Reading with a Computer

Reading with Your Computer, Part 1: Optical Character Recognition

Optical character recognition is exactly that—computer software that "reads" written documents placed on a desktop scanner or under a specially designed digital camera and converts it into spoken text. OCR software allows you to read just about anything, from books and magazines to bills, bank statements and consumer catalogs. Adjustable font and color features also make it possible to track the print visually while listening.

Senior man and daughter using a computer

Two popular programs you may want to check out are K1000 from Kurzweil Educational Systems and OpenBook from Freedom Scientific.

If you don't have a computer (not everybody wants one!), you can still use optical character recognition technology. One option would be a stand-alone reading device called the SARA (Scanning and Reading Appliance). This item, has a platform for you to place a piece of paper on with a digital camera mounted above. With one touch of an easy to see or feel button, SARA takes a digital image and has built-in software that reads the document and speaks them aloud...with no computer required!

You can view a short video about stand-alone reading machines on the American Foundation for the Blind's assistive technology videos page.

If needed, you can take a computer class for people with vision loss.

Reading with Your Computer, Part 2: Screen Readers and Magnifiers

Screen reader or magnification software makes the computer usable even when you have difficulty seeing the screen. By converting most electronic information on a standard personal computer into enlarged or spoken text, the computer becomes a very useful tool even if you have little or no vision.

Woman sitting down looking at a computer screen with enlarged text

You can continue to surf the Internet by enlarging the print on your computer screen and using a large-print keyboard.

Many magnification programs also include a reading feature that enables you to either enlarge screen text to whatever size is comfortable for reading or have the words spoken aloud. Bottom line: Screen magnification or reader software allows you to confidently send and receive e-mail, manage your bank account, or shop for birthday gifts.

Below are just a few of the popular software packages that can turn your computer into your own personal reader.

Product Spotlight: System Access (Formerly known as FreedomBox)

System Access, produced by Serotek Corp., is a screen magnification and reader program and marks a radical change in approach from other readers on the market—one that may be of particular interest to older users new to computer-age technology.

For starters, System Access can turn almost any computer into a talking computer and the latest version offers speech recognition as well. The software can be loaded on to a small USB thumb drive (literally smaller than a thumb) and then plugged into your computer. The software will load automatically and then you're off and running.

Secondly, purchase of System Access includes a subscription to a vast network of online materials and also offers e-mail. In effect, Serotek has done a lot of your web surfing for you—gathering internet addresses for newspapers, radio stations, audio tracks of movies, narrated recordings of books, online shopping, and more. It's all at your fingertips from the moment you log on.

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