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By Massimiliano Martines

THE PERSONAL COMPUTER AND ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY FOR VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

During the “International Symposium on Rehabilitation and Visual Ability of the Visual Impaired” held in Rome from the 15th to the 17th of December 2010 and organized by the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB Italy Onlus) through its Association of National Services and Research for the prevention of blindness and visual rehabilitation, Mr. Massimiliano Martines, as a component of the National Committee OSI (the Internet site observatory of the Italian Blinds Union and Visually Impaired no-profit organization, issued a report entitled: "The personal computer and assistive technology for visually impaired people".


1. The personal computer and assistive technology for visually impaired people

Introduction:
We can generally say that people use computers only for their needs, without worrying about what is hidden behind some functions. Visually impaired people, both young and elderly have the same problems; but the latter face it more dramatically as they often experience the loss of sight in adulthood. Sometimes these individuals have to get used to something they have never seen in their life. Unfortunately people who have experienced that trauma find it difficult or lack the learning flexibility to use this tool. The young face the problem in a different way. Families have to experience a new situation, which should be tackled, along with teachers, so as to break down barriers that are between the student and the computer. Besides, it is very important to enhance students’ residual abilities in order to minimize the learning time gap with their schoolmates.

2 The personal computer and visually impaired people: how they use and how they configure it.
It’s very important to say that visually impaired people use the same computer we can find at a computer shop. Only some visually impaired use the assistive tools, since the operative system gives them the chance to customize: background and foreground colors, icons, windows and font sizes. Others prefer to use assistive tools, since they are more flexible, and more customizing, and can meet the visually impaired people’s needs We must finally say that the choice is very personal and it varies according to the individual sight conditions.

3. Customization of the operative system
Modern operative systems make it possible to customize the interface by changing: background, foreground, font colors and windows sizes. You can also use a magnifier to enlarge screen portions.
The customization replicates to the external applications, on the understanding that they respect some programming protocols. (See examples below)

4. The tasks of the assistive technologies: what they solve, and how they help visually impaired people. The way in which they interact with the operative system and the applications.
The main task of a magnifier is that to minimize or cancel the barriers between the user and the operative system. These PC magnifiers try to create the most comfortable environment, in relation to the impaired person’s needs. Not only do they magnify the text, but they also improve the quality of the reading by applying special techniques to enhance the font clearness, or allowing the user to customize the foreground. Besides they adjust clearness, contrast and color aberrations. The impaired person can use different magnifying options: by activating virtual lens or lines and screen portions. And let’s not forget the possibility for him/her to customize the pointer color and size and add localizers that help the user to keep track of the text he/she is reading. These software applications also have screen reader modules, allowing the impaired person to read long readings, without straining his/her sight.

Conclusions
I think that the main limits of these software applications are: 1. They only cover some ocular pathologies.
2. The impaired person must have a modern, updated and performing PC, so as to get the best from the magnifier.
3. The impaired person needs a training period before using it.
4. The software is very expensive.



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