How To Adapt Electronics for the Visually Impaired

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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: 1/2 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Cost: $2-10

Materials

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

Tools

  • None
Step 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.

Step 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.

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Comments

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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  • LiteraryMind Apr 11, 2014 @ 11:29 pm
    What great ideas. The buttons are difficult for even a user with great eyesight.
  • cdevries Apr 12, 2014 @ 2:06 pm
    They sure are! Thanks for visiting.
  • srsddn Apr 06, 2014 @ 2:13 am
    Very useful ideas!
  • dmalone510 Apr 05, 2014 @ 9:58 pm
    Fantastic lens. Great observations and solutions. I am visually impaired and appreciate your insight.
  • cdevries Apr 05, 2014 @ 10:48 pm
    So glad this was useful! Are there other topics I ought to try to cover? Thanks for visiting.
  • oscar1208 Apr 05, 2014 @ 6:03 am
    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 Apr 05, 2014 @ 12:40 pm
    Yes, it's usually when you get the thing home that I discover the design flaws... maddening! Thanks for visiting.
  • gal3722 Apr 04, 2014 @ 4:01 pm
    this is really practical and cool too
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:42 pm
    Thanks!
  • tmadeira Apr 04, 2014 @ 3:36 pm
    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.
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 3:50 pm
    The fluorescent tape on the steps makes so much sense... creating some color contrast really help! Thanks for that tip and for visiting.
  • StephenJParkin Apr 04, 2014 @ 1:25 pm
    Great ideas and often overlooked. Well done on the LOTD.
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 3:50 pm
    Thanks! Glad you could visit.
  • rauspitz Apr 04, 2014 @ 12:57 pm
    Very informative lens. Nice work and congratulations on getting LotD!
  • bercton Apr 04, 2014 @ 12:54 pm
    Very informative topic indeed!
  • poetvix Apr 04, 2014 @ 12:18 pm
    Really good tips! Congrats on LOTD. This information can help a lot of folks :).
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 3:53 pm
    Thank you - I hope it's helpful.
  • LAVINASKINCARE Apr 04, 2014 @ 11:56 am
    Really Insightful post. Great Stuff
  • partybuzz Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:55 am
    Thanks for these very useful ideas! Congratulations on a well deserved LotD!
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:57 am
    Thanks! And thanks for visiting.
  • grammieo Apr 04, 2014 @ 9:48 am
    Colour coding things is a great way to identify those tiny little buttons, great how to instructions....thanks.
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:22 am
    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!
  • kschimmel Apr 04, 2014 @ 9:48 am
    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.
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:24 am
    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!
  • d-artist Apr 04, 2014 @ 9:36 am
    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!
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:27 am
    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 Apr 04, 2014 @ 9:16 am
    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
  • Susan52 Apr 04, 2014 @ 9:02 am
    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!
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:28 am
    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.
  • Merrci Apr 04, 2014 @ 8:43 am
    Congratulations on Lens of the Day! What excellent and needed suggestions.
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:29 am
    Thank you - glad you could visit!
  • PriyabrataSingh Apr 04, 2014 @ 5:32 am
    Nice observation. Great tips for the best working of the device.
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:29 am
    I'm glad you found it helpful. Thanks for visiting!
  • esmonaco Apr 04, 2014 @ 5:06 am
    Very useful information, these are certainly things that you don't think about until they affect you. Congratulations on LOTD!
  • cdevries Apr 04, 2014 @ 10:30 am
    Thanks! And thanks for visiting.