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Product Reviews

Personal opinions on low vision aid devices

This is a collection of postings to MDList and MDForum by people who have had personal experience with various low vision aid products. The intent is to provide first-hand information for others who are considering purchases. For distributor information about the products, follow these links:
Assistive Technology For MD People
Low Vision Aids

Additions to this section will be made as they are received on MDList, MDForum, or through personal email to the MD Support director. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the position of MD Support or its advisors.

We welcome all contributions.

List of Products

Aladdin

Amigo Portable Magnifier

Binoculars

BookPort

CDesk

Cell Phones

Clarity Classmate

Clarity Deskmate

Computer Glasses

Corning Lenses (Sunglasses)

Dragon Naturally Speaking

E-Scoop Lens

eSight Glasses

Implanted Micro Telescope

iPhone and iPad

Jaws

Jitterbug

Jordy

Junior (task lamp)

Kindle

Kurzweil NFB Reader

Magnicam

Magnifier & Microscope [Cozy]

Max

Merlin

Ocutech Glasses

OPAL video magnifier

Open Book

Read Please

Ruby Portable Video Magnifier

Sense View Portable Video Magnifier

Sonar Glasses

Sport Glasses

TextAloud

Text Reader

Text-To-Audio

Tiger OS (Macintosh)

TravelMate

Universal Access (Macintosh)

Universal Reader

Video Eye

Victor Stream Reader

Visible Video Telescope

Voice Diary

Web Eyes

Window Eyes

ZoomText


Aladdin

Bob writes:

The Aladdin CCTV permits one to enlarge type in newspapers, books, etc. as large as necessary in order to make reading not only possible, but enjoyable. I can’t express how pleased I am.

Gaynor writes:

I agree with Bob about the Aladdin. I only have the 14 in. black and white, but it serves me well.

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Amigo Portable Magnifer

Ed M writes:

I have received an AMIGO electronic magnifier which is really a small portable CCTV.It is about the size of a paperback book, measuring 3 ¾” x 6 ½” and is around 1 ¾’ thick.The area viewed by the camera is quite small being about 1” x 1 ½”.The viewed are is displayed on an LCD screen measuring around 3” x 5 ½”.The unit is placed directly on the object.The screen can be tilted up to 90 deg.

A writing stand is provided which put the Amigo at an angle above the viewed surface to enable you to write on the paper displayed.I found this difficult to use as your pen is at an angle and most ball points wont write at such an angle. A felt pen would be a better choice. While one could sign a check, I wouldn’t want to write an entire check in this manner.Why bother when you can use the ESM Check Printer template?

Two rechargeable batteries are provided although only one is used in the unit. Two battery chargers are provided, one to use when charging the spare battery and one to use with the Amigo in the event that both batteries are dead. The output plugs on both chargers are of different sizes. Both will fit into the Amigo but only the larger one should be used with the Amigo. This larger plug will not fit into the spare battery charger, and this is my way of identifying which charger should be used with each unit. The manual is silent on this matter. The batteries are 7.5 volt Sony type although you are warned not to use the Sony battery. Battery life is 1.5 hours and it takes about 3 hours to recharge a battery. A blinking LED lets you know when charging is completed.

The Amigo can be connected to a TV and a cable for this purpose is provided. I did not test this feature as I never watch television and could not find the remote control to change the input to external video.

Five levels of magnification, easily available by a small wheel on the side of the unit. the levels of magnification are: 3.5x, 5.3x, 7x, 10x, and 14x. When connected to a 20” TV, the magnification levels are: 10x, 15x, 20x, 30x, and 40x.

Six different color styles are available by a similar wheel on the same side of the unit. The are: Full Color; Black and White; High Contrast Positive Black on White; High Contrast Negative White on Black; Yellow Text on Blue background; and Yellow Text on Black background.

There is a freeze function enabling you to capture an image for later viewing. This function is available by the touch of a button and the unit can be restored to normal operation by a subsequent touch of the button.

The Amigo weighs about 1.5 pounds and comes with leather? case with a neck strap. The Amigo is quite fragile and you are warned that dropping it cause damage which is not covered by the warranty. I wish a wrist strap were furnished but none was nor does there seem to be a way of adding one.

How handy is it? Depends on how much magnification you need when out of the house. I find my 6.5x and 10x illuminated hand magnifiers adequate. At home my regular 17″ CCTV with its much larger field of view is a lot better. I have not taken the Amigo to the supermarket or stores for fear of dropping it. It ’s a little clumsy to hold in one hand. A friend who has received a similar unit but of a different make, finds no use for it and is thinking of returning his. I am reluctantly approaching the same opinion.

The Amigo is made by Enhanced Vision and may be viewed at www.enhancedvision.com

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Binoculars

Dr. Jim writes:

I have found a very small inexpensive pair of binoculars that works very well for several of my macular degeneration patients. They are available in K-Mart and Walmart and probably other places, for $19.95, sometimes less. They are Tasco, #165RB, 8 X 21 and come with a case and hand strap. Compared to other low priced binoculars I have looked at, including the low end Bushnells, these have better optics and focus easier. They are not as good as my more expensive and very large 7X35 Bushnell binoculars, but I find I often take them due to their smaller size. And for a small, inexpensive extra pair they may be worth considering. They are not wide angle, but still do very well.

Jean writes:

I just received the low vision equipment called mirror image binoculars. They fit like a pair of regular glasses held on by a band around your head.I can now see the TV, I can see my husband’s face, and I can see (with effort) messages on my computer. These are like binoculars, except that they are not hand held. They are made by Beecher Corp. in California and sell for $483.00.

Tom writes:

The Beecher Mirage Mini Binoculars are available in 4X and 6X. They will only focus down to about 6 ft. They work well for me. They can be purchased from a dealer without going through a doctor.

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BookPort

Susan writes:

I use BookPort daily as my main book reader.

The synthetic voice reading digial talking books, web pages, or other text takes some getting used to, especially compared to modern “natural voices” avilable from several vendors — check out TextAloud for examples. But it does the job and reads about anything intelligibly and supports “speed listening.”

The transfer software from your PC to BookPort is somewhat hard to read without a screen reader. Takes some time to learn.

Neither problem is a show-stopper, and the benefits of BookPort are enormous. Battery life is good. You can learn the keyboard combinations as you use it more. The help system is on the BookPort as well as HTML. There’s a recorder (I use your recording my dreams). It fits nicely onto a lanyard with short ear buds. Nobody can be offended by the books you’re reading as long as you keep the volume down. Flash cards up to 4GB provide space for hundreds of books organized into folders. You can book mark parts of books and skip rapidly through digital books (30,000+ available from www.bookshare.org). If somebody wants to buy you a $400 present, this is a good one to ask for.

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CDesk

Dan Roberts writes:

Like ZoomText and similar programs, CDesk is a screen reader/magnifier; but more conveniently, it is an all-in-one desktop interface with your word processer, contacts list/address book, Internet browser, email client, and calendar. It is also a document scanner/reader, and it includes Skype, audio book downloads, and even a game arcade. All of CDesk applications are voice-enabled, shortcut accessible, and use high-contrast large print fonts with user-controlled magnification.

In other words, this is the “Easy Button” for all sight-impaired computer users, no matter what their level of vision loss. And at about $270 (after a 10% discount for our MD Support community), it is not only the least expensive software of its kind, but it has more features and it is much easier to use than any I’ve seen.

CDesk is intuitive for even the most basic computer users, with no special training required. Even then, the company provides instructional videos, personal phone support, and remote support screen sharing support for those who need it.

Even if you don’t yet need this level of assistance, I highly recommend that you try it out to see what is available for you if the time comes. You can download a free trial from:

http://www.adaptivevoice.com

By the way, don’t be misled by the simple appearance of the website. It is that very simplicity that is the beauty of their product.

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Clarity Classmate

Anne Marie writes:

I have the Clarity Classmate, which is very portable with a clamp or suction mount, and it hooks up to a TV, computer monitor, or a flat tv/monitor like I have. I take it with me when I go camping in our 5th wheel. The best thing about Clarity is their “lifetime warranty.” I have just tried doing crafts with it. I haven’t been able to do cross-stitch in over 20 years. I am happy to report that I am now finishing an 18 count Christmas ornament: something that I thought I could never do again.

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Clarity Deskmate

Robin writes:

Clarity has a wonderful product for students called the Clarity DeskMate. It is like a CCTV, but also does distance. It allows them to see the chalkboard, teacher, overheads, etc. from their desk. It is a 15″ flat-screen monitor with the camera attached by a retractable arm, and the weight is approximately 11 pounds. It is portable enough to carry from class to class (it comes with a carrying case) and looks much “cooler” than a CCTV. My students have just loved it!

It is also wonderful for people who do any type of craft, since the camera is more open than a CCTV. The distance viewing feature is great for anyone…especially when you use the advanced “Media Mode” feature…you can point it at your television across the room and watch it on your own private screen right in front of you (this allows people to sit on their couch or favorite chair and still sit right in front of their screen…without blocking everyone else’s view!).

Many of the school systems in the Carolinas are now buying these for their students and many students who are college bound (or even not) are getting these for home use. They come with a lifetime warranty.

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Computer Glasses

Dr. Jen writes:

I recommend PRIO computer glasses to my patients who are computer users. Depending on the needs of the patient, the lenses can be single vision (near only), bifocal (with or without lines), or trifocal lenses in polycarbonate (includes a UV coating). I have had great success prescribing PRIO lenses and my patients love them! For more information, go to www.prio.com .

Phil writes:

I have found a very inexpensive solution to prescribed computer glasses. You can get clip-ons from the Lighthouse in New Jersey – “2-diopter clip-ons” for about $10 (Phone: 201-635-1109), which change the focal distance of your prescription lenses used for distance (top of bifocals) to about 10 inches or so for most people. I try these on for people who use glasses to allow them to use CCTV’s with the maximum clarity. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it sure beats an eye exam and prescription lenses. If you really want the best correction, see your optometrist. They can put your computer lenses into an old pair of glasses you probably have lying around.

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Corning Lenses (Sunglasses)

Dr. Jen writes:

For low vision, I pretty much exclusively recommend Corning lenses. They cut out the blue light to reduce glare, and they darken with bright sunlight. The biggest problem with low vision is glare, not brightness, so green/gray/brown glasses reduce the much-needed light and contrast, which can actually impair vision more than help it.

Polarized glasses only cut glare from horizontal surfaces, like water. If you are a boater or fisher, they are phenomenal, but otherwise, the cost isn’t really worth it. Mirrored coatings are nice when new, but they scratch and chip fairly easily which can cause problems down the road.

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Dragon Naturally Speaking

Linda writes:

We just bought the software, Dragon Naturally Speaking (around $100) version 10. Jack and I set it up last night, and it was almost plug and play. Jack is thrilled to be able to write emails and letters with voice commands. His spelling is rather bad, so he always kept his correspondence really short, like three words. So, this has him excited to finally find a program that really works and works with his screen reader, Window Eyes. The learning curve seems to be short, and the accuracy is amazing. To train his voice, I read the script, he read it out loud, and it trained great. What a device!

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eSight Glasses

Gaynor writes:

A friend called to inform me that there was an article on a new “gadget” to enhance vision for legally blind people. The eSight glasses are now in the third generation stage and have dropped somewhat in price–now only $10,000! A hefty amount of money for sure, but the woman with Stargardt’s they interviewed while she was visiting in San Francisco, loved her pair which she wore even while walking. They are meant for stationary use–while standing or sitting as they do block one’s vision, and there is a hazard of tripping. This device magnifies 24X versus the second generation’s 14X. A plus is that they can be used both for far vision and close vision. They direct to the peripheral vision area of our retinas enabling the wearer to see faces for the first time in years, read newspapers, watch television or plays, and actually be able to see facial features and subtitles of the drama not normally available to those of us who are legally blind.

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E-Scoop Lens

Linda writes:
My low vision doctor at The. Lighthouse in NYC just showed me the e-scoop lenses, which would cost $950 just for the lens. I didn’t think they were worth the expense as I didn’t see that much of an improvement. And, unlike other lenses, they were non exchangeable if I wasn’t happy with them.

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Implanted Micro Telescope (IMT)

Dr. Bill writes:

The implanted micro telescope is not recommended because it is permanent. Patients who have this device implanted will most likely complain of dizziness and have problems with walking. The visual processing areas of the brain will not know how to judge depth and this will affect their daily living skills. Secondly, Galilean telescopes only provide a low level of magnification. 3x magnification is often not sufficient, especially for those with wet ARMD.

Dr. Jen writes:

The problem with the [IMT] is that it is only used for central vision, whereas anyone with MD gets their best vision with their peripheral view. All of my patients use their telescopes and eccentric view point together to maximize their vision, and this system does not account for that. Also 3x is the only [magnification] used at this time, so what if the person needs more or less?

The biggest risk is of infection…endophthalmitis from this kind of invasive surgery could easily cause permanent vision loss in that eye, risking the intact peripheral vision.

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iPhone & iPad

Azhar writes:

I switched over to iPhone after listening to Dorrie Rush’s presentation, and it has totally changed my life. Before, I had so many issues with my old cell phone, but now I am very much independent. In addition to the phone, all iDevices offer you so many other amazing features which are a great support for people with low vision. You can use Skype, Facebook and check your email. It is all voice based, you can listen to everything that you need to do. All iDevices have a voice over function as part of their Accessibility features, which is specially designed for visually challenged. It is equally practical for partially sighted and totally blind people.

I am writing these details so that others become aware of this wonderful gadget and how it can help. If you want to see a demo of voice over feature, just go to YouTube and search for videos, there are many clips that explain how it works.


Sharon C writes:

I just entered into the iPhone era and am very pleased. I had my old cell phone for 7 years (same battery and everything) and could not text or do anything but call. I travel a lot and have to carry books on CD and a computer to check email etc., now I can do it all on the iPhone.

I use Voice Over and have figured most of it out without assistance. Azhar has helped me with his tips and am learning the more detailed workings of editing and so forth. It is easy to use and offers so many capabilities in one small device: email, text, books and music, notes and reminders, calender etc. Very handy and very user friendly.


Jaws

George writes:

If you’re going to buy a “low-vision” computer, I suggest you stay with an IBM compatible PC, using either Zoom Text to magnify the computer screen, and/or JAWS for Windows as your primary screen reader / voice synthesizer.

Zoom Text is good for those who still have some useful, residual vision, and are still able to read the computer screen themselves with varying levels of magnification assistance. This makes computing much easier while the eyesight still holds out. But when one reaches the level when even magnification is no longer helpful, then a screen reader / voice synthesizer, such as Jaws for Windows, is the only real option available.

I mention Jaws, even though there are other programs of a similar nature available out there. But Jaws is, in my opinion and personal experience, the best of these programs, providing the most power and flexibility available to those of us who need and use such products.

Furthermore, I seriously recommend buying and using Jaws before one finds one’s self in dire need of such programs, while one is still able to see the computer screen to some extent. The reason for this is that the user can more readily adapt to such programs when he or she is still able to see what is going on on the computer screen while Jaws is doing the real work. This way, the rational relationship between what is occurring on the computer’s monitor, and what is being spoken becomes more readily apparent, making the transition to such a program much more simple, logical and easier to use.

Cliff writes:

[Jaws for Windows] permits me to hear each key as I type it on the key board. I can also make it read each letter, word , paragraph or the whole contents forward or back as it is printed on the monitor. I can’t read the letters on a ordinary monitor but can see the paragraphs. While this is not necessary for one to use the equipment it is helpful if one can define the paragraphs. It also perm its a seeing person to read the screen to see what is being done.

Shirley writes:

I have been using the JAWS screen reading software for over 5 years now. Although rather expensive, it is absolutely wonderful! I find reading the screen very tiring, so after quite a lot of research and trial, I bought JAWS and have never looked back. It enables me to run my small business and helped me originally to teach myself how to use this computer.

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Jitterbug

Fred writes:

After months of looking at cell phones I finally made a decision. I purchased a Jitterbug phone with the number pad. The Jitterbug is just a cell phone. No cameras, text messaging or music and video downloads. You can get voice mail if you want it. The phone key pad is very large by cell phone standards and backlit. The numbers you enter are displayed very large on the screen. There is even a dial tone. It is very easy to setup using the Internet. You go to their website and enter your phone list and it is sent to your phone. If you want to, you can enter a name and number via the phone. The phone also has voice dial without having to train the phone. There are no contracts. I chose to pay 1 year in advance, $120. I then purchase minutes as I want them. The best deal for me was 1000 for $150. They can be used as I want anytime, anywhere with no roaming or long distance. The minutes are good for 12 months. If you want to, you can just open the phone and dial 0 and ask the Jitterbug operator to make the call for you. If you choose this option it costs 5 min. Clarity is great and coverage is good.

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Jordy

Dr. Jen writes:

If you want an aid that works as telescope, reading glass, and CCTV all rolled into one, the Jordy runs about $2500, but fills all roles at one time. It is a head borne unit that you can use as a telescope, has a reading lens you can flip down over the camera and use it to read with the virtual reality type display, or you can plug the mouse into a regular TV and use it that way, or put it on a stand and use it like a standard CCTV. It is by far the most versatile electronic aid on the market. The Jordy is ideally suited for classroom use since it can be used both for distance and near tasks, is auto focus, and can be run either on battery or plugged in. It is very portable, and the newer version that just came out is even more comfortable than the original.

My patients have had quite a bit of success with Jordy in all situations, so I would certainly recommend it.

Tom writes:

After using the Jordy for two weeks, I am impressed with its functions and easy operation. It is really an electronic marvel. A tiny color camera on the glasses furnishes the picture to LED screens before each eye. It works well in all modes and has auto focus for a sharp picture at any distance.

Jordy is a pair of electronic eye glasses worn on the head like any other eyeglasses. They are fairly light wt. and comfortable to wear for extended lengths of time. I like them for reading, observing people and scenery. It is very useful for viewing sporting events and plays. The Jordy is completely portable. The colors are bright and crisp. The picture is sharp and clear. This unit offers awesome magnification powers if needed. A high contrast black and white format is perfect for reading at a comfortable distance. You can recline in your easy chair, relax and read a book. Need more magnification? Just turn the knob on the control unit on your lap. I love the Jordy for reading.

It is powered by 110 V. house currant or battery. I would recommend getting an extra battery so you can use one while recharging the other. A battery will run the Jordy about three hours.

I think the Jordy is named for a Star Trek character of the TV series. It has a wide range of uses for people who need help seeing and reading. I would highly recommend the Jordy for this use. It comes in a durable plastic carrying case with a battery charger and ac adapter. It has many other functions that I have not made use of and will not try to review now.

Fran writes:

[The Jordy] has some fantastic points, depending on what you want to accomplish and whether it does enough for you to be worth the almost $3,000 it costs. The unit you wear over your eyes contains two computers, and that is the screen you see rather than right ahead. They are not good to use for walking. One feature I liked was looking at colored photos and being able to see them clearly. It has an attachment to your VCR and you can watch TV through that, and it was much clearer than when that was disconnected and you looked to the screen. Attached to the VCR, you can lie in bed and watch TV without a TV in the room.

For the distance, which I wanted it for, there is a button you can press and hold, and it would bring something you might want to see better very large. When you let go, it returns to the distance. You, of course, look like a man from Mars, and no one can see your eyes. It did not seem too heavy on my head.

The control has a battery that runs for about 3 hours before recharging, but, at home, you can plug it into the electricity. You can also buy a stand for working on a desk.

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Junior (task lamp)

Dan writes:

After almost 10 years of research, MD Support has joined with Berryessa Designs to create the first task lamp created specifically for seniors with low vision. The result is a lamp based upon current science and designed with input from hundreds of patients and leading eye care professionals. What is the best and safest kind of lighting for visually-impaired seniors? Current science favors a light source that illuminates the viewing surface brightly and evenly, while providing the best contrast between black and white (i.e. “warm white” light). The fixture itself should be portable, easy to manipulate, sturdy, and safe to touch while operating. It should also be attractive, inexpensive, durable, and economical to operate.

I recently challenged Mike Ju, the genius behind Berryessa Designs, to see if he could meet all of these requirements, and the “Junior” LED task lamp was born. This little lamp is not just for people with low vision, either. It is for anyone who wants not only the best task lighting on the market, but lighting that is scientifically proven safe for the eyes.

This should be enough to convince you to recommend “Junior” to your support group members. But if you need further confirmation of the importance of safe lighting, please read my paper, Artificial Lighting and the Blue Light Hazard (The Facts About Lighting and Vision).

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Kindle

Keith writes:

I am not totally versed on it yet, but am impressed. I have downloaded one book, and it presents very well, is quite readable and the font sizes can easily be made larger. One button for turn the page, one for go back, etc. Very useable. Has it’s own folding case/cover, to make it easily portable. Mine is about a pound in weight, and the readable (display) screen is 3.06″ X 4.5″. That may not seem like much, but it works very well at that size. The actual text size on a standard pocket book is 3.25″ X 5.5″. Not a lot different.

It literally works like a regular cell phone, in that it accesses a cell tower and checks into Amazon, all wirelessly. Books you purchase thru Amazon get downloaded automatically! While it can be attached to a computer, there’s usually no need, IF your area can access a cell tower. You can store tons of books and magazines and newspapers on it, as in addition to the built-in memory, there’s a slot for a memory card! You could store the Encyclopedia Britannica on it! A wonderful device!

I don’t have the newer version II, which is lighter and the battery lasts longer, etc., but… I expect the use will end up being the same. Very useful for someone with less than perfect vision.

Keith writes:

 

I have one that I never use. The contrast is not good. I wrote Amazon, and they replied with a polite, but innocuous, answer.

Bobette writes:

I just got the new Kindle as a gift. I like it but, in some ways, I like the older one better. The Paperwhite does have almost a white paper backlit background as they tout. The degree of brightness is adjustable. This new Kindle allows you to see what page you’re actually on along with the percentage read. The thing I’m not crazy about is that the print (or whatever you call it on a Kindle) is not as dark as I would have liked. It’s more of a grayish color. The backlighting causes a bit of a glare for me too but since its adjustable thats helpful. It does have more options for the font size than the previous Kindle and I do like that. It’s thinner and smaller and sleeker and that’s nice. I bought the cover that goes with it and I like it because when you close it the book goes to sleep. There’s no struggling to find the button to shut it down and I appreciate that. Those buttons on the older version were so darn small. All in all, I like it. I’m writing to their tech support about the color of the font in hopes that their next version will be darker.

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Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Reader

Debbie writes:

This is basically a palm-pilot type device (actually I think it’s a PocketPC device) with a Canon digital camera attached. There are separate switches to turn on the reader and to turn on the camera. It is rechargeable. There is a leather-type case that hold it all together. The demonstrator cautioned us not to take it apart, for it was quite difficult to reassemble.The man who demonstrated it is in his 70’s and is very nearly totally blind. He is a pretty savvy computer user. Still, it was difficult for him to use, took time to process the pictures to where it would read the words, and really seems to be quite challenging to use. I brought a can of peas and asked him to tell us what was in the can, and the reader could not process the text on the round can.

The sound is pretty soft when it reads the text, and for anyone with limited hearing ability, it is very soft. This is one complaint that the demonstrator had, as he is also hard of hearing. He brought a little set of speakers that he purchased from Radio Shack that would be used to listen to music from an IPOD, and it was still difficult for us to hear in a fairly small room. It also limits the portability if you have to carry along speakers and turn them on (powered by AA batteries) to use it.

It reads all the words in its view and can’t always determine what words go in which columns. I also took a box of jello for him to read, and it read the words “New Improved” and “raspberry,” but also read a lot of extraneous words. On the back there were directions which were in columns, and if you didn’t know what you were hearing, you’d really not be able to make the jello.

Overall, my assessment is that this is a great advance and much more portable than other tools such as the SARAH for people with severe vision loss. It is still very much under development, and it is not as simple as one would like to see, especially for folks who are not technically inclined. I believe that as time passes, the cost will come down and the usability will increase, but that doesn’t help right now. In our group of approximately 15 senior citizens with varying amounts of vision loss, no one was feeling that they could really use it.

I have to say I was disappointed with it, because of the cost and the difficulty in using it. However, it is still a very significant advance for people who are unable to use magnification.

Alex writes:

The Kurzweil National Foundation of the Blind Reader is a great technology and concept, but it is far too complicated for the average low vision person. The salesman who demonstrated it to me stated that the only reason his company was showing it was that they were agents for other Kurzweil products. He himself had difficulty demonstrating it and said it needed further development.

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Magnicam

Dr. Jen writes:

Magnicam is a good product, one I use occasionally clinically, but it is not a perfect system. It is tough to use…hard to use the mouse-type system, and is certainly not for everyone. It is a nice back-up to a regular CCTV for those who travel, but I wouldn’t usually recommend it for a primary CCTV system.

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Magnifier & Microscope [Cozy]

Brenda writes:

I have tried a number of magnifiers for my Android Galaxy S5. I think I found the best, and the developer is responsive to the needs of people with low vision. This app has a free version with ads and a paid version that only costs $0.99. The developer is HANTOR, and he responded to my request to label his buttons so that they work with TalkBack. So I did purchase, for the first time, a paid app.

The free version is Magnifier & Microscope[Cozy] and the paid version is Magnifier & Microscope + [Cozy]. I use the paid version now, and use it to read business cards or other things up close like appliances or price tags. I also use it to read signs outside or in a store. It’s great.

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Max

Frances writes:

The nurse I work my support group with is a Low Vision Specialist. I bought a “Max” from her that I love. It is a small hand held instrument that looks like a computer mouse. It attaches to a TV and, as you run it over the page, it comes up on the screen in large letters. Mine was in the $300 range. They do have a color type, but it is much more expensive, and all I want mine for is to read.

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Merlin

John writes:

I use Merlin for anything that will fit under it: writing checks, forms, checking labels, cutting my nails, repairing small items, and most importantly, the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. The space from the table to the camera is about 9 inches. It has four viewing modes and magnifies to 16X. The table is large and moves smoothly for reading mags, papers, etc. The downside is the cost: with a 17″ monitor, about $1800. It is manufactured by Enhanced Vision Systems.

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Ocutech Glasses

Tom writes:

I use the Ocutech glasses, both auto focus 4x and manual focus 6x models for some help in seeing. They work very well for me. The auto focus are the best optically, but are very heavy. I find I can only wear them for about two hours at a time, then I have to rest my nose. The manual focus models are available in 3X, 4X and 6X. For general use, the 4X are probably about right. They would be ideal for watching TV and using outside.

The manual focus are much lighter and more compact. They feel much lighter and I can wear them for probably 8 hours or more without too much discomfort. They do not attract attention like the larger auto focus. If I were to choose just one model, I would take the manual focus VES II. A third model, the Mini, is available in a 3X only and it might work well for those with better but limited vision. These glasses are prescribed by dispensing doctors and low vision specialists. Ocutech has a good web site. It lists distributors by state.

Driving is done using your peripheral vision. The telescope lens is used briefly only occasionally to read a sign, spot traffic, watch for cycles and pedestrians, etc. You drop you head slightly to use the scope. It requires concentration and caution.

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OPAL video magnifier

Fred writes:

The Freedom Scientific OPAL video magnifier is small and very portable. It weighs only a few ounces and can fit into a large pocket like on cargo pants. It is simple to use two buttons, one to turn it on and off and one to choose the contrast you want. On the side is a slide to control the magnification.

This type of video magnifier is used by setting the magnifier right on the page and sliding it along. The camera is on the right hand side of the magnifier and the screen center and left side. Meaning that the camera is ahead of the viewing screen as you move it from left to right. There is a mark on the case to let you know where the camera is. The viewing screen is large for the type of magnifier. The case is also quite rugged with rubber on the corners.

There are fold down legs under the right hand side that, when folded down, give you room to use a pen to write checks, sign papers etc. As far as portable video magnifiers go, it is priced competitively at $795.00. It comes with a 110V charger and a carrying case. Freedom Scientific has dome their homework on this one. For people who do not like or understand electronic things this would be perfect. It’s too small to read a book or newspaper, the large reading machines are for that. This is for in the pocket or purse, and you won’t have to ask everyone what’s on the menu.

I put the OPAL to more of a test last weekend. My wife and I went out to two different restaurants. Both had very shiny menus with bad contrast. Reading color on color was difficult but not impossible. Orange print on red background was impossible. Black on white is the best, and from there it really depends on the color print on what color.

For me, I decided that I will not purchase the OPAL. The reason is that I am at the largest magnification now, so no room for worse site. My left eye is 20/500, and I could just make out the print at the highest magnification. The right eye at 20/300 was okay. I need something with bigger magnification. Do not take this as a bad review of the OPAL, it is fantastic and very easy to use. When and if they come out with one with larger magnification, I would buy it in a heart beat.

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Open Book

Linda M. writes:

Open Book Ruby edition provides one with OCR recognition that will read back printed material and has a special program to identify paper money (buck scan). The better your computer, the better the programs work. That is to say, lots of memory and a Pentium processor or better. Open Book also can perform similar functions as Zoom Text by changing print size, color or highlighting the line one is reading–many features to aid us visually impaired. Cassette tutorials are available from CrissCross Technology (crisscrosstech.com).

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Read Please

Tom writes:

I think Read Please is going to be a great tool for me and others. I just got it today and am trying out the free version before I spend the money on the upgrade. It not only reads but it is very easy to enlarge the text as well. It will read any text you see on your screen. This can be from your Browser, Email, Word processor, Spreadsheet or any program which displays text. My Brother-In-Law put this reading program on my computer and it is great. The website is www.readplease.com. You can download the free version or purchase the upgrade.

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Ruby Portable Video Magnifier

Zelda writes:

Ruby is a portable video magnifier made by Freedom Scientific. I have had one since last June. My Ruby magnifies 5, 10 and 15 times, in black and white or in color and in different contrasts (black on white, white on black, yellow on blue, yellow on black). Mine came with a small plastic stand so you can write under it but I, of course, prefer to use my desktop video magnifier but then again it won’t fit in my purse. It is easy to recharge the battery with a small adaptor like one might use to charge a cell phone. I have found much to my dismay a charge will only last for about 2 hours of use. Ruby costs around $500.

It is a very helpful and useful device for those of us with low vision. I really like to use the photo option on it. You can “take a photo” of something like an address or phone number and then store in the machine to use at a later time. I love to take Ruby shopping. I have used the photo feature to take a picture of a price listing on a very low shelf in a store. I can then bring it closer to my face and increase the magnification to a point where I can read it. It sure beats getting down on my hands and knees with my behind in the air so I can get close enough to the price to read it with my magnifier! It leaves my dignity intact! Also no more price surprises when I get to the checkout.

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Sonar Glasses

Dr. Jen writes:

I got to use this device during a demo at the VA hospital (actually a prototype of the one that they have). This really only works at all for those with total vision loss, and even for them it is more of a distraction than anything. The glasses are thrown off by pedestrians, anything moving, can’t see curbs, etc, and a cane is far more useful for orientation and mobility. I wasn’t all that impressed with it, and neither were my totally blind collegues there.

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TextAloud

Shay writes:

My mom (87-years old, wet MD both eyes) has been using TextAloud, which reads her e-mail messages for her. If cost is a factor, this is an excellent little text reader which costs only $25 and serves her purpose very well. She uses her computer for e-mail only, so that’s the only experience I can cite for you here. You can download a free trial to see if it works for you.

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Sport Glasses

Dr. Wendy writes:

I’ve had some success with patients who need extra magnification to watch TV, see birds at the bird feeder, see the mailman coming, etc. with these Sport Glasses seen at http://www.nfss.com/227.html. They come in 2.5X (2 1/2 times magnification), and another company has 4.0X. They aren’t too heavy on the nose, and each eye piece adjusts for focusing.

Dave writes:

The glasses that Dr. Wendy talks about are identical to a pair that I have used for over five years for watching TV. They do tend to get heavy on my nose after a while (after an hour or two), but I find that taking them off during commercials helps me. I do not have the level of eye strain with these that I do with any other type of glasses. The secret is that you can adjust the focus and magnification on each eye independent of the other eye. The price is reasonable, and they work!

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Text Reader

Tony writes:

The Text reader arrived today and of course I installed it immediately. All I can say is at this at point in time, is that it is very easy to install and uses only keystrokes to invoke the reader. Just by placing a letter on the Scanner and pressing F3, it scans very quickly and then shows the text on the screen and starts the reading voice immediately. When finished you can save it on your word processor or read it again.

Other keystrokes which I have not yet tried will spell out selected words, go back or forward. I even tried a camera manual and it read that quite clearly. Apart from the cost, I am delighted. I am now saving my pennies for their screen reader!

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Text-To-Audio

An MDList subscriber writes:

A program that might be suitable is called “text to audio” which is available from www.premier-programming.com. This will read any file you put in it in many formats. It handles, ascii, rich text, doc, and html. It comes with the impressive AT&T natural voices, which are as good as are available anywhere. Not only will it read the file to you, but it can save them to an audio file in a choice of many formats, and will convert 1 hour of spoken word in 4 minutes. You can save in mp3 and copy it to a portable player and listen on the go, or save in wav format and burn to cd to play in any cd player. It costs just under $40.

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Tiger OS (Macintosh)

Marie writes:

The one product I could not do without is my iMac with the Tiger operating system. The Tiger OS is currently available at the Apple Store for $129.

Tiger allows the user to:

Adjust the size of the cursors so you can find them easily. There are many other keyboard options available.

Turn magnification on and off.

Under the speech preferences you can:

Choose the voice you prefer and set the speed the voice reads. There are several voices available.

Turn on Voiceover. Voiceover can be set to tell you what is on your screen, read all text and tell you what keys you are pressing. It willl read PDF files, also. (I have downloaded user manuals for products I have been considering to see how easily they can be operated. I can also scan and save as a PDF file any text document, and the computer will read it to me. And, of course, it will read text from almost any website.

If you don’t want Voiceover on (a combination of 2 keystrokes will turn it off), you can select text you want read, and a keystroke will allow the computer to read the selected text.

Tiger also offers Spoken Interface, which allows the user to speak basic commands. You can also create your own commands.

These features have made my computer the tool I use for world and local news, shopping, even the obituaries in my local newspaper.

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TravelMate

Phil writes:

As a better alternative to the VideoEye, check out the Clarity Solutions TravelMate portable. It has a flexible arm like the VideoEye, but is lighter weight, packable in a briefcase or backpack, focuses on close-up or distance, has better quality, and can plug into TV’s, computers or goggles. Price about the same. www.ClarityAF.com.

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Universal Reader

Joe writes:

I was very impressed with programs like Jaws, and Magic, but my budget would not stretch to a multi-hundred dollar purchase price. Rather, I was looking around for something under $100.00. I found a great one that, remarkably, was delivered to me for less than $50.00, and it does everything I was looking for!

It is called Universal Reader and is produced by Premier Assistive Technology, who offers a wide range of vision impaired products. One of the things I like about this company is that the owner and chief designed shares a handicap with us, he is legally blind. He understands our needs, and it reflects in all of his products.

Universal Reader only reads what you want it to read. If you want it to read an entire web page, it will. On the other hand if you only want to read a paragraph, or a sentence, or just one word…that’s what it will do.

You can point to a button, on an icon, or a toolbar and it will read the name to you. It will read your e-mail, drop down menus, almost anything that comes up on your screen. You know those pesky “Help” items with that tiny-weany type? Well Universal will read that, also. If you desire, it will read back as you type in a word processor or e-mail.

What I enjoy most is having it read a long document to me. In the past I would be hunched up to the screen to read. Now I can sit back, put my feet up, close my eyes and listen in complete comfort. That alone was worth the price!

If you are interested, you can get more details at http://www.premier-programming.com/

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Universal Access (Macintosh)

Al writes:

It’s unfortunate that some magnification programs are compatible only with Windows. However, the Macintosh computer has its own system of magnification. Called “Universal Access.” It’s available through the System Preference label under the Apple in the Menu Bar. There you can set your own magnification desires. You may set it to magnify a rectangle around the cursor or to magnify an entire screenful of material. The magnification rate can also be set in advance or changed by pressing a few keys. Also, magnification, once set, can be turned on and off from the keyboard.

The enlargement can get very large. Indeed, you can see the enlarged pixels themselves, although I don’t want this. In addition, you can change from black print on white background to white print on black background, which cuts down on the glare–a big plus for me. If you don’t have a Macintosh computer and live near an Apple Store, you could investigate this phenomenon. I understand that the attendants in the Apple Stores, who seem quite knowledgeable, don’t work on commission, so they are very helpful, even if a sale is not in sight.

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Victor Stream Reader

Fred writes:

The Victor Stream Reader is a talking book reader but does much more. It does not have an internal memory, so you have to purchase a SD card. SD cards are the little postage stamp size things you put into a digital camera that replaces the film. Google it, and you will find reams of information on SD cards. I purchased an 8GB SDHC card, Secure Digital High Capacity card. I paid $59.95 for the card on sale over the Internet. If you do the same, purchase the thumb drive for your PC too, about $5.00. The thumb drive assures that your PC will recognize your SDHC card. www.humanware.com has all this information on their site.

The Victor Stream Reader is very well built, steel and plastic. It comes with a very nice leather caring case. It took me about 30 minutes to figure it out enough to use it with confidence. If you have DAISY books, it will play them with no problem. You can take word documents and text files from your PC, and it will read them in very good text-to-voice voice. You can use it to take notes, too, with its recording feature. If you want, you can subscribe to bookshare or audible.com to get books.

The incredible thing is its ability to read downloaded books from the National Library of Congress. This is cool. https://www.nlstalkingbooks.org/dtb/ is the site to go to read all about it. Best thing it is FREE. Humanware is the only one that does this pilot program. Another thing is this is a great mp3 player too.

The cost was $349 purchased from their web site. Sounds like a lot, but if I don’t purchase 10 recorded books on CD it will pay for itself. All the other stuff is great, too, like the internal rechargeable battery that has lasted 15 hours. It speaks all the directions to use it, too. The key pad that operates it is just like the phone number pad, so it is simple to use.

I recommend this talking book player for serious readers. It is the best reader I have found.

Mary writes:

No one loved to read more than I. It was very hard getting use to books on tape. Then along comes Victor Stream made by Humanware. This little gadget is not much bigger than Ipod, has bookshelves that will hold books from Audible, NLS, and other audio sites. The books can be downloadeed from computer right on to the Stream. The buttons are aranged like a telephone. You don’t have to see them, and they are easy to learn.

What I like the most is the readers. They are fantastic, and I find some of them are actors and actresses. They have made books come alive with their inflections and accents. You can move backwards and forwards. You can bookmark and highlight. All by pushing little buttons. The best thing is a timer!! I take it to bed and set it for 15 min, and if I fall asleep it will cut off. You can set it up to 60 minutes. It can hook onto you, and you can listen while doing housework or walking.

Oh, and it is also a recorder. And it takes notes. And has a music bookshelf to store your music. Has a place for a microphone if needed. It just about has saved me, as I can no longer see pavement, in cabnets or refrigerator etc., or watch tv. Just go to Humanware.com or org. Maybe they will give me a second one discounted for my advertising this (smile).

Of course, this is for people who can no longer read anything. And for those who don’t like to listen to computer voices. I have about 25 different unabridged books on it as I like to read more than one book at a time. I have an 8 GB card in it to hold this many plus music etc., but you can use any GB card if you want less. Humanware will send a demonstrator free to your home, I think.

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Video Eye

Dr. Bill writes:

I have used a wide variety of electronic visual aids, including the Video Eye. The Video Eye is an electronic low vision aid that magnifies images and displays them on a television set. We have one here at the Center for the Partially Sighted.

The advantage of the Video Eye is that one can perform tasks with their hands, such as sewing, cutting, painting and drawing. The disadvantage of the Video Eye, in comparison to other electronic low vision aids, is the cost. It is also a bit bulky and cumbersome.

I recommend that all patients with MD actually go and try to use these electronic visual aids. More importantly, they should ask their doctor to prescribe glasses which will focus their eyes at this distance. Many patients who use these visual aids complain of headaches and eye strain, similar to the manner in which a person with normal vision complains of eye fatigue or headaches when working on the computer.

Delores writes:

My mother has had the Video Eye for two years now and blesses each day that she has had it.

As Dr. Bill says, it is awkward as first, but that awkwardness allows the user to move the camera where you want it. When reading, it is best to lay the printed matter flat on a desk and slide the printed matter, leaving the Video Eye fixed in one place. Also put the auto focus control into fixed focus mode. They include a mirror that attaches to the camera for personal hygiene, i.e. shaving/trimming beard with electric razor. My Mother uses it while plucking eyebrows and chin, she is 73. The awkwardness also allows hands free operation. She does her quilting, crocheting, knitting, and latch-hook work. All these actions require two hands. This purchase was the best move we could have made for her.

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Visible Video Telescope

Janet writes:

My father and I tried the Visible Video Telescope at a recent convention in Philadelphia. We were both quite impressed with its capabilities. He was able to see things across the room, and we liked how sporty it looked. It seems like a very good tool for people with MD.

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Voice Diary

Allan writes:

The best way to describe the ‘Voice Diary’ is like a personal organizer designed for visually impaired people. It is about the size of a mobile phone with a similar keypad. Facilities include calendar, diary, daily activities, note pad, calculator, phoneboo, etc. Entries are applied using a combination of key pad and voice entries. Entries can be replayed using an earphone or uploaded to the PC. I find it invaluable as a note taker and memory jogger.

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Web Eyes

Vic writes:

Web Eyes sells for $19.95 on the www.Webeyes.us site. . . I bought the software online and it’s very easy to buy and load. More importantly, it works beautifully. There is a tool bar that sits beneath the internet explorer bar which basically consists of a plus and a minus sign in which you can scale the size of the type up or down, proportionately. There is also a book symbol which allows you to reformat the pages, if they are long and hard to read, into pages which can be turned.

As I said, I bought the product and I think it is terrific, especially since it is so easy to use.

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Window Eyes

Judy S. writes:

I asked a woman who uses Window-Eyes some questions and received some information. She likes Window-Eyes and says that she considers it a good screen reader. She uses if for everything she does on the computer in Windows. It does not work for DOS where a DOS screen reader of some sort is necessary. She said that the Window-eyes user needs to learn the hot keys to get the best use out of the program.

Linda M. writes:

Window Eyes is a very good screen reading program, and they are up to version 4.1. GWMicro.com has a very informative website where one can get sample programs or read tutorials. Telephone support is available with REAL people.

Window Eyes works extremely well with the Internet. It would be my recommendation that if one wants to use screen reading programs, DO NOT use AOL as your provider. Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, or Eudora Lite (free) works much smoother with screen reading programs. The secret is: pick one and learn how to use it. They are constantly changing and improving to provide access to the visually impaired.

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ZoomText

Gail writes:

Having a CCTV and ZoomText brings us back into the world. I was still working when I developed wet MD, and the Commission for the Blind couldn’t have been more helpful. It was so exasperating to have other people read my mail, bills for the business, etc. and so exasperating not to be able to use the computer. The Commission brought me a CCTV one day and I was so happy. Then I bought the Zoomtext software and was back in business again.

Bob writes:

I’m writing to give an unsolicited accolade to . . . the ZoomText software. [It] permits the enlargement of the information appearing on the PC monitor by any increment up to 16X. I have it set at 3X, mostly, and it facilitates my use of the computer tremendously.

Rochelle writes:

Overall, I’d rate ZoomText as “excellent,” both for its magnifaction and its screen reading features. I had a few minor problems, but nothing serious. One very nice feature of ZoomText is that it comes with free, lifetime technical support so that if you have a problem, it can be quickly cor rected. If you’ve never used this product before, I’d strongly recommend that you work through the tutorials in order to explore all the features available and to learn how to customize the program to meet your needs. The tutorials will also help familiarize you with all of the hot key combos that can be used to control the program.

Before buying ZoomText, you can download a free, 30 day trial version that will introduce you to the product. If you just want a program with the magnification features, you can purchase a version of ZoomText that contains just the level one features. As well, Ai Squared, ZoomText’s creator, also sells a version of the level one ZoomText that is designed for use with DOS.

For a more extensive review of Zoomtext, see Rochelle’s web site at: www.largeprintreviews.com/zoomtext.chtml.

Mary writes:

The new upgrade is a wonderful improvement. They have something called xfont, which is so much easier to read. They have also added two more human sounding voices as screen reader.

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Cell Phones

Pam writes:

Here is a phone that is specially designed for VIPs. It does not have a screen:
http://www.vipconsumer.com/reviews/electronics/communications/cell_phones/the_owaysys_mobile_phone

I have seen it demonstrated but not used it.

Shirley writes:

I am aware of a package called Talx. This is a software that will go on to various makes of mobile phone. This enables a visually impaired person to operate a mobile phone to its fullest capacity. I know it is particularly suitable for the Nokia 600 range (The Smart Phone). Here in the UK, Voda Phone is supplying if free with certain tariffs.

Cliff writes:

I have a voice recognition cell phone. It isn’t perfect; but I, too, have trouble reading the display (especially outside), so the voice recognition is a lifesaver.

I got mine through Verizon. It is a Motorola 815, but they have several models that have this. You still have to get your information into the phone (for the speed dials), but it will also allow you to voice dial by saying “call” and then speaking the phone number.

It allows you to classify numbers. The categories include Home, Office, Mobile and a few others. My problem is that sometimes it mistakes mobile for home. Both words contain strong O and M sounds. But for the entries I have that have that issue, I just add the word CELL at the end of the entry. That way, Instead of having an entry for John Jones home and John Jones mobile, I have a single entry for John Jones and a second entry named John Jones Cell. It doesn’t cross it up that way.

If you have multiple entries in there and say “Call John Jones,” and it has multiple numbers, it will ask you, “Which number?” and you can tell it “home,” “office,” “mobile,” etc.

I love mine. And the battery lasts a long time too!

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Sense View Portable Video Magnifier, Model P430

Fred writes:

I was given the Sense View portable video magnifier by The Low Vision Store to try out. In my opinion this is best one yet. The best value at $795, compared to twice that for lesser products.

The main feature I see is the portability with that large video screen. Magnification is excellent for me, and my vision is 20/500. There is a brightness level feature that enhances viewing. It has the normal color options of color, black on white, white on black, yellow on blue., etc. The unit will easily fit into an inside pocket of a sport coat. It also has a picture feature that will allow you to capture, say, a phone number on the video magnifier screen and take it with you to the phone, so you can use it to dial.

The camera location is easily identified, making it easy to follow the text you are reading. You can use it flat on the paper you are reading or put down two short legs and lift it off the page. The only downside is trying to use it while writing. I found it difficult to use it filling out a customs form last week.

The unit comes with the charger and a very nice carrying pouch. There is a handle feature on it that I haven’t used yet. If you’re looking for an economically priced portable video magnifier, I would strongly suggest this one. You can check it out at www.gwmicro.com/cctv.

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