We may not realize it, but the power of sight gives us an independence we take for granted. To find out if it’s true, close your eyes and try to move around. The impenetrable blackness you see is the world of the blind. Thanks to technology, the world is smaller. Is it the same for the visually impaired? From the evidence all around us, I believe the answer is a hopeful yes. Innovations are helping those who have poor vision or the sight challenged to “virtually” see the world around them. From tattoos for the blind to bionic eyes, the range is impressive. Did you know that there are wine labels imprinted in Braille?
Little things matter. So, why should it be a surprise that technology is being customized for the visually challenged? Technology is the Great Enabler. So, if you know someone who is vision impaired, tell them about the best websites you can find on the web for the blind and partially sighted.
The American non-profit is well-known for its association with Helen Keller. The organization tries to promote healthy living for the visually impaired by making them aware of technological innovations and their individual rights. AFB over the years has many achievements to its credit. It helped to standardize the English Braille code; AFB’s Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons is one of the most well-compiled information resources on vision loss; and it remains one of the largest producers of talking books. AFB also offers many elearning initiatives aimed at increasing creating awareness for solution that can be used by the blind to better their lives.
The National Federation for The Blind has umbrella coverage over 50 U.S. states. It is the largest and oldest (since 1940) membership organization of blind people in the United States. The organization is as much about self-expression as it is about the tools and methods the visually challenged can take advantage of to improve their lives. The organization defines its purpose as — public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families.
RNIB is a charitable organization – one of UK’s high profile ones – that seeks to alleviate the condition of the blind, and those who are at risk to lose their vision. The website of the organization is a portal to tips, advice, lifestyle management links, welfare schemes and lots more. RNIB is a membership organization and its work is supported by an army of volunteers across the UK. Among the many other things, RNIB runs a free quarterly e-newsletter with information and advice for making the most of everyday technology.
The TechKnowMore blog also features a Website of the Month and App of the Month that are reviewed for their accessibility features and that can improve the lives of the blind.
Books & Audio Books
The Library of Congress in the Unites States runs a welfare program called the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The free library program circulates Braille and audio materials eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail. Any resident of the U.S. or any citizen living abroad can avail of this program if they have vision impairment problems. Eligible readers do not have to bear any cost to obtain the “Talking books” from any of the regional libraries in the NLS network. A searchable catalog is available on the site (screenshot above). They are also sent postage-free via the U.S. Postal Service. The materials can be returned via the U.S. Postal Service too. Use the “Find a Library” link on the NLS website to locate a talking-book library in your area or call 1-888-NLS-READ.
If you are looking to buy books for someone to read them out to you, Amazon is an obvious place to search. Amazon offers a text-only version of their site which can be put through a screen reader. Amazon also has a great selection of audio books on Audible which is a sister company.
LibriVox is an audio book website that features quite regularly when one talks about listening books. The website features public domain works which have been converted to audio by an army of volunteers. Check out the catalog of audio books on LibriVox. One of the best ways to download an entire book instead of individual chapters is to subscribe to it on iTunes. You can also tune into the thrice-weekly podcasts here in case you are interested in what’s developing.
You can find nine more full-featured audio book websites in a list I had compiled a few years back.
Other Audio Resources
Choice Magazine is a quarterly audio magazine that is published for the visually impaired. The magazine selects articles worth reading from nearly 100 magazines and abridges them for easy listening. Three experienced CML editors select the best-written, most interesting, informative, and entertaining articles, stories, essays, interviews, and poems from current, national magazines. Each issue is 12 hours long and can be downloaded to the computer. CML is also provided through postage-free post. The free player available on the site can be used to playback the files.
ACB Radio is a streaming radio service program from the American Council of the Blind. The home site says that it is also a platform for blind artists like musicians to express themselves. You can use free programs like Winamp, Foobar, and Windows Media Player to catch the streams. The Internet radio station has program groups like ACB Radio Mainstream, ACB Radio Café, and Listen to ACB Radio Treasure Trove etc. which you can listen to. Live events are also covered. You can also download archives of the shows for listening to them later.
A List of Free Screen Readers
With healthy eyes, we use screen readers for productivity, and sometimes to help with our laziness. For the visually challenged, screen readers are essential tools to get on the web and consume all the information that’s there. I had reviewed a very good Open Source screen reader called WebAnywhere a few years back. The free screen reader is still very much effective as it was before and you can check it out .
There are many more screen readers and here’s a small list I managed to compile. Wikipedia has a more complete list of screen reading tools.
And Then There’s Google
It’s almost given that a visually impaired person will have to use Google at some point if he or she wants to tap the web for information. Google has a range of accessibility features to cover these scenarios. Google supports the accessible web initiative and has incorporated features across all its products for both vision and hearing impairments. For instance:
Google Search has the Google Accessible Web Search to aid those with vision impairments.
Google Calendars, Gmail and Google Docs have inbuilt features for blind and low vision users.
If you are using an Android phone, Google’s Android Accessibility page is a must-read.
My launch pad for writing this post where these two resources I found on the web. The following two web links include a variety of websites neatly compiled which can help the vision impaired to search for more information. So, my thanks goes out to the webpage builders who took the time and effort to build these two lists.
There are of course, many other excellent resources on the web for the blind. We are relying on you to come out with some of the best in the comments. Lead the way!
Image Credit: hoyasmeg via Flickr