Having macular degeneration does not mean you should stop using the computer or that you would not be able to learn. If you have central vision loss from macular degeneration, computer use is not only possible, but highly advisable.
Both Microsoft and Apple are aware of the needs of the visually impaired and of the rapidly growing number of older people using the computer. A Nielsen survey in 2009 reported that the number of people over 65 using the computer from 2004 to 2009, increased by 50%. Apple computers have many accessibility features,, as does Windows. Proprietary companies have products such as ZoomText, Magic, JAWS and Window Eyes software that make computer use possible for even the totally blind.
Why should I use the computer?
The quick and easy answer is that “Everyone else does”. Using the computer allows you to keep in contact by e-mail with family and friends, search the internet, shop, plan trips and generally stay in the loop, keeping up with a rapidly changing world. Computer literacy is now a requirement for almost any job and even for much volunteer work. Computer use may even improve your mood and mental health. A 2005 study reported by the American Psychological Association found less depression in seniors who used the computer.
How can I learn to use the computer despite low vision?
More than 50% of the visits to American libraries are to use the computer. Those out of work, students, people whose computer is out of order or shared, or who seek quiet refuge from a noisy household go to a library to use the computer. Almost all libraries have computers and free computer classes for seniors. Many have instructors who are familiar with the accessibility features, and some may be familiar with the specialized adaptive software for the visually impaired.
I am a hunt-and -peck typist, and can’t see the keys anymore. What can I do?
The best thing to do is to become a touch typist. If you do not see well, the ability to use the keyboard without looking at it is an invaluable skill. There are specific programs designed for the blind and visually impaired which will teach you how to use the keyboard. Talking Typing Teacher program gives immediate voice feedback and is good for any level of keyboard skill and any degree of vision impairment.
Large keyboards with high visibility letters are available through speciality catalogues for those who want to continue hunting and pecking.
Who can tell me where to go for computer classes?
If you have vision loss of any degree, ask your local low vision clinic or state agency such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or Rehabilitative Services. They usually maintain a resource list which should include computer classes. Most of these classes are free. You can also check with your local library. Most do have computer classes for different levels, especially for beginners.
Anyone living with vision loss should acquire or improve their computer skills. The opportunities to deal with further vision loss are greater if you are aware of the computer programs that will make transitioning easier.