Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Choosing a Computer That’s Right for You

Here are some things to consider when you are getting ready to purchase your first computer.  First, I recommend finding a company in your area that specializes in putting together a computer for a person with low vision or blindness.  This is important because your computer will likely have software added to it to magnify or read the screen, depending on your specific needs.  A company familiar with that software can support both the computer and its adaptive software.  They can also usually assist you in getting trained to use your new computer.  In some cases, they might also be able to provide you with special keyboards and a mouse that work better for you than what you will find in a regular retail facility.  You can get keyboards with large print, or you can even get individual stickers, which contain Braille, that can be placed on each key for those people more familiar with Braille.  

The second thing to consider is the price.  Even though a large retail chain can sell you a computer at a very low price, they can’t support software that reads or magnifies the screen.  This means if you have trouble with your adaptive software, you will have to find someone who can support you in that situation.  Large retail chains can offer computers at lower prices because they can afford to do this and if you purchase such a computer, it may not meet all of the requirements your screen magnifier or screen reader needs in order to run efficiently.  

The third thing to consider is the tasks you wish to accomplish with your new computer.  Before you buy a computer, make a list of everything you want to do and learn with your computer.  You can use this list to help the salesperson to customize the computer for your specific needs.  One tip I can offer is that Windows Seven, which is Microsoft’s latest version of Windows, does not come with an email program.  Earlier versions of Windows had Outlook Express, or Windows Mail included.  This means you will have to use either a web-based email program, or purchase a copy of Microsoft Office when you buy your computer.  If you want to do word processing, spreadsheets and use email, I highly recommend getting Microsoft Office.  This will give you all of the additional programs you need to accomplish all of these tasks and more.  Microsoft Office is a powerful program and contains a suite of great programs. 

It is important to do research and find out what hardware and software are available to help you.  Here in the United States, most of our states have state agencies that serve people with low vision or blindness.  Depending on your situation, they may be able to help you figure out what hardware and software you need, or they may be able to assist you once you have your computer and provide you with the necessary training needed for your success.  

Remember, the computer and software you need may not be the $5000.00 system.  It is important to have a good understanding about your specific needs and to also know what works best.  There are several programs available to help you in reading or magnifying the display screen.  Some are very robust and contain many wonderful features, while others are less robust without providing as many features.  Knowing which works for you is the best thing you can do for yourself.  

Finally, it is important to know an approximate price for everything and gauge if the price fits your budget.  Purchasing the computer and adaptive software can be quite expensive.   When you then add the price of individual training, that makes it even more expensive.  If you don’t have all the funds necessary for everything, figure out what you can fund.  Then, check to see whether or not your local state agency can provide you with assistance.  If not, there are other organizations that support people with low vision or blindness.  You can apply for a scholarship or, you can find grants to help you.

So far, everything in this article discussed the idea of purchasing a Personal Computer with Windows. However, you have another option available to you. The Mac offers a program called Voice Over, a built in screen reader, ready to use at any time without installing any extra software. Included with the screen reader on the Mac is a built in tutorial, designed to assist you as you learn to use the program on the Mac.

Recently, I heard a great Podcast done by Serotek that compares the PC and Mac. This will give you useful information about both types of computers. Here is the link to the Podcast, http://accessibleevent.com/372225074/archive/848/

Here are a few examples of desktop and laptop computers provided by a company in Connecticut called Vision Dynamics.  Vision Dynamics specializes in selling and supporting products to help people with low vision or blindness.  You can also find them on the web at www.visiondynamics.com.  Remember, the examples below are provided in this article as suggestions based on a common array of computing needs.  Your situation may vary.  All specifications and prices are subject to change depending on a customer’s specific needs. 

Desktop Computer for Blind Users:

HP Core 2 Duo processor with 2.93 GHZ, 2 Gigabytes of Ram, 250 Gigabyte Hard Drive, DVD + RW/DVD-RAM, Ethernet, Windows , HP mouse and keyboard, 19″ LCD Monitor, Window Eyes Software. Computer has all required programs downloaded and is ready to go. Price also includes installation of software and 3 year warranty.  $1965.00 (Without Window Eyes $1070.00) 

Laptop Computer for Blind Users:

HP ProBook Athlon II M320 2.1 GHz, 2 Gigabytes of RAM, 320 GB Hard Drive, DVD+RW, Mobility Radeon HD 4200 gigabit Ethernet-WLAN, Windows, 15.6″ Widescreen, 3 year extended warranty, computer set-up and installation of Window Eyes $2185.00 (Without Window Eyes $1290.00) 

Desktop Computer for Low Vision Users:

HP Core 2 Duo processor with 2.93 GHZ, 2 Gigabytes of Ram, 250 Gigabyte Hard Drive, DVD + RW/DVD-RAM, Ethernet, Windows , HP mouse, 22″ LCD Monitor, ZoomText with Speech and ZoomText Keyboard. Computer has all required programs downloaded and is ready to go. Price also includes installation of software and 3 year warranty. $1775.00 (Without ZoomText $1180.00, without ZoomText and without ZoomText Keyboard $1100.00) 

Laptop Computer for Low Vision Users:

HP ProBook Athlon II M320 2.1 GHz, 2 Gigabytes of RAM, 320 Gigabyte Hard Drive, DVD+RW, Mobility Radeon HD 4200 gigabit Ethernet-WLAN, Windows, 15.6″ Widescreen, 3 year extended warranty, computer set-up and installation ZoomText with Speech $1885.00 (Without ZoomText $1290.00) 

Other Services and Products Offered by Vision Dynamics:

On-site training for an additional fee

FREE phone support with all purchases

Delivery, Set-up and 1 hour overview for an additional fee

They have a number of accessories and adaptive solutions, such as:

High contrast keyboard stickers (braille available) $23.95 – $25.95

Bump dots and locator dots

Non-ZoomText large letter, high contrast keyboards $49.00

One Comments

  1. Great article. Another service which is available is the Adaptive Technology Help Desk which I operate here at the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. This service is available to anyone who is blind or visually impaired, or individuals such as employers, teachers, counselors, family members and others to call with technology-related questions or problems. We can be reached Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. central time at 888-825-0080. We’re ready to help.