A specially trained golden retriever assists a visually impaired woman across an intersection. Many people with disabilities have companion animals who help them with a variety of tasks.
Up until the 1970s, many children with visual impairments in the United States continued to be educated only in schools for the blind. Today, however, visually impaired children attend regular classes with their sighted peers in both private and public schools. In part, this is due to the many technological innovations for teaching visually impaired people. Braille can now be automated and printed rapidly using special typewriters or word processors and Braille printers. Students may also have access to machines that translate Braille into speech. Audiotape recordings of book texts permit visually impaired people to learn by listening.
Computers equipped with synthetic speech systems—a sound board and microphone for inputting spoken words and a program to translate those words into a form the computer can use—are also becoming available. These systems are usually combined with a voice output system to enable the user to verify that the computer has correctly interpreted the input. These systems are faster than Braille and audiotapes for accessing information. Another innovation is the voice output print scanner. These systems scan a book into a computer and then convert the text into voice output—that is, the computer reads the material out loud in one of a choice of voices. These devices are useful not only in the classroom, but also in the workplace, permitting blind adults to be productive in any job.
Electronic advances have made the calculator available to almost everyone. This specialized calculator has a Braille keyboard and a raised display, so that people with impaired vision may perform and read computations easily.
Other devices also exist to help persons with reduced sight perform day-to-day tasks. Close-circuit television (CCTV) systems consist of a still or video camera and a television or video monitor. A printed page is placed in front of the camera, which then projects a highly magnified image of the page onto the monitor. A recent development for CCTV is the mouse-cam, a handheld camera that can be plugged into any TV monitor and then rolled along lines of print on a printed document. The print is then displayed on the monitor. Magnification programs for computer screens enlarge the text and graphics of any software program run on the computer on which the magnification program is installed. These programs can amplify a screen image from 2 to 32 times its normal size, and they work as if the user is moving a magnifying glass over the computer screen.
Additional advances for the visually impaired include aids that use sonar and radar to convey information about objects and obstacles in the user's vicinity, infrared viewing systems for help with night vision, and devices such as Braille note-takers, portable handheld computers with Braille keyboards that function as notepads, date and address books, and diaries. Many low-tech aids devices are also available, including eyeglasses equipped with telescopic lenses, lighted hand-held magnifiers, and specially tinted glasses to reduce glare and provide proper color balance.