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Ask Slashdot: Building an Assistive Reading Device? 134

RulerOf writes "A few years ago, my girlfriend's grandfather was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration. Ever since, he has had progressively more trouble with daily activities. While his wife and family are able to help him with most things, at the age of 88 and without many living friends left, he dearly misses the ability to read printed text. He was able to get by for some time with magnifying glasses and other basic aids but now even those do not help. Recently, a local clinic which specializes in treatment for low-sight and blind individuals made him aware of and showed him several assistive reading devices that successfully allowed him to read. He mentioned this to his family members, and when I was told about it, I thought that these devices sounded like they were not much more than a camera attached to an LCD monitor or television with a little bit of special software thrown into the mix." (Read on below for more.)
RulerOf continues: "Some investigation online turns up products such as these, and their prices are so prohibitively high ($2400-$3000) that the manufacturer won't even list them on their website. Furthermore, the effects that these devices can apply to the pictures they output look awfully similar to the effects filters built into many webcams, and the ability to zoom and pan a live view of the screen is something that I've done effortlessly for years on OS X, and that I know exists in many Linux desktop environments. My current plan is to try to build something like this with a used Mac Mini, a Logitech HD Webcam with a full-screen view of the camera always up, and a Magic Trackpad to control zoom level and screen position, plugged into a huge LCD TV that he already owns. Have any of you ever built something like this? Am I wrong in thinking that the ease of use would be comparable to the purpose-built devices when configured correctly? Is this something that might work better with a newer nettop device, a digital camera or camcorder, and Windows (where I'm skilled at automating things) or Linux at the core instead?"
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Ask Slashdot: Building an Assistive Reading Device?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:52PM (#38054224)

    One of my work colleges is working on an identical project. You two should talk. Email me at jasonmac404 atsymbol gmail .... and I'll put you two in contact.

  • by sandhill ( 1873262 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:54PM (#38054244) Homepage
    If the goal is to be able to read beloved old books that he already has etc, then sure, go for it. But if it's just the desire to be able to enjoy books, then the library available on (and others), is fantastic. They're not your old 'books-on-tape' ... great selection, very good readers, and it's very satisfying to have someone read to you. If you've already got the computer and internet service, please check it out.
  • by egranlund ( 1827406 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:55PM (#38054250)

    Also, Librevox the free alternative - doesn't have nearly as large of a selection though.

  • by RulerOf ( 975607 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @08:01PM (#38054308)
    Audio books are a good alternative for certain, but when I brought up the idea, his desire is specifically to read printed material. I suspect that, when even assistive devices no longer cut it for him (if it gets to that point, of course) that audio books may be more amenable at that time.

    I'll bring it up again though, because it is still a very good point. Thanks!
  • This may help..... (Score:4, Informative)

    by i_want_you_to_throw_ ( 559379 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @08:01PM (#38054310) Journal
    It might be worthwhile to post this over at []. Nothing those crazy makers love more than a challenge. Good luck! Maybe some enterprising person can get something mass produced via []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @08:25PM (#38054500)

    When my dad got macular degeneration, I got hold of an old laptop, put linux on it, and set it up so that it loaded fbreader on booting. My dad had never used a computer in his life, couldn't see the keyboard, and wasn't interested in learning how to use a PC. But I put sticky red rubber buttons on the keys he needed to navigate fbreader. After some experimentation, we figured out big white writing on a black background worked well, put a load of ebooks on it, and away he went. He found it very easy to use, and never needed to worry about how the computer worked. He used it a lot, and although he started listening to audio books too, he much preferred being able to read on screen. My dad was into science fiction, and we took up Baen Books' offer of free ebooks for the disabled (see so he didn't even have to pay for books.

  • Re:Apple devices (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @08:32PM (#38054570)

    Don't know why this has been modded down, it's very true. Much as I (20-400 vision) would prefer an Android device, this is something that Apple have done a pretty good job on, and my iPhone has been an invaluable accessibility device to me. The iCanSee app has become my magnifying glass that I take everywhere, with the added advantage of being able to invert the colours.

  • by synthespian ( 563437 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @08:50PM (#38054742)

    Check this out:

    I just checked the facts now, and Ray Kurzweil (AI + future-tech guru/genius/entrepreneur/benefactor/cyborg ) has a whole company specializing in assistive reading technologies.

    K–NFB Reading Technology []

    The original OCR reader for blind people he developed is presented here: []

    This product is no longer in development, because they have moved to using cell-phones (you just gotta love this cell-phone age we're in). BTW, don't waste your time looking at products made by people without the expertise in this field of AI and assistive technology. You need a real solution for a real problem...

    For reading and using the computer, advanced software exists (Windows platform - don't let anyone make you waste your time with open source, it's not for grandpa - yet). If he can identify elements in the screen and is able to locate where text is, he can just use something like TextAloud.

    As macular degeneration progresses, though, he will want to move into software specifically tailored for the blind. In fact, I would suggest getting acquainted with the following software before total blindness. JAWS is the major-league player in this category. []

    I wish all the best for your girlfriend's grandfather. Tell him he's not the only in that situation and that there are solutions out there.

    I hope this helps.

    May you score many Internet Points points with your future father-in-law, too ;-)

  • by Detaer ( 562863 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @09:54PM (#38055118)
    Open source screen reader [] This package can be used to operate a computer for people who are totally blind, read content etc etc.
  • AccessWorld Magazine (Score:4, Informative)

    by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @10:52PM (#38055416) Homepage Journal

    Here's a magazine about assistive devices for the visually impaired that's having a special on-line Q&A event this very week: []

    Ask the AccessWorld Experts! Special Online Event November 14-18

    Dates: 11/14/2011 - 11/18/2011

    AccessWorld iconFamilyConnect and AccessWorld Magazine are excited to announce a special opportunity for families to interact directly with some of the foremost authorities on accessible technology—from cell phones to ebooks, screen readers, classroom adaptations, and more.

    Simply visit FamilyConnect's Ask the Experts blog anytime from November 14-18 (Monday-Friday) and leave your questions or concerns in the comments. Our team will be on hand to respond to your inquiries.

    AccessWorld's accessibility experts include:

            Lee Huffman
            Tara Annis
            Brad Hodges
            Janet Ingber
            Deborah Kendrick
            J.J. Meddaugh
            Ike Presley
            John Rempel

    This one-of-a-kind opportunity allows families to have their questions and concerns about assistive technology addressed by leading experts. Join us November 14-18 for this exciting online event!

    Contact: Lee Huffman


    URL: []

    And here's AccessWorld:

    Technology and People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired []

    I knew some people at the American Foundation for the Blind. At that time, they had a research department of a couple of engineers creating assistive devices. You might contact the AFB or other blindness organizations and find an engineer to talk to. You might well find somebody who will be enthusiastic about your project.

Given its constituency, the only thing I expect to be "open" about [the Open Software Foundation] is its mouth. -- John Gilmore