Free and Cheap Screen Magnifiers
I am often asked to recommend screen magnifiers for students with low vision who are struggling with computer use. There are several amazing, multi-function programs available for purchase with a wide range of features, but they can cost between $199 – $500 per installation. This becomes a pricey option, especially since we may not know exactly what each student needs and they may need the support on multiple systems across classrooms (or buildings). With that in mind, I always recommend starting with one of the freebie or low cost options available online.
Mac systems have a nice set of assistive technology supports built in, including cursor enlargement, color inversion, voice dictation and the Zoom magnifier. Many of you may be familiar with these features, as they are also on the iPad. http://www.apple.com/accessibility/osx/#vision
Windows systems are also equipped with similiar supports, including text-to-speech, voice dictation and a screen magnifier: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/make-items-on-the-screen-appear-bigger-magnifier
Here’s a link to a wonderful article by the American Federation for the Blind, comparing some of the most popular freeware and shareware (low cost) screen magnification programs. You might want to look at these as possible options for any of your low-vision students using a range of computers in different settings. These are just some of the freebie and cheaper choices as reviewed by AFB. http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw140403
The freeware options are just that: free. But they may not have a wide range of features, offer low screen resolution or lack tech support. The shareware options allow you to take a free trial download, then buy if you like them. All listed here are under $29 and the authors make several specific recommendations based upon their trials.
The article suggests creating a separate user account on the computer so the files are downloaded there and then activated by the student user when they log in. We have always used this approach so the system reverts to standard settings once the user has logged off.
If you have a contained classroom or lab, you may want to put one of these on a single system so those students with low vision have immediate access to an adapted computer. These are inexpensive options for students to use at home, as well.