One of the more helpful computer items for the blind is the current generation of text to speech software. Making use of voice synthesizer technology, a “talking computer” which runs software for the vision impaired, such as screenreaders, is an incredible help for the blind and the vision impaired. A text to voice converter for Windows, the JAWS screen reading software for the visually impaired aids the sight impaired as well as completely blind people with many popular Windows programs. And the native text to audio speech synthesizer that is included with all new Macs is equally helpful to those with impaired vision and those who are completely blind. (Those who are legally blind may also qualify for assistance in acquiring either computer or software.)
The JAWS screen reading software for the blind is a product put out by Freedom Scientific. It is a product for Windows computers (only) that allows the user to work with dozens of standard Windows applications, including Lotus Symphony, Microsoft Office Suite, MSN Messenger, WordPerfect (does anybody use that any more?), IE, Firefox, and Adobe Reader.
Unfortunately, JAWS not only works only with Windows, but it is very expensive. The standard version of JAWS runs $895 (the professional version is $200 more), for which you can buy a Mac, which comes pre-loaded with screen reading software.
Which brings us to the Mac text to speech software, known as VoiceOver.
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Says Apple, “To make it easier for the blind and those with low-vision to use a computer, Apple has built a solution into every Mac. Called VoiceOver, it’s reliable, simple to learn, and enjoyable to use.”
VoiceOver will read you your email, and your webpages (at least if you are using the built-in Mac applications Apple mail and Safari).
Other assistive devices built into the Mac operating system include screen magnification, cursor magnification, and a talking clock and calculator.
Both JAWS and VoiceOver will interface with a Braille display.
There is more information about each here:
If you know someone who is legally blind and who needs assistance in purchasing screen reading software or even a computer, a good place to start in seeking such assistance is the Lions Club.