There are a lot of things happening with technology in today’s world, and as most of us are aware adaptive technology is no exception. We all want to have access to the latest and greatest. I have personally drooled over the iPhone 6 on several occasions, ok, not really, but it’s a sexy device, and, come on, who wouldn’t want one.
The problem is, we have an astronomical unemployment rate among the blind, and the fact of the matter is a lot of us are not in a position to take advantage of the latest tech trends. This is why I am writing this overview of how to stay reasonably up to date without breaking the bank.
A few quick notes.
Note one: This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to every single blindness related low-budget item on the market.
Note two: I am not employed by, or in anyway compensated by any of the companies linked to in this post.
Note three: This article is meant for blind people spending their own hard-earned cash. If you are receiving services from vocational rehabilitation then you may have other options.
Low budget computers.
The Apple Macintosh has been taking the blind community by storm over the last several years. Many are sold by a screen-reader built in to the operating system. I have personally used a mac as my primary platform for the last half-decade. However, if you are someone who is not in a position to fork over at least $900.00 then you may feel left out of the loop. For a low-budget individual even a $500 computer is akin to flying to the moon.
There are options though, and some surprisingly good ones. This article is an excellent overview of computers for the blind They offer windows 7 desktops and laptops for well under $200. The machines come with clean versions of windows 7 (IE no crapware) and with several apps pre-installed. It is worth noting that some of the desktops come with a 17-21 inch monitor which may be beneficial to a low-vision user. Note: customers are only aloud to purchase one PC from Computers for the Blind at this time, so it is prudent to have a good idea of whether a desktop or laptop better meets your needs.
Another option for those who are mobile minded is the HP Stream. This laptop (available in an eleven or thirteen inch model) is in the $200 price range. It also comes with one free year of Office 365 personal, and a $25 gift card: effectively giving you an extra $95 in value with your purchase. These units are not meant as primary PC’s, but used in conjunction with a desktop from computers for the blind, the Stream can be an effective mobile option The HP Stream can be purchased from amazon and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. If you are wondering about the quality of a device such as the HP Stream check out the review from Paul Thurrott
Warning I highly recommend purchasing the signature addition of the HP Stream or any windows machine. These are available mainly from the Microsoft store, although some can be found on Amazon. Signature addition PC’s do not have all the extra garbage programs typically found on the average windows computer. Not having to deal with such pre-installed trash dramatically speeds up ones computer. More importantly, it drastically reduces the amount of cursing and death threats most of us make toward our new PC’s wile wasting hours upon hours of uninstalling junk software.
Other great low-budget PC deals can be found on Amazon, and others. Blind Bargains is a great place to find deals on PC’s and many other items.
Now that I have this new computer, how do I make it accessible?
The units from Computers for the Blind come with Non-visual Desktop Access, NVDA already installed, along with demo software of other screen-readers and screen-magnifiers. “But I didn’t get one of those, I got a good deal on a computer from Amazon, now what do I do?”
Well, my friend you have plenty of options. You can install the aforementioned NVDA. You can check out the many options offered by Serotek. They have choices to fit almost any situation. You can also investigate Window Eyes which is free if you own an addition of Microsoft Office 2010 or 2013, or if you have a subscription to Office 365. All of these are great options, and the serotek solution can even include an OCR scanning program, which paired with a low cost flat-bed scanner, can provide access to one’s daily mail as well as many other forms of paper documents.
“what about us low-budget low vision users?” I didn’t forget about you guys, but I am not a low vision user, I do not feel qualified to write on that topic.
I’ve chosen to lump phones, tablets, and other hand-held devices together in this section.
The aforementioned iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the hottest new devices on the market, however they are rather pricy–especially for those of us who use prepaid wireless service. Prepaid services often offer the same amount of coverage as the big-name carriers, but with much cheaper monthly plans. THe drawback is that the consumer must purchase a device without the option of financing or contract subsidizing. This means the latest iPhone is out of reach of most of us low-budget users, but like the PC options listed above their are still great choices.
Talking MP3 Players offer several low cost IOS and android smartphones as well as some accessible basic flip phones. The Android devices come with Talkback already set up and ready to use. While the devices offered are a couple of years old; they still offer access to the majority of the modern applications popular in the blind community.
If you choose to go the Android rout I recommend Android 4.4 KitCat or higher. If you opt for IOS make sure the device in question will run the apps you want and need. For example: the new Voice Dream Writer program only runs on IOS 8 and above. The oldest iPhone that supports iOS 8 is the iPhone 4S and running this version of the software is rather buggy.
If you are hoping to use the Voice Dream apps, or the KNFB Reader, Android isn’t necessarily a bad option as both companies have stated they plan to create Android versions of their applications. If you want a device with BARD support then you should probably stick with the iPhone. I think humans will establish a colony on Mars before NLS creates an Android application.
Much of what has been said about phones can be applied to tablets. There are numerous low cost tablets running Android and Windows. The same Android advice applies here, and if you are looking at a Windows unit I give you two items to remember.
Go with the signature addition. You’ll thank me later.
Make sure your screen-reader of choice supports touch navigation, otherwise you’re stuck with having your tablet constantly paired with a keyboard.
On the IOS front you may have some luck. There are several iPad models currently on the market, and with some diligence you may find one in your price range. You can also pick up an iPod touch, but it is worth noting that the iPod Touch hasn’t seen a hardware refresh in a long while.
Even portable Daisy players can be had for a bargain if you are willing to skip out on some of the more modern features. The 1st generation Victor Stream and the original BookSense still fulfill their intended purpose quite admirably. They are commonly sold through various classified sections throughout the AT community.
Lastly, their are tuns of affordable accessories for all of the products mentioned. Many can be found through Talking MP3 Players, AT Guys and through Amazon and others. . It is worth mentioning that the customer service offered by Talking MP3 Players, AT Guys and others is well worth the occasional higher prices as opposed to sites like Amazon.
I recognize that not every piece of advice offered here will fit every situation, but I hope the references mentioned will help those who are in a similar situation as my own.
Some might be saying, “well, these devices will be slow, and you can’t run everything on them.” Wile that may be true in some cases, I believe the solutions discussed can help a lot of blind people be more productive, and ultimately find meaningful employment.
You may also be wondering if I take any of the advice offered. I hope to purchase a machine from Computers for the Blind, (I had to sell my macbook) as well as a new phone. Furthermore, in case anyone doesn’t think work can be accomplished on the hardware just take note of the fact that I’ve written this article on my iPhone 4S with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
If you have questions or feedback feel free to contact me on twitter. @Jeffyoung_