The use of assistive technology for the blind may be able to help in the workplace, classroom, or the management of your home. Personal computers, smart phones, portable tablets, and even set-top boxes can be modified using large print, speech output, or Braille. These devices can then are used to send and receive electronic mail, browse web pages, compose documents, work with spreadsheets and databases, and much more. The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) Technology for the Blind Program also provides adaptive devices such as talking and large-print calculators, Braille writers, digital talking book players/recorders, note-takers, and other specialized adaptive devices for use in the workplace. We offer adaptive equipment and technical consulting to MCB consumers and employers, as well as training on many forms of adaptive equipment and software. Below are some examples of the useful technology with which MCB can help.


Many of MCB’s consumers have some residual vision, which will allow them to benefit from the use of video magnifiers and computer screen magnification software. A video magnifier or Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is an electronic magnification system consisting of a video camera, reading tray, and large video monitor. CCTVs can be used to read books, magazines, food containers, prescription bottles, photographs, anything you need to access for employment and independence. Material to be read is placed on the reading tray beneath the camera, the desired magnification level and other adjustments are selected, and the text is read on the television screen. Using a CCTV is relatively easy with some training and practice. Alternatively, some consumers can use a portable handheld video magnifier which will allow for some magnification of items which might not be conveniently placed under a fixed desktop camera. These portable devices allow for spot reading of restaurant menus or packages on supermarket shelves. A computer such as a laptop, tablet, or smart phone can be modified with screen magnification software to enlarge and enhance the contrast of text and graphics on its display. This software can work on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, iPhones and Androids, among others. Using a screen magnification software program, one can gain nearly full access to software applications and the Internet.

Screen Readers and Voice Technology

Screen readers and Speech synthesis are one of the most powerful and cost-effective adaptive technologies currently available. The screen reader turns a computer into a talking personal computer. Using a screen reader, a visually impaired user can hear all of his/her keystrokes as they are entered, as well as read back any information displayed on the computer monitor. One can use a screen reader to help with sending and receiving electronic mail, browsing web sites on the internet, for database and spreadsheet management, and for accessing computers and information in general. These days visually impaired persons often use screen readers on both computers and smart phones.

Scanners and Reading Machines

Many of MCB’s consumers are using scanners and Optical Character Recognition software to regain access to print material. This technology is used to electronically scan a book, piece of mail, invoice, etc. into a computer. That text is then converted to speech, magnified, or Braille output. In other words, a scanner is a reading machine, capable of accessing many different forms of printed information. The scanned text can be saved on a variety of devices to be listened to later. The scanner and Optical Character Recognition are powerful adaptive technologies to assist students, workers, and those living independently in the home.

Braille Embossers And Refreshable Displays

For those who are strong Braille readers, they may benefit from using a Braille embosser and/or refreshable Braille display. It is known that reading Braille can enhance literacy, reading comprehension, and spelling. A Braille embosser and translation software can be used to “print” hard-copy Braille from computer documents for a wide variety of applications. Likewise a Braille reader can use a refreshable Braille display in conjunction with a screen reader software program to access a computer and the internet just like a sighted computer user reads a monitor. An individual who is deaf-blind may use Braille embossers and displays to assist with day-to-day communication and computer access for work, school, or home independence.


Richard Flint

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.