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Blind Ambition: 6 Tools for Journalists with Vision Issues


I always thought it was a medical myth that an individual’s remaining four senses would take over to compensate for the loss of a fifth sense due to illness, injury, or disability. However, when deteriorating optic nerves threatened to sabotage my 25-year career as a print and broadcast journalist, I discovered that my disability ultimately improved my feature writing as I observed more sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, weaving them together to create an authentic sensory experience for my readers.

To put my disability into perspective, being legally blind means that, even with glasses, my maximum visual acuity is 20/200. I had to give up my driver’s license, but I still can read a book, newspaper, or magazine using a hand-held magnifier. Of course, covering breaking news was no longer practical, so I began concentrating on writing features, specializing in in-depth profiles and coverage of medical, social, and legal issues.

Technology has made all the difference in my ability to keep working as a journalist, currently as a feature writer for Naples Daily News, a Scripps-Howard publication.

These are the tools of my trade:

  1. ZoomTest is a screen magnifier computer software program developed and sold by Ai Squared, an innovative company based in Vermont. Zoomtext allows me to view any webpage at triple the normal size and is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000. The software currently is sold in version 9.1 for $395, and an optional screen reader is available. I use the contrast features to customize my desktop and to enlarge and outline my cursor in bright blue. Zoomtext is available in 20 languages and is now sold in 45 countries. A less expensive version doubles the size of the monitor display. The downside: The Ai Squared tech support department closes at 5pm EDT.
  2. A large print keyboard prevents eyestrain by enlarging the size of the numerals and letters on my computer keyboard to 36 point bold. It costs about $100 from Ai Squared and is sold in a choice of two high-contrast color schemes: white on black or black on yellow.
  3. A hand-held video magnifier is a portable device I can use to read news releases and other printed material away from my home studio. While several manufacturers have entered this market, I use the $495 Pebble, which magnifies print up to ten times, features simple tactile controls, and weighs only 7-1/2 ounces. Its re-chargeable batteries last for at least two hours, depending on the brightness level I set.
  4. A digital camera usually does an adequate job unless my editor wants an artistic rendition of my subject by manually adjusting the lens aperture or shutter speed; in that case, a staff photographer does the shoot. Using the zoom feature to get a closer view, I’m generally able to capture an acceptable image using auto-focus and the largest and brightest LCD display screen possible to compose my shot.
  5. Task lighting helps by aiming a light source directly at my printed material using an OTT lightbulb or one of the others that capture more of the light spectrum. Many people think it’s enough to turn up the overall light in the whole room, but it’s better to concentrate the light source on my paperwork.
  6. My trusty sharpee is the only writing tool I use unless I’m signing legal documents because of its bold high-visibility lines.

While these tools are well-suited to any journalist or content writer challenged by a vision disability, the reality is that anyone over 40 is likely to experience some visual loss due to natural aging of the human eye. For example, presbyopia has probably affected many of you already; it’s a gradual loss in ability to read small print, and it’s normal as you grow older. Reading glasses typically fix the problem.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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