Recommendations for an email guide dog.
February 22, 2012 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Someone close to me is going blind. What kind of screen reader and other software should I set them up on so they can continue to read and send email?

Difficulty: Windows.
posted by Mitheral to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
JAWS. It's industry standard and most applications and web sites that are screen reader accessible have tested with it.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 6:18 PM on February 22, 2012

The National Federation of the Blind has a Technology Resource Center that provides reviews of available technologies. I think you can also contact them to ask more specific questions.
posted by goggie at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2012

O&M Instructor here - recommendations about what type of device or software to get this person aren't going to be that helpful unless your friend/loved one has gotten a low vision examination. There are so many types and causes of vision loss, and before buying any assistive technology you really should know all sorts of info - do they have central field loss, peripheral vision, acuity problems, light and contrast sensitivity, etc. etc. The evaluating doctor will give some suggestions on products that can be useful for his/her type of vision loss, and then an O&M instructor (if he/she has one) can do a functional vision assessment to see how well they are using their remaining vision.

That being said - if your friend already knows all of this info and you have an idea of what would help them, take a look at for some devices. You can also check on Lighthouse International's website for some general info that might be useful. Good luck!
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:45 PM on February 22, 2012

JAWS is the standard Windows screen reader, but Freedom Scientific, the company that makes it, is sort of evil. In my opinion, it's also surprisingly non-intuitive in certain environments, particularly the newer versions of Office (USE THE UP AND DOWN ARROWS TO MOVE LEFT AND RIGHT ON THE RIBBON, BECAUSE THAT MAKES SENSE) and most especially Outlook (though Outlook Express is pretty easy, strangely enough).

Depending on how fast the person is losing their vision, and whether or not it's expected to go to complete blindness (as opposed to "legally blind" but still able to see some things close up), I'd recommend going with the following options:

If the person is losing vision at a slow or moderate pace and is expected to retain some functional vision (i.e., the vision loss is due to either wet or dry macular degeneration, aging, etc.), look into screen magnification and the various accessibility options already included with Windows. Someone close to me has done this, and basically uses screen magnifier software and hooks his laptop up to a 42-inch plasma screen TV.

If the person is losing vision quickly and is expected to end up totally blind, you're probably going to have to go with JAWS. Get it now and learn how it works while there's still some vision left to work with; that will make things so much easier when you reach the point where you rely on it. Work with the keyboard a lot; learn the shortcuts, and learn how to navigate the menus! Unplug the mouse if that's what it takes! Also, get an e-mail account with POP access and an e-mail program like Outlook; for whatever reason, navigating web-based e-mail is a real hassle with JAWS (GMail via the web interface is bad, and Yahoo! Mail is even worse). Last but not least, get a scanner and the Kurzweil software that translates documents to screen reader-accessible text (I don't remember exactly what it's called, but I can get the name of the software for you by Friday).

I provide technical support to a person who is blind and who doesn't particularly like computers, so if you've got more questions, I'll be more than happy to follow up either here or via e-mail.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:19 PM on February 22, 2012

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