How technology can help older people with sight issues

Technology is wonderful resource to inform, entertain and motivate those over 65, and a way for the elderly to retain their independence and live safely and comfortably at home. On International day of Older People, guest blogger Sarah Anderson explores five ways technology can help those with sight loss.

Sight loss affects people of all ages but the older you are, the greater the risk of developing problems with your eyesight. There are 1.2 million people living with sight loss who are aged 75 years and over, according to statistics from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Also, one in nine people aged 60 years and over are living with sight loss; one in five people aged 75 years and over; and one in two people aged 90 years and over, says the RNIB.

Book a visit from one of AbilityNet’s disclosure-checked volunteers for FREE advice on adapting technology at home.

Fortunately, modern technology can assist elderly people with sight impairments.

What’s more, an increasing number of seniors are using technology to enhance their daily lives.

Below, we’re going to explore how five pieces of technology are pioneering the way the elderly live their lives while living with visual impairments.

1. Mobile voice assistants for people living with sight loss

Mobile voice assistants notable Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Assistant make technology accessible to the visually-impaired. You can ask either a plethora of questions.

Apple’s VoiceOver is a screen reader built-in to Apple’s MacOS and Apple OS and will read out what is onscreen – although if developers haven’t programed their apps with accessibility in mind it can be tricky to use. 

Watch AbilityNet consultant Adi Latif book a flight using VoiceOver.

There are also more sophisticated voice assistant technology emerging. For example, Orcam MyEye 2.0. The device, which we demoed at the AbilityNet/RNIB TechShare Pro event in 2017, clips onto any pair of glasses and provides discrete audio feedback about the world around the wearer. It uses state-of-the-art image recognition to read signs and documents as well as recognise people and does not require internet connection.

Find out what’s in store for TechShare Pro 2019

2. Video magnifiers

For those with impaired vision there are a number of ways of magnifying text. Many are built-in to the software (operating system) installed on your device. There is a magnifier included in Apple’s iOS, for example.

For details of how to magnify text on a range of devices and in a range of operating systems you can search our free online tool My Computer My Way.  

3. Smart home

The advent of smart speakers and other technology are making it easier to adapt the home for older people, enabling them to remain living independently for longer and seek short term care rather than full time assistance. Both Amazon Echo and Google Home devices can be configured with so-called skills, which can perform a number of tasks using just your voice.

According to experts at Smartn - “Getting the right light is key for those with impaired vision. Smart lighting systems can allow you to easily adjust the same bulb across 65,000 different shades of white, ensuring optimum light across your home.”

You can also link lights, doors and heating to your smart home to increase independence.

Book a FREE visit from an AbilityNet disclosure-checked volunteer

4. Apps to improve the lives of people with visual impairments

The advent of apps means it’s easy to get assistance via a simple download. There are a number of apps for visually-impaired students and older people. For example, Microsoft’s Seeing AI, which performs a number of tasks including the ability to identify a product audibly using just the barcode. The app Right Here is another example and helps blind people to find their way around while LookTel Money Reader is an app that helps people with visual impairment count their money. Users simply take a photograph of their money on the app and wait for it to tell them the currency and value via voice activation.

5. Braille translation software and embossers

Braille translation software is used when speech output systems would be less effective i.e. in technical disciplines using symbols and coding like computer science and mathematics. This software has the ability to convert electronic documents into braille code that can then be printed onto special paper. This effectively allows elderly people with sight impairment to read any electronic document available online.

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Current Vacancies