ZoomText is assistive software for the visually impaired. It both magnifies a computer screen and has a screen reader option. I attended a webinar that highlighted some new features of the newly released edition, ZoomText 10. My library currently has 9.0 and I was curious about whether we should upgrade or not.
First of all, we have some really great low vision materials at our library. We have circulating magnifiers, an Optilec, audio books in CD and Playaway format, a deposit collection from the county Library for the Blind, as well as a circulating non-fiction collection on vision health and numerous fliers and brochures on every low vision condition, local service, and local event there is. It's all very impressive, and I'm proud that we offer such an extensive set for low vision patrons.
As I mentioned we also have a computer in our Low Vision
Center with ZoomText installed. We have a ZoomText keyboard, pictured
left (courtesy of aisquared.com, creators
of ZoomText). I'd like to see this computer used more, but the fact is that I rarely see people using it. That said, I have had two separate questions from patrons recently forwarded to me by other staff members, so I know there has been some interest.
There are some really cool features of the new ZoomText 10. One is a camera feature. You can use a webcam to focus in on print material and ZoomText will show it to you on the computer screen and let you zoom in, change the colors, focus, and other appearance factors like clarity/focus and brightness/contrast. Coming at the end of 2012, the software will also read aloud the print document you point the camera at.
Another new feature of ZoomText 10 is what they call "background reader." This allows you to highlight and copy any text and have it read aloud while you multi-task on your computer. You can read email or surf the web while you listen to another document being read.
I also liked the web finder feature. Just as in any browser you can use the "find" feature to locate the existence of a certain keyword on any web page, ZoomText will do that AND read aloud the full sentence in which the keyword is found to give the user context. You can also find the keyword ONLY in links, headlines, tables, etc. rather than all text. For example, you could scan newspaper headlines for articles about a certain keyword.
ZoomText 10 also has a recording feature. Say, for example, you had a book from Project Gutenberg. You could "select all" (ctrl A), copy the text, and create a recording of the book. You can choose to open the recording in iTunes or Windows Media and then transfer it to a mobile device. You could record any print item this way. You can also burn that recording to a CD.
Now, I don't work for ZoomText and I don't directly endorse their product (or any other adaptive technology). I just think it's important for librarians and patrons to be aware of the possibilities. I don't know if we will upgrade to ZoomText 10 or not, but I'm glad I saw the webinar and I'm impressed with how sophisticated these software packages have become.