Life with MS

Accessible Technology for Those with Vision Issues

By Joanne Fortunato
Using technology when you have vision issues is challenging and can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate this problem. There are built-in features in most devices that will solve many of the more common vision issues faced by people dealing with MS. In addition, there are inexpensive apps and adaptations that will address most other vision problems. This article will focus on mobile devices such as tablets and phones. However, the features mentioned can also be found on laptops and desktops. This article will be organized by accessibility feature, so based on your particular issue you can quickly get more information on how to set up your device to work better for your needs. In addition, there will be a section to address “Smart Home” technology. Fair warning, this technology professes to be easy and seamless, but in reality you need to be somewhat tech savvy to get started and it can get costly quickly. Don’t let that stop you, because it can be extremely helpful if you have vision and mobility issues.

Screen/text size

Almost all devices allow you to increase the size of the contents of the screen. If you are using a device with a touch screen, such as a tablet or phone, a simple gesture will temporarily increase the size of the screen contents. Usually, it is as simple as pinching your thumb and index finger and moving in or out to change the size. This a quick temporary solution, but it may be all you need. If you need a more permanent solution, you need to go to the main settings application and look for Display, then Text Size to change the setting permanently. Depending on the size of your device, you can even make the application icons larger. Text-to-speech and speech-to-text Most newer devices have built-in text-to-speech features. You can choose to have the entire screen read aloud or just a selection. Which feature you choose will depend on your fine motor skills and vision. It can be difficult on some mobile devices to select specific text, however sometimes reading the entire screen aloud can be annoying if you know you only need part of it read. Both Android and Apple IOS have these features built into the operating system. Generally you can have both features on at the same time and then you can choose which one you need. Enabling dictation on your device’s keyboard will allow you to use speech-to-text options. You can then speak any text you want to input, such as text messages, email, notes, or any other application that would require typing. This technology is amazingly accurate. Just think before you speak as it records all sound. In addition, remember to turn it off when you are done so that it stops

Screen/text color

The default of light background and dark text maybe difficult to see with certain vision issues. You can choose whatever contrast works best for you. There are two places to change the contrast. The first would be main settings. Most apps that are native to the device will accept these changes. However, if you are using a third party app you may have to go to the specific settings of that particular app.


Using the rear camera and flash can also act as a magnifier. This can be set up in your main settings. It works like you are zooming in with the camera as if you are taking a picture but you use it to magnify objects without taking a picture. The light is powerful and because it is a camera, the auto focus makes it clearer than a normal magnifying glass.

Voice commands

Both Android and Apple IOS have built-in programs that allow you to use voice commands to interact with your device. Apple Siri and Google/Android Alexa can do everything from call a contact on your phone to playing music. The more you use it, the better it gets while learning your needs. Both can be activated without even touching your device.

Smart home technology

It is getting cheaper and easier to connect all of your technological devices together to communicate and share information. In addition, more and more home devices can be connected and controlled with your voice or a click in an app or program. This can be freeing and powerful if you have vision or mobility issues. The first purchase when investing in this technology is usually a smart speaker. Smart speakers are much more than just a music player and a voice assistant ready to answer just about any question put forth. A web search on “smart speaker reviews 2020” will point you in the right direction. Adding “2020” will ensure the most current reviews. Everything from thermostats to security systems can generally be integrated with your smart speaker. When researching which one to purchase, make sure that you consider one that has enough scalability so that as your needs change you can expand into these areas. The other major consideration is compatibility with your current systems. Smart speakers have the potential to make life with a disability much safer and more comfortable.

Getting more help

Technology is changing at lightning speed. Even by the time this article is completed there will newer and faster devices. This does not necessarily translate to better or easier to use if you have a disability. Getting help from technology stores is often not useful as employees are often unfamiliar with the needs of your disability. However, many local libraries offer classes and help using technology. They often have staff and volunteers that are knowledgeable about how to use what you already own. Because they work for public institutions, many librarians are trained to deal with patrons that have disabilities. Take time to reach out and see what they offer.