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Cool Tools

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Hi again! I’m Dr. Amy Bower, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I’ve been legally blind for 14 years, and on this page, I will describe some of the special tools I use to do my job.

When someone is “legally blind,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are totally blind. It only means that their vision has dropped below some level and they can no longer drive a car. I still have some vision which allows me to generally see where I’m going when I’m walking around, but I can’t read regular size print and I can’t recognize people by their faces. I use a white cane to keep me safe and let others know that I can’t see everything they can see.

Video Magnifier

Since I still have some sight, I can use what is called a video magnifier, or closed-circuit TV. It has a large screen and a camera that shows anything on a piece of paper at a larger size that I can see. I have one at work for looking at important papers and pictures of my data. I also have one at home for paying bills and looking at photographs, and another in my kitchen for reading recipes. Many companies sell video magnifiers; I use ones made by Optelec, Inc.
» Visit Optelec, Inc. Website

Screen Magnifier

My vision is not good enough to see a regular computer screen, so I use a special computer program that makes everything on the screen bigger. It can also change the colors around to make them easier for me to see. I’ve been using this screen magnifier for about 10 years. It really helps me be able to do my job.  I use a screen reader called ZoomTextAs well as making everything bigger on my computer screen, it can be used to display on a second screen at normal size. This makes it possible for me to teach lectures and give presentations to the public. The audience sees a normal size  view on the second screen at the same time that I see a magnified view on my screen.  

Screen Reader

When the screen magnifier doesn’t do the trick, I use a screen reader on my computer. This is a computer program that makes the computer speak out loud anything I want to read on the screen. I use it to read e-mail and find information for my research on the internet. The screen reader will also read everything I type, so I use it to write reports and e-mail. In fact, I’m using it to write these words right now! There are several screen readers available—I use Jaws for Windows by Freedom Scientific. These screen readers are also used by people who have no sight at all. They have really opened up the whole world of computers and the internet to visually impaired and blind people like myself.
» More information


Another tool I just started using is one that combines a video magnifier and a screen reader. It consists of a small portable camera and some computer software. The camera takes a picture of anything I put under it, and a few seconds later, the text or pictures appear on my computer screen and a voice begins to read it right away. It’s called Zoom-Ex by ABISee, Inc.
» More information

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
There are many other tools that are used by blind people to do their jobs and have fun. You can find out more by visiting the American Foundation for the Blind’s Technology web page at the American Foundation for the Blind.
» Visit Website

Last updated: May 7, 2008

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