Visual impairment and computing - common questions

Many people who contact AbilityNet describe themselves as “visually impaired” but that term can describe a lot of different conditions. You could have a condition such as macular degeneration, you could have a genetic condition or you might have had an accident in the past which has affected your life. 

AbilityNet helps people with a range of visual ImpairmentsVisual impairment can affect your eyesight in so many ways. The good thing is that technology can certainly help you in your work.

According to Fight for Sight there are over 2 million people living with visual impairment in the UK and 360,000 of those would describe themselves as being registered blind. However a lot of people have difficulties with their sight, but would not describe themselves as being "visually impaired".  Famous people who are visually impaired include UK politician David Blunkett (picture below) and soul singer Stevie Wonder.

Common questions about visual impairment and technology

My Dad is struggling to distinguish between different colours on the computer. Can these colours be changed?

They certainly can, and it is a fairly simple process. We have a very easy step by step guide at which can help. By trial and error you ought to be able to find colours that are easier for you Dad to see.

I’m 27 and my sight is getting worse.  I use an IPhone. Can I still use it if I lose my sight?

Yes you can! Every Apple device is now built in with some very nice accessibility options.  One of them is called Voice Over and is a screen reader.  So it will read emails, documents and web pages and allow you to stay connected. Another good piece of software is called Siri and this will allow you to use your voice. Here are a few commands:

“Send a message to Kerry on her mobile saying ‘I am running late'”

“What’s Justin’s address?”

“Call my mother on her work phone”

(Source: http://techblog.tv/full-list-of-siri-commands-how-to-use-siri/)

My gran is 91 and her sight isn’t that good. She uses a magnifying glass to read mail. Is there something similar that she can use on a computer?

There is a magnifier which is built into both Macintosh and Windows computers. This ought to help you if you have some slight difficulties, if you have a requirement for greater levels of magnification you might want to consider some paid for software which can also feature “screen reading” technology. She might also benefit from a larger keyboard with high-visibility key tops. Surprisingly if you have a tablet or smartphone you can also magnify the screen.

Case study; Changing font size and colours

John rang us to ask for some advice for his husband William. He's already looked at our factsheet on visual impairment.  William is in his 60’s and is starting to struggle with using his technology. He's had an accident and his sight isn't as good as it was but he still has some vision in one eye. We had a chat with them and have come up with some ideas that might make it easier to use the computer. These include changing the font size, and also changing the colours on the screen to make it that little bit easier for William to see.


AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about visual impairment useful.
  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.
  • Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet IT Can Help volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

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