. Many people find 'talking label' products helpful as they allow you to record a message describing an item, which can be played back. This allows you to identify a variety of different items including medication, food and other household products.
Small changes before printing can make reading easier, including using plain fonts such as Arial, lower case instead of all CAPITALS, using bold sparingly, avoiding italics and underlining, and left aligning text. If someone is preparing a document for you let them know your preferred font style and size. If you have access to a computer it may be more practical to view documents electronically.
All computers and laptops have accessibility features to change font size, background and text colours. Screen readers and magnifiers are also available. It is important to try before you buy and you may also need sighted assistance for the initial set up.
These portable, internet-enabled computers, with touchscreens and downloadable apps, are often used for reading, browsing the web, playing games, and sending and receiving emails. There are three main types of tablet computer; Windows and Apple-based tablets, and Android systems. Each has advantages and disadvantages so again you should try before you buy. Most tablets have accessibility features and apps to make them even easier to use.
Everyone can learn to use a computer, with some support and our helpline can put you in touch with organisations that provide training. You can adjust the settings of your computer to control font size, magnification and the screen contrast. These can be fixed to work whenever you switch on the computer, enabling a blind or visually impaired person to work independently.
There is a wide range of phones available with varying degrees of complexity. Mobile phones offer many functions and downloadable apps to help visually impaired people. It is important that you choose the right phone for your needs in terms of both using the phone and the package cost.
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Audio description offers additional narration to describe visual details you may miss. It is available on many TV programmes, DVDs, in cinemas and increasingly at sporting events, theatres, museums, galleries and other attractions. Museums and galleries may combine narrative with tactile displays, or have large print guide books.
Television and DVDs
Audio description usually occurs during quiet moments. It means a family can watch together without an individual having to ask questions about what has just happened. Audio description is currently available on around 20% of programmes. Not all digital TV equipment is enabled for audio description so do your research before buying. If your equipment is suitable you will need someone to help you activate the free service. For advice on receiving audio-described TV programmes, contact RNIB helpline 0303 123 9999, or email email@example.com. Many DVDs have audio description that can be selected through the menu or remote control audio button.
Cinema and theatre
Increasingly, cinemas are providing headsets to access audio-described film soundtracks. Pre-booking of headsets is advisable. Visit www.yourlocalcinema.com or call 0845 056 9824 for more information.
At the moment, approximately 100 theatres around the UK provide audio description. Some also give a touch tour of the stage, scenery and costumes, which usually takes place before the main audience arrives. VocalEyes provides audio description for touring productions at theatres around the country. Call 020 7375 1043 or visit www.vocaleyes.co.uk for a schedule.
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