Affordable vision aid: Are there technologies, low cost or free, that would help a local senior continue to live independently?
Are there technologies, low cost or free, that would help a local senior continue to live independently?
Products mentioned in our answer below are provided to inform you about the types of technologies available and have not been evaluated by CanAssist. They may or may not be appropriate for your particular situation. Some technologies and devices may require an in-person assessment. Speak with your health care provider for additional information and support.
Staying safe and independent in the home can be challenging during vision loss. Thankfully, there are simple changes and affordable solutions to help.
For help preparing meals VisionAware has a very comprehensive list of different strategies and products to support a wide variety of cooking activities, including measuring, peeling, spreading, following a recipe, and testing food for ‘Doneness’. MaxiAids.com sells a number of products to support people with low vision, they’ve also provide an article with tips and tricks for people with low vision when they are cooking and preparing meals. They mention products they sell, such as a liquid level indicator for when pouring liquid into a container. Grocery delivery and meal kit services can also help to simplify meal preparation.
Digital assistants, such as Siri or Alexa, that are included with smartphones and smart speakers, can be a big help to users with vision impairments. Using voice commands, they can ask for specific recipes, and have each step read to them. If the seniors does not have a smartphone, CNIB’s Phone It Forward program is working to ensure that anyone living with sight loss in Canada can access a free smartphone. To be eligible you must first register with the CNIB Foundation. For more information you can call 1-833-554-5020. The phones are loaded with accessible apps and the people who receive them can access technical training, discounted maintenance, and data plan support.
For getting transportation, BC Transit has many accessibility services to help riders with vision loss navigate public transportation with confidence. Accessing these services often begins with applying for handyDART. Community Travel Training is a free service for handyDART customers to learn and get comfortable using the regular bus system over handyDART.
There are plenty of innovative navigation apps to support blind people and people with low vision.
- BlindSquare is one of the most popular apps for navigating indoors and outdoors.
- Be My Eyes is another app that connects the blind user, or user with low-vision, to a sighted volunteer through a live-video call. The volunteer can then provide visual assistance to the user.
You can look at hardware alternatives to support computer users with low vision, such as a large print keyboard or a bigger monitor. Computer access for users with vision loss has come a long way and there are plenty of software options. In fact, Microsoft offers a Guide for people who are blind or low vision to help them navigate the accessibility features in Windows and Microsoft Office. This includes an overview of simple changes to the setting for magnification, voice commands, and high contrast mode.
The CNIB Foundation also offers a series of technology training programs and their focus is on accessibility, specifically for people who are blind or low vision. They offer a series of hands-on, interactive workshops presented at CNIB offices or community facilities throughout British Columbia. During the COVID-19 era, all training sessions are offered online via Zoom, the fully accessible video-conferencing platform.
Beyond the settings on a PC, users can also install additional software. Job Access With Speech (or JAWS) by Freedom Scientific is one of the most popular software products for computer user with vision loss. JAWS is a screen reader and provides a speech output for most computer applications meaning users can read and write emails, browse the internet and more. JAWS costs about $1,185 (CDN) from Canadian Assistive Technology. NVDA Screen Reader by NV Access is a free alternative with many of the same features.
There are a number of products to help with calling for help. For the standard landline phone, consider a big button phone that makes dialing easy and accurate, such as:
- FC1031 available from Special Needs Computers, which costs about $52 (CDN). There are also landline phones that come with SOS pendants, to help if a fall has occurred and the senior is not able to dial the phone.
- The Personal Assistance Voice Dialer II from Assistive Technology Service is a large button phone that comes with a mobile pendant. Pressing the button on the pendant causes the system to call up to 30 pre-programmed number and play a pre-recorded message. This products costs about $135 (USD) with shipping to Canada.
Fall prevention strategies are effective ways to reduce preventable falls and accidents for those at risk, especially due to low vision. Having adequate lighting if the individual has some vision remaining is important, such as hallway lights or motion sensory lights for evenings. Ensuring that there are no loose rugs or mats is important to prevent tripping, and mats or rugs should either be removed or anchored to the flooring with tape or through other methods. If the person uses a walker, cane, or mobility aid, it should be easily accessible for them and there should be a clear path for using the device around their home. Having a landmark on the floor that is of high contrast to the flooring can help the individual know where in the home they are. For instance, if the bathroom floor is white tiled, having a black strip of tape at the entrance can help them know when they are entering the doorway.
In the case of a fall, there are fall detection devices which automatically notify a designated person of the fall, such as a neighbor, caregiver, or family member. These can be linked to a landline or through a mobile plan.
- Telus has a few options and plans starting at $25 (CDN) a month and can be a device or a watch.
- Phillips lifeline is one of the most commonly used fall detection devices and has both at home and “on the go” options for falls that take place in the community. Plans start at $36 (CDN) a month and eliminate the need for someone to call for help as it automatically notifies the designated person that a fall has occurred. The individual no longer has to push a button.