Thursday, December 06, 2012

AMD Update 22: Visual Aids for the Visually Challenged

Earlier this year (back in August), I introduced you to Maurie Hill, a young woman with Stargardt’s disease. She is one of six siblings, two others of whom also have Stargardt’s. (A form of macular degeneration.) Maurie is married and the mother of a young daughter. She has been working since 2001 for a company, Ai Squared, which is a leader in the assistive technology field for over 20 years. The company makes magnification hardware and software solutions for the visually impaired.

In my earlier posts I told you about how we met (online) and that she had been accepted into Advanced Cell Technology’s ongoing stem cell clinical trial to treat Stargardt’s disease and was going to receive treatment at the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia. I suggested that she take notes and perhaps write about her experiences in this clinical trial. She did, and has, and you can read about her participation in this historic trial in two posts on this blog. (Stem Cells in Ophthalmology Update 22: A Stargardt’s Clinical Trial Patient’s Story – In Her Own Words and Stem Cells in Ophthalmology Update 23: Maurie Hills’ Story - More Details About The Stargardt’s Clinical Trial Patient)

But Maurie has a life to lead as well. After all, she is a wife, mother, and has a good job, so how does she deal with life with her vision impaired sight? It turns out she uses many of the products her company produces, and in her latest blog entry, she describes how these devices aid her in her daily life.

This writeup is not meant to be a blatent endorsement of her company’s products, because, in reality, I know very little about them and others like them. But as readers of this blog, you either may be visually impaired, or know somebody who is – and I thought knowing that such products exist to help the visually impaired might be useful to this audience.

So, with that thought in mind, here are Mauries words about the products she uses.

Maurie Hill
December 4, 2012

I know, I know, it is far better to give than to receive, but sometimes you first have to give yourself the tools so that you have more time for yourself or to spend with others.  Read the entire article, because I saved the biggest surprise for last . . .

I have been on a quest lately for streamlining and increasing my productivity in the hopes that it will leave more time for mindless fun with family and friends.  So when I have a few uninterrupted hours alone at home, I go into my office to knock off some fun-stealing, simply thrilling tasks, including sorting mail, paying bills, filing paperwork, and of course, printing and filling out those seemingly endless school activity forms.  These are tasks that normally sighted folks can do in a jiffy – anywhere and anytime (yes, that is jealousy you hear).

In this quest for adding time to my life, I treated myself to a wireless printer which I can now print to from my desktop, laptop, or iPhone.  While this is convenient, the printer’s LCD screen is small, with low contrast text, and is not backlit.  So setting up the printer/fax/scanner for the first time even with my 10X magnifying glass seemed hopeless.  This printer was clearly not designed for me, but returning it to the store and having to set up another printer (that will undoubtedly also not be designed to my specifications) was equally overwhelming.

My i-loview electronic magnifier was the only tool that allowed me to read that LCD screen.  I was able to get through the printer/fax setup by myself.  Just like when I use it to select an entrée from a restaurant menu at a poorly lit table, the low light in the room did not affect my ability to read the now visible text on the i-loview’s backlit screen.

Speaking of light – last year, I finally replaced all the light bulbs in my home with energy efficient ones.  I’m glad to save electricity but when I enter my office and turn on the light, it’s because I want to see better, right?  While that bulb warms up, I appreciate the fact that I can still sit down at my computer and see well enough to type on my ZoomText Keyboard, because of its very large high-contrast black and yellow keys.  And I use its frustration-minimizing one-button feature keys to control my most commonly used actions – like turning off the color enhancement when I want to look at a photo on the screen; or if I need to change the magnification level quickly; or of course if I need to actually start or re-enable ZoomText after my daughter has used my computer.  I know, another shameless plug, but I really do love my ZoomText Keyboard.

On the mobile platform, an iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, or iPod Touch should be accompanied by our ZoomReader app. Take a photo of any printed text and ZoomReader will convert it to visible, electronic text on the screen that is spoken aloud.  I used ZoomReader in a museum recently to have the signs read aloud to me while I strolled to the next exhibit.  It immensely changed my museum experience; gone are the days (years really) of passing by those unreadable signs in frustration; now I can actually experience the exhibits like one should and how the museum curators intend.

We’ve got something exclusively for the iPad as well. ZoomContacts is a large text electronic address book. In the past when I would prepare for upcoming travel, I would painstakingly write down hotel and contact information with a big black sharpie (and hope that I didn’t lose that piece of paper!).  Now, I not only already have the contact data I’ve collected over the years from my Microsoft Outlook database automatically in ZoomContacts, but I add the hotel information into the app before my trip.  When needed, I can quickly find the address in ZoomContacts and simply place my finger on the address to open the Maps app, complete with directions to the hotel from my current location.  Ah, the wonders of satellites and technology!

But if I haven’t given you enough holiday ideas yet, you might want to treat yourself by waiting until after the holidays for what’s in the wings. Our upcoming ZoomText ImageReader (Windows based) product will make it easier to deal with that pile of snail mail. The included document camera captures a photo of the printed material and ImageReader presents the text visibly on your computer monitor and reads it aloud.  It doesn’t matter if the picture is tilted or even upside down, ImageReader will correct all that for you and automatically read it aloud.

And as you must know by now, the Windows 8 operating system is out and about in full force.  My Windows Vista-era PC, now running Windows 7, has been getting slower by the second so I’m at the point where I’m going to wait and see whether to replace it with a Windows 8 PC using the upcoming ZoomText upgrade or an Apple Mac.  Mac you say?  ZoomText has never had any software for the Mac OS, so what’s going on?  I’ve become familiar with VoiceOver on the iPad and iPhone and I’m curious how that knowledge will transfer to using a Mac with VoiceOver and Ai Squared’s forthcoming Mac application.  I am accustomed to ZoomText’s quality magnification and other visual enhancements, and I’m really looking forward to having a choice between two different platforms.  Like you, I’m hoping these choices will allow me to choose which makes me more productive so I can store up more energy for the long, cold winter.

I can’t think of a better gift than time – for either yourself or a loved one.  Giving or getting a productive gift, that’s actually been designed for low vision use, is the ultimate.  And ultimately, having more fun should be a part of everyone’s New Year’s resolution.  If you can’t decide from the above great ideas I’ve given you, purchase an Ai Squared gift card by calling us at 800-859-0270 :) .  Or better yet, pass on this blog post to someone who has no idea what to get you!

About Maurie

Maurie Hill is a ZoomText user and also a Product Advocate at Ai Squared, focusing her efforts in the realm of social media. This was a recent change for Maurie – she used to be one of the people you’d get on the other end of the line when you called Ai Squared tech support. Maurie’s been with us since 2001.

Ai Squared has been a leader in the assistive technology field for over 20 years. Our flagship product, ZoomText, is the world’s best magnification and reading software for the vision impaired. We pride ourselves on delivering the highest quality software products and superior technical support.

Located in the heart of Vermont’s green mountains, in the picturesque village of Manchester Center, we’ve grown from a one-man operation into a team dedicated to providing accessibility solutions for all low vision computer users.

Our products are available in 20 languages and are sold in 45 countries through our network of over 350 dealers across the globe. We’ve helped over 100,000 individuals with early vision loss, computer vision syndrome, and visual impairments such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.

The family of Ai Squared products includes ZoomText, ZoomText USB, the ZoomText Large-Print Keyboard, and ZoomText Express.