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How To Adapt Electronics for the Visually Impaired

Updated on April 12, 2014
Accessible electronics
Accessible electronics

Modern electronics are wonderful! A cell phone, for instance, adds connection - and safety. Help is just a button away.

A cellphone can be especially valuable to shut-ins and the elderly. Check in with family (or 911!) at the click of a button or the swipe of a touchscreen... BUT ONLY IF they can see and manipulate that button or touchscreen.

Wonderful gizmos don't always work for the users who need them most.

Look closely at your own cell phone, your CD or DVD player, or your any-other-electronic-marvel.... Are there teeny tiny little buttons? Hard to see, hard to manipulate controls? Impossibly tiny print and labels? Stubborn battery compartments? Is the gizmo of such sleek, slick, black plastic design that you can't even SEE any controls? Now imagine if your eyesight was poorer or your hand was shaky. (And we're only talking about the mechanical aspect of problematic electronics here; we won't even get into topics like websites so poorly designed that the "delete" button sits right next to the "save" button. Yeesh.)

Recently I had an older relative visit. Seeing them in daily life and for days in a row, I discovered that there were all sorts of simple push-a-button tasks that their eyesight and faltering hand coordination made difficult.

A few enlightened companies HAVE realized that there is a problem (and a market!) and are starting to provide electronics geared to less-abled users. Like the "Jitterbug" phone my relative swears by. (Big, Easy. And with Great BIG Buttons.) But most manufacturers are clueless.

My relative, being independent-minded, struggled and generally succeeded against unhelpful product design... but why should listening to an audio book be such a struggle?

Being a designer, I tried to find ways to change the world - just a little - to make things easier.

Here is one of our solutions - an easy-peasy home-made retrofit to electronics for the vision impaired.

A NOTE: This lens was recently chosen as Lens of the Day. Thank you!

Time required: 1/2 hour

Difficulty: easy

Cost: $2-10

Materials:

  • Consumer Electronics etc.
  • "Puffy" Paint
  • Colored Electrical or Other Tape

Tools:

  • None

Instructions:

1. CHOOSE WISELY:

When shopping for consumer electronics and tech products (or any other kind), look first for the best available design to suit the user's needs. If this item is for someone visually impaired, for instance, look for high contrast between, say, controls and casing. If the gizmo is white and the "On" button is black, it'll be easier to find than the usual black-on-black electronics color scheme. Can you easily feel the controls? As eyesight dims, the physical feel of a gadget gets more important. Generally, you want the biggest buttons you can find - and ones with a positive "click" as they're pressed. Many touchscreens can be problematic or impossible for the sight impaired. If a touchscreen is the only way, would a stylus work better for the user than a fingertip? Also consider the item's weight and ease of handling and its sturdiness and stability, to make sure it's neither to clunky for its perhaps frail user, nor too dainty to stand up to perhaps clumsy manipulation.

2. ADD MARKINGS:

After you find the best (i.e. most user-friendly and user-proof) version of the tech... Look over it carefully. What controls are basic to its operation? Highlight those with a dot of puff paint (bright to see, raised to feel) or a stripe of color-coded tape. Colored tape also makes a great marker to keep various cords straight: color-code the power cord with a different color from the headphone wire or other cable. Nice bright! colors.

(The same strategy works to distinguish pill bottles too.)

On this inexpensive CD player, for instance, all the controls were tiny little black buttons - on a black case. They were nearly impossible to find with fingers alone, hard to find with good eyesight, and too similar in size or shape... but they did have tiny tiny minescule labeling. Real helpful!

Four dots of puff paint made these impossible controls friendly: "ON" became green for GO, "Off" got stop-sign red paint, and "forward/backward" got dabs of yellow paint because that contrasted well with that black background. (Luckily the player's designer at least put the "forward" on the right-hand side of "backward" which worked intuitively.)

Another very helpful place to dab a little paint is on the plug and receptacle of the charger. EVERYONE has a hard time getting that mini plug turned the right way - small side to small side. Two dabs of puff paint will let you plug in your phone etc. even in the dark, just by feel. Plugging in the phone used to take up to 15 minutes for my relative... after paint it takes one try.

There are a couple other Squidoo lenses that have some suggestions you may find helpful: How do you do ___ "blind"? My story and Top 5 Low Vision Products,

What problems or fixes have you discovered?

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    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @LiteraryMind: They sure are! Thanks for visiting.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      What great ideas. The buttons are difficult for even a user with great eyesight.

    • srsddn lm profile image

      srsddn lm 3 years ago

      Very useful ideas!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @dmalone510: So glad this was useful! Are there other topics I ought to try to cover? Thanks for visiting.

    • dmalone510 profile image

      dmalone510 3 years ago

      Fantastic lens. Great observations and solutions. I am visually impaired and appreciate your insight.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @oscar1208 lm: Yes, it's usually when you get the thing home that I discover the design flaws... maddening! Thanks for visiting.

    • oscar1208 lm profile image

      oscar1208 lm 3 years ago

      Very helpful observations! There are electronic devices out there with letter markings that are almost impossible to read. We usually do not think about it until after we have purchased the item. Thank you for this valuable lens.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @gal3722: Thanks!

    • profile image

      gal3722 3 years ago

      this is really practical and cool too

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @Rhonda Lytle: Thank you - I hope it's helpful.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @Dressage Husband: Thanks! Glad you could visit.

    • tmadeira lm profile image

      tmadeira lm 3 years ago

      Thanks for the lens. I helped my grandma with some similar projects to help her out. The ones she seemed to appreciate the most were 1. small round raised pieces of felt I glued to some important buttons on her TV remote control (power button, number zero, etc) and her computer keyboard (delete key, escape key, etc.) and 2. bright florescent tape I put on her stairs up to her front door to help her up the steps.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Great ideas and often overlooked. Well done on the LOTD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Very informative lens. Nice work and congratulations on getting LotD!

    • Bercton1 profile image

      Bercton1 3 years ago

      Very informative topic indeed!

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 3 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      Really good tips! Congrats on LOTD. This information can help a lot of folks :).

    • profile image

      LAVINASKINCARE 3 years ago

      Really Insightful post. Great Stuff

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @Faye Rutledge: Thanks! And thanks for visiting.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 3 years ago from Concord VA

      Thanks for these very useful ideas! Congratulations on a well deserved LotD!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @esmonaco: Thanks! And thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
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      cdevries 3 years ago

      @PriyabrataSingh: I'm glad you found it helpful. Thanks for visiting!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @Merrci: Thank you - glad you could visit!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: Thank you, you're very kind. It's the designer thing - we refuse to just put up with the world as-is. Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @delia-delia: I know! And labels on foods are also teeny. Wine bottles are the worst though with tiny "classy" (i.e. unreadable) fonts in high-contrast colors like medium gray on light gray! You'd think product designers would have noticed all the baby-boomer market aging, wouldn't you?

    • Karen317 profile image

      Karen317 3 years ago

      i got no mobile phones or even gadgets until now, therefore, I don't know anything about it,

      however, it gives some ideas about the pulp

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @kimberlyschimmel: What a great job! Reading out loud is still necessary, but I'm glad to see more and more books are commercially on tape or CDs. And there are some great FREE audio books on line too if you look for them. Textbooks? Not so much. Thanks for your comment!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @GrammieOlivia: Color really does help! It looked so useful, in fact, that I went ahead and added the paint dots to my own electronics - especially to that phone power plug - removing one little annoyance in my day. Thanks for visiting!

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      Colour coding things is a great way to identify those tiny little buttons, great how to instructions....thanks.

    • kimberlyschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 3 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      Excellent topic that needed to be addressed! One of my jobs in college was to read for visually-impaired engineering students. Over 30 years ago there were not many helps for them--except a helpful fellow engineering student with good vision. I'm glad there has been so much innovation since then.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 3 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! You have great suggestions here! Everything you have said is so true...I always tell my husband that these electronics are made for the young, they don't consider people that have eye issues or are elderly. I use nail polish but your puff paint is a great idea. My mail Rx prescriptions just changed the labeling to TINY...unbelievable!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      It's tiny print or symbols that I don't understand that give me the most problem. I love these solutions, particularly the colored puff paint. Brilliant! Congratulations on an everyone-should-read-this Lens of the Day!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Congratulations on Lens of the Day! What excellent and needed suggestions.

    • profile image

      PriyabrataSingh 3 years ago

      Nice observation. Great tips for the best working of the device.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Very useful information, these are certainly things that you don't think about until they affect you. Congratulations on LOTD!