The digital world has taken off its heels since the last century. Computer skills have become an absolute necessity as work everywhere continues to evolve more and more digitalized. It is hard to name an area that is still independent of the dazzling effects of technology.
While the typical person catches up to the demanding needs of technology, it is often our challenged community that struggles to keep up. The visually impaired community is no different.
Thankfully, with the advent of assistive technology, much is changing to accommodate the talents and potentials of people with compromised vision. One such area is the area of keyboarding.
For visually challenged people to live, study, and work in society, knowing how to use a keyboard and, in turn, a computer is an essential skill that one can no longer put on the backburner. Thus, in this article, we will be taking a closer look at all the hows, whys, and whats of keyboarding for the ones with visual impairment.
If you’re one of them yourself, or someone you love is among the disabled ones, or you’re looking for accommodations for a partial or complete blind individual, whichever the case, you will find relevant information here. So, let’s get moving.
First Things First; Are There Levels of Visual Impairments?
The simple answer is yes. The world is not merely divided into people who can see and those who cannot see. Between people with perfect vision and those with complete blindness, we have multiple levels.
For one, some people have partial or low vision. They may be able to see large items, but not smaller, detailed ones.
Then, some have blurred vision, and some with a generalized haze that puts a glare over their entire viewing field. Some other people are susceptible to light.
Why is this information essential, you may wonder? It is crucial to understand different impairments to enable you to select the best keyboard and assistive technology for yourself or your loved one.
Typing For Visually Impaired Individuals
Typing becomes a challenge for such individuals because of the constant hand-eye coordination required to type accurately. You need to see the letter you’re ordering and ensure that it lands on the screen well and good.
For the impaired, it is just like typing with eyes closed. For a start, you can feel completely lost. How do you know which letter to press when you can’t see it?
There are two ways this problem has been addressed—one by touch-typing and second by alternative keyboards.
Touch-typing means typing without looking at the letters. This means that you eliminate the vision from the typing task and strengthen muscle memory. People who are taught touch-typing do not need to see the screen or the keyboard frequently.
Their muscle memory is strengthened to the point where their fingers know the place of every letter. This way, through touch, they identify letters and type.
Touch-typing is effective for both visually strong and impaired individuals. For those with correct vision, touch-typing enhances speed and accuracy.
For the challenged individuals, touch typing can be a lifesaver. Touch-typing is the ideal solution for individuals with complete blindness. It has enabled them to work as transcribers and typists.
Moreover, it also works well with children with learning disabilities such as dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and dyslexia, who often have difficulty managing their hand-eye coordination.
In addition to this, many software programs help teach touch-typing to blind people or those with low vision. Such software includes, but are not limited to, Portset Touch Typing Tutor for Windows and Englishtype Senior for Windows and Apple Mac.
These are keyboards with modifications for visual impairment. There are some keyboards with built-in adjustments, while others can be used as standard keyboards and can also be self-modified depending on the need.
Often, individuals with low vision or blurred vision have difficulty differentiating the letter from the background. In most standard keyboards, the letter readability is kept according to the individual with an average or good idea.
High contrast keyboards have keys that stand out more visibly in contrast to the keyboard background. This increases their readability and enhances visibility, making it easier for the challenged individual to see and use the keyboard.
While some keyboards are specially designed as high contrast for the specific community, you also have the option of putting high-contrast stickers on your keyboard.
High-contrast stickers are readily available and come in multiple varieties, where the most common one is yellow keys stickers. This is an affordable and effective typing solution for individuals with low vision or partial vision.
While the high-contrast keyboards can be beneficial for some, they might not always work for individuals with increased light sensitivity. Prominent keyboards then come to the rescue. These are large print keyboards, meaning their letters have a large print for size.
The enlarged size enables people with low vision and other visual impairments to identify the letter and type it. It facilitates their hand-eye coordination.
You might also be able to find a combination of keyboard that has large print and high contrast. The kind of keyboard you choose depends entirely on visual impairment and personal taste and preference.
As stated earlier, specific software programs are designed to assist disabled individuals. Specialist keyboards are designed in pair with this software. They work in cohesion to allow the blind user to type with ease.
One such keyboard is Dolphin Large Print. It is a high-contrast and large print keyboard. It allows its user to access the software’s most beneficial features with ease.
These are among the most expensive options out there. They are ideal for users with complete vision loss, as they rely primarily on touch. Braille allows you to enter data into your computer and enables the user to read data on the computer. This way, Braille can be more beneficial than others.
Nevertheless, it is not considered the most practical option due to its cost and the availability of better and more user-friendly options.
Tips for Buying a Computer Keyboard for Those Challenged By Vision
Now that you know that impairment comes at different levels and that other keyboards come with various adjustments for the impairment, the selection would hopefully be more accessible.
However, a few pointers might help:
- If you’re looking to learn typing and keyboarding on a long-term basis, maybe as a work requirement or education requirement, then touch-typing is the best way to go about it. Reason? It allows you to work across different keyboards, whether large print or not, whether high-contrast or not. In the long run, you want to be independent and self-sufficient, for which touch-typing is the way.
- However, if your usage isn’t going to be as thorough but still relevant enough, you might prefer buying one of those large print keyboards or high-contrast ones.
- And, if your usage is very temporary yet significant, then high-contrast or large print stickers would be the best fit.
As you would see, it all boils down to the level of visual impairment and the level of need and usage.
With this, you’re good to go with all the essential information regarding keyboarding for individuals with low vision or no vision.
Technology is the new normal, and so is inclusivity. So, let’s make sure no one gets left behind.