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The best laptop for my blind daughter?

by Ann7028 / September 7, 2009 3:41 PM PDT

My daughter just turned twelve and she has shown an interested in learning computers. She is completely blind but has a great sense of touch and hearing.
I've asked around on another forum, they suggested a desktop and a braille keyboard. I've taken strongly to their advice but, I thought I'd ask around and get as many opinions as possible.

We have two computers in our house, an old Apple Macintosh Performa 6200 (I no longer use this.) and I use the compaq that runs Windows ME.

I'm looking for a laptop that's 13 inches in size, light weight with good if not excellent battery life. Sturdy would be great, I know dropping any laptop would be bad but some must be more durable than others.
What laptop brand or OS do you think is the easiest to learn and has the least problems, and has great support for the blind? I'd like to get my money's worth, so all of this is extremely important.

I don't know much about computers and haven't kept up to date on any of them. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

I took her to best buy today to look at some computers but the young man there was very rude, telling my daughter not to "touch" the laptops on display. I explained to him that she was blind and he then insisted on saying blind people shouldn't have a need for computers. This discouraged her, but I refuse to quit looking. I sure hope this guy gets sacked.

Thanks in advance and I apologize if I've posted in the wrong forum section.

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by nino8888 / September 7, 2009 5:40 PM PDT

Well, I know there are softwares and keyboards those are specially made for blind/ low vision users but I don't know much about them. BUT your experience with that young salesman GOT ME MAD. File a complain on him and make him pay for his disrespectful action. Some people just have no class.

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Frankly? Turn to your experts.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / September 7, 2009 9:55 PM PDT
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UA or Jaws?
by Ann7028 / September 7, 2009 10:14 PM PDT

Of course. So, I've done some research over the past few hours. It looks like there are really only TWO choices as far as the actual OS goes.
There is Windows with JAWS and, Mac OS X with Universal accesses. But my question still kind of remains here. JAWS or UA? Mac OS X or Windows? Which computer/OS is the easiest to use and truly has the least problems and is worth my money and more importantly. Is UA better than JAWS?

I guess I could do a bit more research on both of the subjects here and see what I find.

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by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / September 8, 2009 12:50 AM PDT
In reply to: UA or Jaws?

If you want to continuously scan for pests, update your virus databases daily and more, get the Windows machine.

If you want to use the machine, get the one you suspected would let you use it without constantly battling the pests.

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Laptop for Blind User
by aberrante / May 1, 2010 5:28 AM PDT

Hi Ann,

My partner is blind from birth and she has been using PCs for the past 15+ years. First of all, disregard that awful Best-Buy salesperson. Any blind user is perfectly capable of using a laptop or desktop without much modification. So please don't let that salesperson's ignorance discourage your daughter.

All of my partner's equipment has been PC-based (as opposed to Mac). To make a regular desktop/laptop accessible for a blind user, the idea is relatively simple: one installs an intermediate software layer which reads out the text that is displayed on screen, this software is commonly called a screenreader. Usually, screenreaders also provide functionality for navigating the Operating System (OS) environment without a mouse.

Historically, the "benchmark" screenreading software has been JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific. This software provides a somewhat stable environment and it might be a good starting point for your daughter. Lately, we've been looking at other screenreaders like Window-Eyes from GW Micro, which claim to be more stable. JAWS does crash and it is particularly frustrating for a blind user to have its screanreader stop speaking. Also, we notice that most "pro" users have two or three screenreaders installed in their PCs in case any one of them crashes. Additionally, there are some open-source solutions available like NVDA, which you should also check out.

In the Mac realm, the situation is more limited and the number of available options are more restricted. We've heard good things about Mac solutions, but haven't had first hand experience with them. (We also prefer to have more options at a lower price, so Mac can wait).

About which laptop/desktop to buy, we can give you some pointers:
1. Portability. Since this laptop is specially geared for your daughter, she will want to take it everywhere from school to her bedroom.
2. Video/Screen. Obviously, you don't need a big state-of-the-art video card (so save your money on this). If you can get a laptop which completely dims the screen, this is even better. Your daughter will be able to extend battery run-time by switching the monitor to completely black.
3. External volume knob. This is a feature which has been tending to disappear, but some laptop models have an external volume knob (as opposed to digital controls or OS based controls) which is easier to operate by touch.
4. Touchpad. We would suggest a touchpad which can be deactivated with an external key. Tapping on a touchpad is annoying for my partner, but at the same time, it is more convenient to activate the touchpad's full set of features when I provide sighted assistance.
5. Memory, Processor, etc. As with any other computer: more memory is better. A faster processor is better. Get a something with decent audio capabilities.

Braille displays are a touchy subject. Braille is defintely a plus in a blind person's life, but braille displays are expensive, delicate and a bit clumsy. Screenreaders allow the full operation of the PC without the need for a display of this kind. If you have the money, go for it. My partner does not use one.

One other gadget you might want to look at is Eye-Pal from AbiSee. This is the best scanning software/hardware combination we have seen so far.

Finally, let your daughter experiment with the laptop. In our opinion this is the best way to learn how to work with it. Worst comes to worst, you can always have all software (including windows) reinstalled.

Good luck with everything!

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Laptop for blind user
by katshaff / November 26, 2010 9:20 PM PST
In reply to: Laptop for Blind User

I just found this forum and your posts. This has been very helpful to me. My son has gone from being visually impaired to blind in one eye and 20/600 in the other.

We are looking to update his computer system as well as looking at other products that can help him. I stumbled onto this forum via a Google search....

His current desktop is a dell running with windows. It is about 6 years old. While I am a MAC user....I think since he is used to navigating with windows that is likely going to be easiest for him to use. I would, however, love to hear from anyone who is blind/VI or knows someone blind/VI that uses MAC. He does not use Braille.

I did go to the Abisee site....the Eye-Pal looks great, I don't think I can do all of this at once though, financially.

I am looking also at the Kindle 3 for pleasure reading. It got approval from AFB.... Any experience with this?

Thanks in advance...if you are still out there.

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The best laptop for my blind daughter?
by illyboy / June 30, 2010 3:15 AM PDT


I was horrified when I read about the way you were treated by a rude salesman re: use of laptops by visually impaired users. I have been working specifically with blind and visually impaired students for 14 years now in the UK. Being dissatisfied with the lack of online support in this area, my colleague and myself have started our own forum specifically with this subject in mind. The address is: Please feel free to register at our forum and put in any queries that need answering. As we've literally just started, you should get a fairly speedy response. I hope you get this post and we can help. Happy illy

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some thoughts
by qliphoth42 / July 2, 2010 1:05 PM PDT

this is a linux based os and is all free source, its not the best one to use (speech is not as natural as high priced programs) however it is good for use and stable. You would be able download it and install it in most computers you get, meaning if you want to check the specs on your older computer and install to get her started, once she does she will love using her computer.

If price was no object then mac has the best of the best built into it.

My wife is blind and 40 when started using computers and uses vinux, she likes it.
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Free Laptop for the Blind and LV?
by WOM2010 / August 3, 2010 4:12 AM PDT

Hi Ann,

I am not sure if you are still interested, but somebody has already mentioned ABiSEE products in comments. I just want to add that right now ABiSEE is running a promotion - Eye-Pal + free Netbook, or Zoom-Ex plus free netbook, or Zoom-Twix + free Notebook. All with preloaded software. has this promotion on their first page.

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Linux & Orca
by sorteal / August 19, 2011 7:19 AM PDT

I know this thread is rather old and you have probably already found a laptop for your daughter but I did want you to know that Linux is a great OS for the bliind when used in combination with Orca. Orca is a screen-reader that also supports braille screens and various magnifications for visually impaired. With your daughter being fully blind (no light recognition at all) I would imagine the screen reader would be the way to go. Also, braille screens have vastly improved recently. Only down side with Orca is the fact that you may need a sighted person to help set it up.

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Computers for the Blind
by dgmyatt / February 26, 2012 10:06 AM PST

I have been working with my dad trying to teach him how to us a computer. He lost his site when he was in his 20s so its easier for him to grasp what something looks like than someone who has been blind for life. We set him up with a Windows XP computer running JAWs. JAWs work well most of the time but he needed to remember several commands and it was difficult at times because it would get locked in the wrong mode.

We also set him up on my MacBook Pro and activated Universal Access. He seemed to pick up on it much faster than Windows with JAWs. However, the MAC was a newer computer and ran much faster so I am not sure if that affected some of the outcome. The MAC just ran smother so he did not get discouraged like he did in Windows.

I had him try the iPad as well and he did start getting around in it but it was easier on the MacBook with a keyboard. In trying the different options I decided to give him my iPhone 4S and turn on Voice Over. By using Siri to navigate most of the way along with Voice Over, he was up and running in a fraction of the time. In fact after about 30 minutes he was sold on the iPhone and had already pull up lyrics to his favorite songs and looked up old fiends through the internet that he had lost track of.

He only wanted a computer to surf for thing on the internet, send email, and keep notes on. The iPhone ended up being easier to learn than anything else we tried plus he had a phone. The only down side is Siri requires good cell service or Siri does not work leaving you to do everything on the keyboard. He can navigate without Siri but it takes twice as long. We did get some strange results at first but the more we used it the better he got with it. If you have not tried this route you may want to look at it as a first step.

We are still in the early stages but it was obvious from my dads expression that he was sold on the iPhone because he was doing more with it in 30 min that what he could do with the computer after hours of playing with it.

I am not sure how old you daughter is but the Apple products have good prenatal controls to help eliminate accidentally getting unwanted content.

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Re: your post
by calimom75 / April 29, 2012 9:21 AM PDT

I also have a child who has visual impairments right now the best laptop I can suggest is HP they do have an built in text to speech application and narrator. I use the special keyboard for my son that I purchased from Maxi aids.

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by johnripper1987 / May 5, 2012 3:22 AM PDT
In reply to: Re: your post

Thanks for sharing this stuff

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The best laptop for my blind daughter
by briang102012 / October 28, 2012 4:59 AM PDT

The best laptop to use is the Samsung Galaxy Touch with the Google TalkBack option. i'm visually impaired myself and use the program on my Samsung Galaxy Mini phone.

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Stay strong/Encouraged
by mathewroni / January 30, 2013 9:23 AM PST

Hello, I am blind myself and read your post from several years earlier. I am, too, appalled at the ignorance that individuals such as those assisting you in the Best Buy store exhibit, especially considering their role as "sales persons" dealing directly with any variety of customers that will walk into their store and request their assistance. Aside from that , I hope and pray you have found a good balance of performance and portability. I would recommend Toshiba, HP or Dell laptops running Windoes7 Operating System with the smallest possibile screen, and whose mouse pads have a button allowing you to enable/disable the mouse touchpad. If such a button is not available, you may need to right click on the mouse pad tray icon (usually located near the clock area), and disable it from withon the Touchpad properties window. I have a Toshiba several years old, which actually has a manual volume nob along the front edge; this feature seems fast disappearing, but if you're willing to wait and do some searching for this, I'd think it's worth it to have the volume readily adjustable, as the digital controls are not accessible all the time, and don't always work in log on/off situations.
Anyway, thank you and I do wish you the best in your search and daughter's maturation in her information access modes.

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That is crazy
by michellehoney / August 24, 2013 10:33 AM PDT

I know this is an old post, but I just stumbled across it while searching for a laptop for my dad who is also completely blind. I cannot believe the salesman at Best Buy said that. My dad is blind and uses his desktop computer all the time. He can do anything anyone else can do, including use the internet.

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