Eye Health

30 October 2007

New technologies change lives

Over the last 20 years technological advances have made a huge difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

Over the last 20 years technological advances have made a huge difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

This has resulted in significantly more job opportunities and greater independence.

Computers and the internet
Lack of access to information has traditionally been one of the most debilitating aspects of blindness. The development of various technologies, hand-in-hand with that of the Internet, has however changed things substantially.

Today, any text that is displayed on a computer screen can either be read using text-to-speech software, or read using a Braille display – a slab on which Braille dots can be raised and lowered according to the output from the computer.

Thus, websites, e-books, and online newspapers are now all accessible to people with vision problems.

Even in cases where a text is not available in an electronic format new technologies are offering solutions. Printed material can be scanned using a standard scanner. The scanned image is then turned into text using optical character recognition software (OCR). The text can then be read just like those discussed above.

Increased job opportunities
The same software also allows blind people to send emails, use word processors and complicated spreadsheets, write computer programmes, and do just about anything else on a computer that is not essentially visual in nature.

As a result, a whole series of employment opportunities once thought out of reach for visually impaired people, now offer very real possibilities. Blind people are already successfully working as computer programmers, network analysts, journalists, and much more.

The cellular revolution
Until recently, the use of SMS technology was out of reach for most visually impaired people.

Today, however, similar programmes to those used on computers turn the text displayed on your cellular phone into speech, which allows you to read and write SMS messages, use the address book, and do anything on your phone that you may want to, all without looking at the screen.

The power of magnification
For people who still have some sight left, a variety of magnifying glasses and special binoculars can be of great value.

There are also special computer programmes available that magnify the text, or invert the colours, on your computer screen or cellular phone. Some of these programmes are very well designed and offer a wide range of options that can be customised, and this allows you to tweak the programme to suit your needs.

People with low vision can also use closed circuit television systems to read books or newspapers. These consist of a special camera that magnifies whatever is placed underneath it and displays it on a television screen.

Other useful devices
There is a wide variety of other devices available that can make life much easier for people with vision problems. These include liquid level indicators, self-threading needles, talking scales, and Braille and speaking wrist watches, to name only a few.

For more information you can contact the South African National Council for the Blind on (012) 452 3811 or visit their website at www.sancb.org.za.

Useful resources:

South African Optometric Association
Tel: 011 805 4517

South African National Council for the Blind (Their website is highly informative and helpful)
Tel: 012 452 3811

Retina South Africa
Tel: 011 622 4904

Ophthalmological Society of South Africa


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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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