Using a computer

A Typical Laptop computer

There are many reasons to learn how to use a computer if you have lost eyesight.

  • It is a skill you can learn and practise at home, in your own time, and at your own pace.
  • It is a vital way to find and get help and support from around the world.
  • It is a way to make contact with other people
  • It is a tool to help learn other skills and hobbies.
  • It is a tool many people use in the workplace.

There are built-in features that help you use a computer, and extra programs or applications that add features.  these extra programs  (Software) are sometimes called Assistive Technology.

You might find that adding some extra physical gadgets to your computer makes it easier to use.  These extra things might be a large screen, a high-contrast keyboard, a Braille output or a special monitor stand that can hold the screen closer to your eyes.   These extra physical things (Hardware) are also called Assistive Technology.

New things are announced all the time, so it is always worth checking to find the latest Assistive Technology  on the market.  As well as searching the Internet,  look out for exhibitions and demonstraions in your area.  Charities often organize these, or have “Resource Centers” where you can get help.

Two Very Important Points

  1. Everyone is different.  Some people find one thing easy to use, while others struggle with the same thing.  Be sure to try different Assistive Technology and work out which things suit you best.
  2. Using any new tool takes patience, practise and time.  Do not expect to switch on your laptop and be an expert iin ten minutes. Look for step-by-step training to help you learn a new skill.

Keyboard Skills

Most people use a computer by looking at the keyboard and finding the keys to press.

Even if you have some usable sight, this is a very slow and awkward thing to do if you have LHON.

You might find that spending some time and effort learning to type without looking at the keyboard (TOUCH TYPING) pays off.  This will make it a lot easier and faster to use any computer with a keyboard.

And don’t try to learn touch typing at the same time as using a new program like JAWS Screen Reader.  Just open a text editor (like WordPad on a Windows  laptop or Pages on a Mac.  Set it to a very large font, or get someone to help you read the results.  Once you have mastered touch typing, then move on to other skills.

There are on-line typing courses, and courses you can buy and install on your PC to help you learn.

Adding extra devices

laptop with big screen, keyboard and mouse atached.

Big screen displays are now much more common.  Flat screen technology makes them lighter, cheaper and easier to install.

You might also find that a different keyboard and/or mouse makes the computer a lot easier to use.

You can buy high-contrast keyboards, or large-print keyboards to help someone with poor sight.  You can also buy high-contrast stickers, such as white on black, black on white or black on yellow.  These can be placed on a few keys to make them easier to find and use.   If you want to have most of the keys in high-contrast, you are probably better off buying a high-contrast keyboard, don’t spend hours putting stickers on your old one!

High contrast keyboard example

This is just an example of a high-contrast keyboard.  There are many different styles and colors on the market.


Braille displayA Refreshable Braille Display  is a way for someone with little or no sight  to read text on a computer.

They are very expensive and can only be used by somone who has learned to quickly read Braille.

Monitor Riser Stand

A simple Monitor Stand or Monitor Riser can be very useful, especially if you put a big screen monitor on it.  This makes it easier to get the screen close up and at a comfortable height to use.

Perspex monitor riserMonitor risers come in a variety of styles and heights.  They are relatively cheap to buy and very easy to set up.



Monitor ArmA Monitor Arm is more complicated than a Monitor Riser.   It is usually clamped or bolted to the edge of a desk, so that it can take the weight of the monitor. It is screwed onto the back of the monitor – be sure to get an arm with the right kind of fitting for your monitor! They take up less desk space than a Monitor Riser and give more flexibility in how you place the Monitor.  Monitor arms are expensive, because they are a lot more comjplicated than a monitor Riser. They have to be strong and well built to take the weight of a monitor and keep it still.

Setting Accessibility Options

Different computers have different user options or settings to make the computer more accessible.  Take some time to find and experiment with the optionis on your computer. You will find some of them are useful, others are not.

Be careful when setting these options.  Sometimes an accessibility option can make the computer more difficult to use, or is not suitable for what you want to do.  for example a “High Contrast” setting might sound like a good idea, but you might find that it makes many web pages and docuemtns  unreadable!

Windows Accessibility Options

Unfortunately Microsoft keep changing the accessibility options available in Windows, and the way that you access them.

This is a rough guide, but explore the settings available to you on your PC and your version of Winidows.

In Windows 7 many options (but not all!) are in Control Panel > Ease of Access.

In the “Ease of Access Center” you can :

  • Start Windows Magnifier
  • Start Windows Narrator (text-to-speech)
  • Set the theme to High Contrast (which may do more harm than good!)
  • Turn on Audio Description (if it is avaible) on Videos
  • Turn off animations and flashing which can be distracting
  • Make Windows Notifications stay on the screen longer
  • Make text on the screen larger
  • Make icons on the screen larger
  • Make the cursor and focus box thicker
  • Make the mouse pointer larger
  • Make the mouse pointer always white/always black/ black or white depending on the background (inverting)

Other useful Windows settings are :

Windows Device Settings

In Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Devices and Printers > Mouse > Pointer Options

You can choose to “Show  location of the pointer when I press the CTRL key”  – this means that any time you press the key marked CTRL on its own, a big circle will appear on the screen and shrink down on the location of the mouse pointer. This is VERY useful.

In Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Display you can change the screen resolution to make everything on the screen appear larger.  This can cause major problems and you will probably get much better results using  Windows Magnifier or AI Squared ZoomText screen magnifier.


Windows Accessibility Software

JAWS Job Access With Speech

This is one of the most powerful and sophisticated screen reader programs for Windows desktop and laptop computers.

A screen reader program reads out what is on the screen.  To work properly the website, document or program being displayed must have been designed and written following accessibility standards.

Many large charities for people with visual impairment run campaigns to get big companies using these accessibility standards in their websites.

It is widely used in companies who want their visually impaired staff to do professional work on their computer, espeically using Micorosoft Office products such as Outlook, Word, or Excel.

Using JAWS, a person does not just sit and listen to the screen being read out, he or she uses combinations of keys to control what is read and jump around the screen.

Because it has so many functions, JAWS has a lot of keystrokes to learn.  Some people find this too difficult to handle, especially soon after they have lost their sight.

JAWS does come with a lot of training maierial and self-study training.

JAWS has a scripting facility, so that an expert can tailor the way JAWS works with a particular computer program.  For example, a blind person may get a JAWS script written to help them use a company’s in-house expenses or time keeping system.

JAWS is very expensive.  Getting personal training in using JAWS, or getting a script written, is also expensive.

many people use JAWS for work, and can get financial help from their government or a charity.

JAWS needs to get access to keyboard and swcreen handling layers within Windows. Some companies with high-security computer systems, like banks,   have major problems getting JAWS and other screen reader software to work properly because of clashes with the security software they use.

You can download a trial copy of JAWS from the manufacturer, Freedom Scientific.  This is a full-function version but will shut off after a short time.  This lets you try out JAWS before committing to an expensive purchase.

Freedom Scientific JAWS website.

System Access

A popular Screen Reader for Windows, this can  be bought as a stand-alone product, or used with a monthly subscription.

System Access  might be a good choice for someone on a tight budget.

Serotek System Access website



This is another popular screen reader program, produced by a company called GW Micro.  GW Micro is now part of Ai Squared, the company which produces ZoomText Screen Magnifier.

Window-Eyes is popular, but it does not have the “professional standard” reputation of JAWS in big business.

Recently Microsoft ran a major promotion giving Window-Eyes away free to people who bought Micorosft Office.

For more information visit the GW Micro Window-Eyes website.

Dolphin HAL and SuperNova

The company Dolphin  produces a range of screen reader and screen magnifier products.

The basic screen reader is called HAL, but is usually bought as part of the SuperNova reader/magnifier package.

SuperNova is widely used iin companies as well as personal computers.

Like JAWS Scripts, SuperNova has a feature called Map files that can tailor how it reads the screen for different applications.

For more information visit the Dolphin SuperNova website.


NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access)

This is a free Windows screen reader  developed as an Open Source web project.  That means developers from around the world co-operate to produce and maintain the software.

This makes it suitable for personal use but very few, if any, companies or government offices will use it.  The security and support issues of open-source software make it unsuitable for business users.

For more information visit the NVDA Access website.


This is another free screen reader, program produced by the charity ScreenReader.  They say it is suitable for older versions of Windows and so might not be supported for Windows 8 or Windows 10.

For more information visit


ZoomText is accessibility software produced by Ai Squared. It can magnify all or part of the screen and change screen colors.  This makes the computer much easier to use for someone with poor vision.

Recent versions of ZoomText have some text-to-speeach functions, and some people use ZoomText as a screen reader.

Many companies will provide a combination of JAWS and ZoomText if a visually impaired person needs a combination of a screen reader and a screen magnifier.

Many people with some usable vision, use a screen reader for some purposes, and a screen magnifer for others.

For more information visit the Ai Squared ZoomText site


Dolphin Guide

This provides a very simple spoken menu-based interface to the basic funtions of Windows.

When the computer starts up, you are given a short list of basic tasks to choose from.  You do not have to navigate the Windows desktop or learn how to send/receive mail using Windows.

It makes it much easier to do some simple things on a Windows computer, such as read and send e-mails or surf the Web.

For more information visit the Dolphin Guide site.


Some useful websites

There  are many companies and charities with information on accessibility software.  Here are a few useful examples.

Microsoft Accessibility in Windows 7

Microsoft Guide for Individuals with Visual Impairments

AFB Screen Reader List 

Wikipedia list of Screen Readers

RNIB Free Accessibility Software Page

Apple Mac Accessibility Software


Apple VoiceOver

This is built into the OS Operating System.  It is not as powerful or flexible as the professional-standard JAWS, Window-Eyes or SuperNova, but it is a good screen reader for personal use.


Apple Zoom

The screen magnifier built into Apple Mac OS.  This provides screen magnification but not color changing or contrast changing functions.


This page was last updated September 8 2015.



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