For Students > Support Programs > Disability Resource Center > FAQs > Accommodations > Blind and Low Vision

Accommodations for Blind and Low Vision students:

Not so long ago, the only solutions for students with vision problems were Braille textbooks, or a human reader. Many other tools have been developed that help students get easier access to materials, greater independence, and increased options.


Screen Readers:

A screen reader will read the contents of a computer screen (either a web page, or a document.) Commonly used software programs are JAWS, Window Eyes, and HAL. There are many others, including free, open source products, such as Thunder.

Screen Readers have changed the landscape for the blind/low vision student, because they reduce dependence on distant libraries or human assistants. Screen Readers allow access to the web, like any other student. Students can get their textbooks converted to e-text, and the Screen Reader will read them their book. No more long waits for materials in the mail.

The first Screen Readers delivered a very stilted, “computer” voice, but the technology is improving; more and better voicing is being developed all the time.


Screen Enlargement

For students who have some vision, screen enlargement can be a solution. There are two basic approaches:

Large Screen Monitor: A document viewed on a 19 or 22 inch monitor can be enlarged to 24 point font or larger. Low vision students may prefer this to a screen reader, because they can take advantage of visual cues, such as color, font size, and graphics.

Software solutions: There are many different products that will enlarge on-screen text. Most programs have enlargement up to 16X or more, and allow color inversion, cursor customization, and a screen reader option. Some common programs are: ZoomText, Magic, and SuperNova. There are also free, open source products available, such as Lens Magnifying Glass.



A Closed Caption Television (CCTV) is used to enlarged hard copy documents. This allows students to access documents --this morning’s newspaper, a magazine article, or a letter-- right now, without waiting for it to be scanned or converted.  A CCTV has a camera lens, and projects the image onto a computer screen. Students can access controls that allow control of image size, and allow the student to set the preferred background color for maximum vision.


Audio files

For some blind and low vision students, an audio file is preferrable to the screen reader. This is particularly true for students who lose vision later in life, because they are not Braille users, and it takes time to adjust to the computer and screen reader technology.  In the interim, audio files can be a good solution, because the student can access familiar technology, such as a CD player or MP3 player.

Audio files are available in different formats, depending on the preferred technology, and depending on what is most readily available. Most audio files use computer-generated voicing. RFB&D has a good selection of textbooks produced by a human-generated voice. Other sources, such as The National Library Service for the Blind and have high-quality materials, but they don’t carry many textbooks, so this is more often a source of recreational reading material.

If you have ever listened to a long MP3, you know that finding your place is difficult. This is especially important for students. DAISY books are a form of audio book that is formatted, so that users can easily navigate to a certain chapter or page. DAISY books must be accessed on a special DAISY Player, or a software reader, like Easy Reader. Students who use DAISY books will need special equipment and training to get the most out of these materials.

The Kindle is a product developed by Amazon. It offers wireless downloads of books and periodicals, text enlargement, and a screen reader. At this time Amazon does not offer textbooks, but might become a good resource in the future.


For you sighted folks, Braille is a tactile reading and writing system that is used by individuals who are blind or legally blind. Braille is very difficult to learn, and proficient Braille users are typically people who were born blind, or lost vision very early in life.  Braille has been used for about 200 years, and has experienced some decline since the development of screen readers and other technology. But it is still an essential skill, and of course essential to students who are both blind and Deaf. (These folks get a lot of their information with a Refreshable Braille Display, that reads the computer screen, and outputs it as Braille.)

The Alternate Text Production Center generates Braille textbooks for students in the California Community College system. Their resources are limited, and it takes a long time to convert a textbook to Braille.  If the student’s book is not already in their catalog (or available from another source,) it may be difficult to get materials in a timely manner. Mendocino College students who use Braille will need to work very closely with the Counselor and the Alternate Media Specialist to coordinate services.


Enlarged text

The best solution for accessing text is usually a screen reader or computer enlargement. This is not always practical if the student needs to access materials in the classroom. (For instance, handouts, the syllabus, or a midterm exam.) In these situations, a hardcopy enlargement will be needed. The Alternate Media Specialist is responsible for assuring that enlargements are available for your classroom use.

Created: May 04, 2009 @ 12:42 PM
Last Modified: August 05, 2010 @ 01:11 PM


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