Caring Currents

Vision-Impaired Can Enjoy Walking and Reading With New Tools

Last updated: Jul 23, 2008


Toward the end of her life, my mother was severely vision impaired. A bad fall damaged one eye, leaving her unable to focus well (a necessity for reading) and with such poor depth perception that she couldn't see curbs and other changes in elevation. After a few bad falls, she became afraid to venture outside without help, giving up her beloved neighborhood walks.

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't explore the option of low-vision aids that might have allowed her to enjoy reading and walks -- two of her greatest pleasures -- more often in her last months. So I was intrigued to see reports about the innovative new tools demonstrated at several low-vision conferences this spring and summer.

  1. Talking GPS The Trekker Breeze, just out a few weeks ago, is an easy-to-use handheld talking GPS that verbally announces intersections, street names, and landmarks. The size of a TV remote, it has a simple push button that announces the location on the spot. (Thanks to The Ranger Station, a great assistive living blog, for several great recent posts about this product.)
  2. On-the-Go Reader Kurzweil technologies, in collaboration with the National Federation for the Blind, has developed a mobile reader called the knfb Reader that runs on a smartphone, such as a Blackberry, Treo, or iPhone. It allows those with low vision to access email, receipts, and other documents while on the go with the help of character recognition software that converts the document and reads it out loud. Since it's software you download into your phone, it provides a pocket-sized solution and there's no need to carry another bulky device.
  3. Mobile Magnifier Humanware offers a variety of products worth looking at if low vision is eroding your parent's independence. For example, the SmartView Nano video magnifier is one of the handiest and best-designed of these devices. Weighing less than four ounces, yet offering up to 20x magnification, it's powerful but easy to use. (A woman can carry one in her purse so she has it handy to read labels and instructions when shopping.)
  4. Talking Maps Helping those with low vision navigate their way around is a life mission for Mike May, President and CEO of Sendero Group, who gave the keynote speech at the 9th International Conference on Low Vision last week in Montreal. May, who globetrots despite being almost completely blind, founded Sendero to design and pioneer low vision aids to allow others the same freedom. Most of the company's products are quite expensive and technical, but the Way To Go talking maps are more affordable and user-friendly.

If your parent could do with a bit of inspiration, maybe the two of you could check out Sendero's cute travel blog with pictures of visually impaired Sendero users navigating their way through the English and Austrian countryside.

Image by flickr user izzie_whizzie used under the creative commons attribution license.