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April 13, 2014

Tech solutions assist readers

Tailored settings, devices bring print into greater focus

TERRE HAUTE — New technologies are helping visually impaired people read again.

Inside the office of a nonprofit agency in Terre Haute on Thursday, Jared Price, who is legally blind, picked up a newspaper and was able to know its contents — with the help of an electronic video magnifier.

Visually impaired since birth, the 28-year-old volunteer at the WILL Center (Wabash Independent Living & Learning), a nonprofit group providing services for people with disabilities, seemed well-versed in using the technology.

He sat in front of a device called The DaVinci and demonstrated how it works.

The device, he said, functions as a closed-circuit television or CCTV, which uses video cameras to transmit signal to a monitor. After placing the newspaper under the camera, the device captured the image, processed the document and automatically told the user what it said.

“It will read to you what the document states,” Price said.

When it first came out a few years ago, one blog post on the website of The Chicago Lighthouse, a non-

profit organization, explored what it called a “new breed of CCTV’s.”

“What marks this new breed of CCTVs apart from regular CCTV’s is their ability to perform OCR and text-to-speech conversion — in English, this means they can read aloud documents that you place underneath their camera,” the post said.

This combined capability “means they can be enjoyed by both blind and low-vision users,” the blog continued.

The device, which costs close to $3,000, comes with a remote and other helpful features such as large field views that allow the user to see more on the screen and color and contrast for those who can see certain colors better.

With this device and its text-to-speech feature, many visually impaired people can enjoy reading their favorite books and magazines, among other benefits.

Price, a college student, has been using the device at the WILL Center for a few months. It helps him read his college textbooks because he can see the text at a larger size.

“It’s pretty user-friendly,” he said, but just like other low-vision aids — and technology, for that matter — it’s not perfect.

“You do have to have some sight” and patience in working with it “because it’s not going to always do what you want it to do.”

But a device that many people have is what Price described as the most user-friendly of all low vision aids: the iPad.

“It will read to you what app you’re going across,” he said, as he did a series of taps and swipes on the iPad at the center.

The accessibility feature of both the iPad and iPhone can invert colors, enlarge texts and use voiceover, which speaks items on the screen. It also has a braille option. Siri, Apple’s app, which functions as an intelligent personal assistant, can also be used to answer questions and give commands for sending messages or calling someone.

People in the community can learn more about these devices and other low-vision aids such as talking watches and the Eye-Pal Ace — a portable reader and magnifier — during “A Taste of Technology,” a free, upcoming event at the WILL Center. The event will feature demonstrations of the latest technology that can help those with low vision or macular degeneration.

Danny Wayne Beemer, manager of the center’s low-vision program, said the event aims to reach out to people and educate them about the tools that can help them be successful. Price and Beemer hope “to empower people to lead as normal life as possible,” Beemer said.

“It [the technology] can help change their lives,” he added.

It certainly has been useful to Beemer, who is also visually impaired.

“I use this technology at work every day.”

Many people, even those who do not have visual impairment, can learn from the information at the event, Beemer said. They can share information to people they know can use the technology at work, at school and for making their lives better.

“We want people to have the tools to be independent,” said Beemer.

After all, everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy their favorite activities, Price said. “We just need a little time and a little help doing it.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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