Here is an outline of assistive technologies that enable blind and visually impaired people to access computers, along with the most popular products in each category.
Screen Access Programs
Screen access programs (a.k.a. screen readers) speak aloud what's on a computer screen, including desktop icon labels, document contents, and drop-down and tool bar menu items. They also speak each keystroke, provide auditory cues (like the ping indicating the cursor is in a search field), and an audible hierarchy for navigating within and among applications. The most widely used screen access programs include:JAWS for Windows ($1,095)
Freedom Scientific's top screen reader is the most popular PC-compatible program, featuring two multi-lingual speech synthesizers (Eloquence and RealSpeak Solo Direct) and compatibility with most Microsoft and IBM Lotus Symphony applications.WindowEyes($895)
WindowEyes (GW Micro) is the second most popular screen reader. The program touts providing greater control over what users hear and seamless integration with all Microsoft applications. For most users, this means fewer configurations and a shorter learning curve.COBRA Professional ($849)
COBRA Professional combines screen reading, braille output, and screen magnification in one application with support for Windows 7, XP, and Vista.SuperNova ($795)
Dolphin's SuperNova (formerly HAL) differentiates through granularity, such as multi-lingual braille output support, image caption reading and font style identification, and more webpage navigation options.Seortek System Access to Go(Free)
Serotek's flagship product System Access Standalone ($399) but offers this free, web-resident version that makes any computer linked to the Internet instantly accessible-one of a growing number of free screen readers.
Another screen access solution is CDesk, which combines screen reading, scanning, and magnification in one Windows-based application.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
Screen readers read stored documents and web pages. But students have to read many things that are not on their computer. These include book chapters, articles, and class handouts. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology scans and converts printed words into electronic text that students can read and edit. Some OCR products require flatbed scanners to capture text and uses software to convert the scanned images. Other products use cameras that connect to the computer. Some product, like the popular Kurzweil 1000 support both options.Kurzweil 1000 ($995)
Kurzweil 1000 Version 12.03 works with most scanners and supports the ABiSee Eye-Pal camera.OpenBook($995)
OpenBook software (Freedom Scientific) supports a USB-connected camera (the Pearl) that looks like a miniature streetlamp that extends from a pole out over the document. It takes a snapshot of the text, which, along with importing text to the computer, can also just read it aloud-within 12-15 seconds after scanning it.NewOCR.com (Free)
The NewOCR.com site analyzes image files users upload and converts words into editable text-no registration required; no upload limit. The application also supports 29 languages and numerous file types, multi-page PDF documents up to 20 MB.
People who want to read things but don't need or want a computer can use reading machines that use OCR to convert text to speech.Eye-Pal SOLO ($1,995)
A simple, standalone reading machine that uses the ABiSee camera to read aloud documents placed under it.Optelec ClearReader+ ($2,495)
The ClearReader+ is a simple reading device that combines text recognition, human-sounding voice options, and the quaint portability of a tabletop radio.
Screen magnification programs enable visually impaired computer users to enlarge what's on the monitor. Adjusting color scheme, brightness, and contrast can further enhance visibility. Most programs enable users to zoom in and out with a keyboard command or flick of the mouse wheel; some allow magnification of specific sections of the screen, or support image enlargement onto two adjacent monitors.ZoomText Magnification Software 9.1 ($395)
Ai Squared's ZoomText is the most popular screen magnifier, offering individual "zoom" windows, font enhancements, enhanced screen colors, and image integrity up to 32x magnification. Ai Squared also sells ZoomText Magnifier/Reader (which includes a screen reader) and the ZoomReader app for the iPhone and iPod touch.MAGic ($295)
Freedom Scientific screen magnifier boasts nearly all the functionality of ZoomText for $100 less.iZoom ($399)
iZoom from Issist is the new kid on the block, with patent-pending ClearPoint font smoothing and SmartAlign for enhanced webpage readability. Portability is their killer app thus far, iZoom Screen Magnifier & Reader runs off a USB stick, making any Windows computer instantly accessible.Optelec ClearNote Portable ($2,495)
The ClearNote Portable is a lightweight laptop magnifier with a flexible camera head to capture clear images from any distance, e.g. a classroom chalkboard. It can also connect to a PC to provide real-time video magnification.
Braille Translation Software
Braille translation software converts electronic files into braille that can be read on a refreshable display or printed on a braille embosser. Though many screen access programs offer braille output, there are programs designed for specialized notation such as music. There is also disparity in how well programs format such things as captions, tables, and graphs.Louis - The Macintosh Braille Translator
Louis is an open-source Mac application that translates Word, TXT, XML, HTML DocBook, DAISY/NIMAS, and NewsML files and supports MathML to nemeth translation.WinBraille
WinBraille is an intuitive program that lets users filter braille translation through selected templates to determine how the finished document will be formatted. WinBraille is available in a simplified free version and a licensed PRO edition.Duxbury Braille Translator
Duxbury is a multi-platform, multi-language application for print-to-braille and braille-to-print translation that is also fully accessible with screen reading and magnification software.