Training is ESSENTIAL to maximize the usefulness of any Low Vision Technology.
Computer / PC’s require the most training, particularly if the patient has no previous knowledge. Accessibility Software Products for Computers also tend to be the most expensive. The best programs can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. There are some free options as well but selection of these may increase training time needed and limit the places that would be able to train the patient.
iPhone / iPad Devices require far less training – generally around 6-12 hours is adequate for someone with prior computer or smart phone experience. Some very experienced users can even use computer or iPad based tutorials to learn on their own. Accessibility apps are mostly BUILT IN or cost just a few dollars, the KNFB Reader being the notable exception. KNFB reader for iPhone/iPad at $99 is still far less expensive than the PC Version at $1000, however! The smartphone version works faster also.
Ultimately, some patients may not have the cognitive ability to learn how to best use these devices. That does not always mean they cannot be used, as in some cases a family member or aide may be able to provide enough assistance to make the device useful for some specific tasks.
Apple vs. Android
When considering smart phones or tablets, this is a common decision that must be made. Some of the Android hardware provides a lot of value and quality at a lower price point than Apple products do.
HOWEVER, Apple is used by the VAST MAJORITY of Blind and visually impaired patients, and with good reason. Apple builds accessibility technology into its products at a SYSTEM LEVEL.
Apple’s Zoom, Voiceover, and Magnifier are well thought out, built-in apps that work with almost every app for the phone or tablet in the exact same way. Android is WAY behind in this respect.
Android, as open software, also has phone to phone differences. I have started “Talkback” for patient’s only to find that it made it impossible to turn the particular brand of phone back ON!!! For that reason, our office will NOT work accessible technology for Android products, PERIOD!
Amazon Echo and Google Home
These are NEW – SPEECH INTERFACE devices that are VERY easy to operate. There is NO Keyboard and NO screen. You talk to it, and it talks back through it’s speaker. Period.
We have tested the Echo – and while limited, it may provide limited but appreciated solutions for Computer Illiterate or Cognitively limited patients. You merely say “Alexa” first, and it wakes up and tries to respond to your voice. It can get news, answer SOME questions, control lights and appliances (requires additional hardware) can play music and rear books.
BUT – You MUST have WIFI – You SHOULD have Amazon Prime ($99/year) and streaming bood require Audible.com at $15 a month. Amazon also has a larger music library available to Echo users at an additional $4 a month.
Google HOME is NEW, I will update this as we have time and money to test it. Generally it is best to wait a year or so to do this with new products to see what apps come out to make it more useful.
This is a NEW battle, and time will tell the winner. The Amazon product is more established and has a VERY inexpensive version – the Echo Dot at $50. I suspect that Google’s search capabilities will be more robust and that Amazon will need to keep up to compete.