Access to Technology for Vision Loss

CCTV Video Magnifiers help people with limited vision to
remain independent and intellectually active.

Disabling vision loss among seniors and baby boomers is a serious and growing issue due in large part to the aging of the population. With it, a growing number of individuals experience age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Indeed, some experts predict that the incidence of vision loss will double by 2030.

Vision loss can have serious consequences—too often associated with loss of the ability to live independently, to carry out activities of daily living (e.g., cooking and managing health and finances), participate in hobbies, recreation and family and community activities and, ultimately, to feelings of social isolation, loss of self-esteem, and depression.

Access to appropriate assistive technology can make a huge difference in the lives of seniors experiencing vision loss. My father had the wet form of macular degeneration.

Access to a CCTV Video Magnifier while he still had some vision, and to a scanner and computer with "screen reading" software (like Open Book Unbound) when he lost all of his sight later, were the essential tools he needed to keep in touch with friends and community. Add to that "talking books" from the Talking Book and Braille Library. He remained independent and intellectually active to the end of his life.

The number of amazing assistive technologies available to address vision loss is growing exponentially. These include technologies made specifically for individuals with vision loss (e.g., GPS devices, notetakers, scales and glucometers and other medical devices with speech output) as well as mainstream devices with out-of-the-box accessibility features, such as the Kindle, iPad, and MacBook computers.

For individuals with any remaining vision, one of the most important tools will always be the CCTV Video Magnifier. CCTV Video Magnifiers are powerful desktop magnifiers that use a camera to capture items on an "xy" table, and project and magnify the images on to a computer monitor. Depending upon the degree of loss, CCTVs can be instrumental in helping visually impaired individuals to read, write, manage finances and medications (e.g., prescription bottles and medical records), cook (e.g., recipes, package contents, cooking instructions), and otherwise carry out activities of daily living.

Two options for acquiring assistive technology

The typical CCTV costs $2,000 to  $3,500 (and up), which puts access to these essential tools out of reach for many low-income seniors. The Washington Access Fund has two programs available to address this issue.

First, we offer low interest loans (5 percent) for terms of up to five years for any type of assistive technology needed for any purpose. The loan program is available to anyone with a disability, regardless of income. This is a great solution for individuals who expect to keep their CCTV for at least five years and can afford the monthly loan payments.  

Recognizing that many seniors are not interested in a loan, the Access Fund also offers long-term, low cost rentals of CCTV magnifiers. Rentals of our newest units (purchased in 2012 with the help of the Department of Services for the Blind) are just $35 a month. Lower monthly payments are available for older units and/or based upon individual need. Rental payments cover the cost of delivering and picking up the unit, plus related administrative expenses. Renters can keep their CCTVs as long as they want—and most keep them for years!

Based on feedback, we know that most renters use their CCTVs every day for a variety of tasks. Most report that they had no other way to pay for their CCTV (Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance do not cover these devices) and that access to this technology has led not only to the ability to undertake tasks more independently but also to increased self-confidence and quality of life.

The Access Fund is seeking new CCTV renters. We have a limited number of units available and applications (available online or by calling the Access Fund) will be filled on a first-come/first served basis.

To learn more about this program, contact the Washington Access Fund at 206-328-5116 or info@washingtonaccessfund.org or visit our table at SightConnection's Low Vision Expo on June 8 (see next article).

A word of caution: Never choose Assistive Technology without having the end-user try it out. No one device is the right solution for every person. The best way to choose is via an individualized assessment. And don't forget about needed services, like training. Call the Access Fund for referrals if needed.

Author Frances Pennell is executive director of Washington Access Fund, a nonprofit that promotes access to technology and economic opportunity for individuals with disabilities living in Washington state.

Resource Guide

To learn more about assistive technology for vision loss, visit: