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High-Tech Gadgets for Low Vision
published Sep 19, 2011

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m looking for some good low-vision products that can help my wife who has severe vision loss. What can you recommend?
Searching Spouse
 
Dear Searching,
With more than 21 million Americans living with some form of uncorrectable vision impairment today, more and more products for low-vision are being developed that can help with many different needs. Here is a quick guide to some great products and where to find them.
 
Low-Tech Aids
There are literally hundreds of simple, relatively inexpensive products on the market today that can help people with low-vision. For example, to help with daily living tasks, you can find a wide array of “talking,” “large print” or “jumbo-sized” items such as clocks, watches, remote controls, telephones, computer keyboards, calculators, thermostats, kitchen aids and much more, as well as a wide variety of magnifiers. You can find these products at sites like independentliving.com or 800-537-2118; shoplowvision.com, 800-826-4200; maxiaids.com, 800-522-6294; and lssproducts.com,800-468-4789.
 
In addition to the simple products, there is also a number of high-tech, low-vision devices that offer incredible capabilities. Unfortunately, many of these items are expensive and they aren’t covered by private insurance or Medicare. Here are some to check out.
 
Desktop magnifiers: Also known as closed circuit TVs, these are home-based machines that provide powerful magnification, contrast and clarity for reading, writing and looking at pictures. While this type of technology has been around for a while, more styles and variations are available today with prices usually ranging between $2,500 and $3,000. Some of the best places to find these are at: optelec.com, 800-826-4200; freedomscientific.com, 800-444-4443;enhancedvision.com, 888-811-3161;and humanware.com, 800-722-3393.
 
Portable magnifiers: For reading small print in and outside the home (food labels, prescriptions, bills, menus, etc.), portable, battery-powered video magnifiers provide the same features as closed circuit TVs, but they’re small enough to fit in your pocket. Some good ones to check out are the “RUBY” at freedomscientific.com, the “Compact Mini” from optelec.com, the “Pebble” at enhancedvision.com and the “Feather” at clarityusa.com. Prices typically range from $350 to $650.
 
Text-to-speech: For converting text to speech, there are several devices that let you take a snap shot of printed material (magazines, newspapers, books, mail, etc.), and in seconds it reads it aloud. The ClearReader+ from optelec.com is one of the best for home or office use, but costs $2,500. If you want mobility, the Intel Reader (careinnovations.com) is a handheld text-to-speech device that retails for $899. And for iPhone 4 users, the new ZoomReader app developed by Ai Squared (aisquared.com, 800-859-0270) provides text-to-speech capabilities for $20. 
 
Computer magnification: To customize a Microsoft Windows personal computer for low-vision, the computer’s operating system offers built-in setting adjustments that can help. See microsoft.com/enable for instructions. If that’s not sufficient, Ai Squared sells a fantastic software application for $545 called ZoomText Magnifier/Reader that enlarges, enhances and reads aloud everything on the computer screen.
 
Or, if your wife uses an iMac or iPad, Apple provides some outstanding built-in accessibility features (see apple.com/accessibility), including screen and cursor magnification, high-contrast settings and screen reader capabilities.  
 
Low-vision cell phone: The Samsung Haven from Verizon Wireless is a basic flip-phone that provides voice command (you tell it what to do) and voice output (it speaks to you) technology that lets you easily operate it without vision. The cost: $40 with a two-year contract. See verizonwireless.com or call 800-256-4646.
 
Talking GPS: To find her way around town, the Trekker Breeze is a small handheld GPS navigator that announces the names of streets, intersections and landmarks as she’s walking or riding in a vehicle. Available at humanware.com for $929.
 
Currency reader: To avoid being shortchanged at the store, the iBill (small enough to attach to a key ring) identifies all U.S. bills by voice or a series of tone or vibrations. Price: $99 at orbitresearch.com or 888-606-7248.
 
Savvy Tip: To learn more about low-vision products and to try many of them out, visit a vision rehabilitation agency in your area. See afb.org or call 800-232-5463 to locate one.

Savvy Senior is written by Jim Miller. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.

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