COPING WITH MACULAR DEGENERATION & BLINDNESS-
MY LOW VISION PROBLEMS ,
AND SOME WONDERFUL VISION READING AIDS
THAT RESTORED MY PRODUCTIVITY
After years of coping with macular degeneration degrading my vision to near blindness, I have found a set of vision reading aids for that have given me the ability to function quite highly with computers and even reading print materials. I'd like to share my blind reading aid experiences with you so in case it can help you with your question for low vision aids.
My vision had been degrading over a number of years due to progressive attacks of macular degeneration, and reading was a growing problem. I first used a succession of magnifiers that I purchased at THE BRAILLE INSTITUTE, and, when using the computer, I utilized some of the accessibility features of WINDOWS. Therefore, the computer had an increasing role in my life as the vision worsened, because I found that it was much better to keep my stuff on the computer rather than on paper, since I could find it and work with it much easier. A key tool that I used is a great free on-line service called "keepandshare.com". Everything is stored on the Internet, password protected, backed up automatically, and I can share anything I wish with family and friends.
The vision continued to degrade even though I got excellent medical attention from great retina specialists. But all of the effort came to naught when I had a tear in the RPI layer in December of 2005. Later, I was advised that there was nothing more that he could do. My computer usage quickly tapered off, and I had to abandon most of my projects. The only way I could work was when I had someone sit beside me at the computer and have them operate it under my supervision, and read the screen to me. UGH!!
In an effort to improve my situation, I contacted the Braille Institute, who were wonderful, saw some devices, and got a lot of information. I then made many calls and visits to see what was available and I was very happy to see that many of the companies were now using the computer style LCD flat panels instead of the old fashioned TV monitors.
Finally, I contacted a local sales representative who specialized in items for the vision impaired. He came to my house, and I was flabbergasted to see that he was almost totally blind! Much worse than me. He, of course had an assistant - his wife - to do the driving, etc. They demonstrated several video magnifiers including desktop unit, a very portable TV magnifier, and also demonstrated a head mounted version. I liked the desktop unit, which is called the MERLIN LCD, and has a very sharp, clear picture. It is available with either a 17 inch or a 19 inch LCD. I purchased the 19 inch model and I have been extremely happy with it. I use it for reading documents, viewing color photos, reading labels on packages, reading instruction manuals, etc. Here is what it looks like:
The price for the 19 inch model for me in the mid 2000's was around $3000. Merlin is manufactured by "Enhanced Vision" in Huntington Beach. Here is their website:
This is the page that describes the Merlin LCD in more detail:
He also recommended a special computer program called "ZOOM TEXT" that is designed to aid those with vision problems. He gave me a copy that I could use free for a month. It comes in two versions: one that just does magnification, and the second version that does both magnification and reads text aloud. The list price for the version with the magnifier and reader capability was $595, which may seem expensive, but was well worth it to me.
Other programs I have seen can magnify what is on the screen, but it gets fuzzier the more that it magnifies. ZoomText, on the other hand, always makes the text crisp and clean, no matter how much it is magnified, even up to 36 times normal size.
There are a number of reader programs on the market, and most of them have an excellent voice. But they can only read computer text, and not printed words that are on a graphic, or even on the pop up error messages that windows displays often. But, again, the ZOOMTEXT READER uses a much more sophisticated approach, so that it can read much more than the other readers that I have seen. It is not perfect, but it does so much better than the other ones that I tried. For example as I sit here typing, it speaks each letter as I type. Then it reads the whole line if I put the cursor over one part of the line.
As a result, I can sit an work for hours without having to call my wife to come and read something to me. It has also been a boon for her, since I can work with less impact on her time.
Again, I think the reader does not always do what I want, but I would be lost without it.
ZOOMTEXT is made by a company called "AI Squared" located in Manchester Center in Vermont's Green Mountains. They have been operating for 18 years. Their web site is at:
Please leave a comment if you wish to contact me.
SOME RECOMMENDED SITES:
National Eye Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health)
BRAILLE INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
Macular degeneration; blindness; blind; low vision aids; vision aids; blind reading aids; computer tools for reading; low vision aids;