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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What to Consider When Buying a CCTV

by Laura Legendary

Many people believe that once their eyesight begins to deteriorate beyond the point at which they can easily read large print, their reading days are over. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are innumerable tools available that enable people with vision loss to relax with their favorite reading material. One of the best of these tools is a device called a CCTV. More recently, they have been referred to as video magnifiers. These devices, which in many cases do not require a computer or any knowledge in the use of a computer, enlarge nearly any printed text to nearly any size.

The letters CCTV stand for "Closed Circuit Television." If that sounds familiar, you're right. Security cameras use similar technology to provide surveillance capability for retail establishments, parking lots and hotels. Simply put, a CCTV is a closed-circuit system that consists of a camera directly connected to a monitor. In the case of a low vision CCTV, the two pieces are connected via a cable. They are also usually situated in direct proximity to each other, as opposed to a security matrix which may position the camera far away from a monitoring screen.

There are many CCTV's from which to choose. Unlike their security system counterparts, low vision CCTV's offer specialty features that are specifically targeted to the needs of a person with vision loss. Here is a list of some of the features to look for that may help you to make the correct buying decision.

First, know your budget. These devices can drastically range in price, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. As with a computer, the price can differ based upon the "bells and whistles" you get with that particular model. However, unlike a computer, it is still possible to find a CCTV unit that is pretty basic, and might be just what you need to get back to your favorite novel.

Next, determine what size monitor you need. Since different types of vision loss manifests differently in different people, the size of the screen may matter more than you realize. For example, if you have Retinitis Pigmentosa, a very large monitor may not be suitable, because the enlarged text may extend beyond your visual field, and that would require that you continuously turn your head from side to side, so that you can take in the entire image. If you have diabetic retinopathy, and have "blind spots" or 'drop outs," then a larger screen may be preferable. Many of the monitors now offer LCD displays and flat screens.

You might also determine whether or not you prefer black text on a white background, resembling a typical printed page, or what is called 'inverse video" that changes the text to white on a black background. Again, depending upon your particular type of vision loss, if you are very light sensitive, you may find that a blazing bright white background is uncomfortable, and that your eyes feel less irritated when you read white text on a black background.

Most CCTV's offer a full range of color combinations, so that if your ideal viewing tones are yellow text on a blue background, or orange text on a red background, you can choose whatever combination works for you. If you are color blind, there are some CCTV's that are not color capable. White and black is it.

You can still find a manual focus model, but these are becoming more rare. If you have an eye disease that is progressive, at some point you may lose your ability to determine whether or not something is actually in focus at all, so an auto-focus unit is best. The manual focus models are usually much less expensive, though.

There are some CCTV's that can be used in conjunction with a television. Simply plug the camera cable into the 'video in' port on the TV. This allows the camera unit to be brought anywhere, and you can use it in a hotel room, at someone else's home, or at work, and this allows the unit extreme portability. You can also connect the camera unit to your laptop, which is very convenient if you need to make a presentation and read your handwritten notes. Other CCTV's can be directly connected to your desktop computer monitor, and you can switch between the view from printed text content to computer screen content, and some even offer a 'split screen view, so you can see both. If you work at a job that requires you to read text while doing data entry, for example, copying a list from paper to computer, this is a handy feature.

In most cases, the camera unit is positioned directly above a freely moving X-Y table. The printed material is placed flat on the table, and the table is what is adjusted to bring the text into view. The table glides on ball bearings so that the page doesn't wiggle or jump, thereby distorting your view of the text. The text image is displayed on the monitor, where the size, color and focus of the image can then be adjusted. Many of the more current models do not have a sliding X-Y platform, instead, you can clamp the camera unit, which is mounted on an adjustable arm, directly to a desk. This is convenient for smaller spaces, but it does require a certain amount of positioning of the paper to achieve a readable view. However, some video magnification technology is so sophisticated you can practically turn the printed page upside-down and the camera corrects for it. Some units come with software that will allow for “freeze frame” capturing of images for best stabilization.

Due to the proximity of the camera unit and the monitor, a CCTV allows you to read almost anything--labels on cans, boxes, toiletries, manuals, cooking directions on product packaging, icons or lettering on small electronics, and even look at photographs. I'm referring to the printed kind. Remember those?

A CCTV can be a major expenditure, but the investment is well worth it. A CCTV will enable you to get back to accomplishing those tasks that you thought were lost to you. It will help you to preserve your privacy and dignity, allowing you more functionality and independence at home or work. No one will have to read your mail to you, or a personal letter, or the instructions on a personal care item ever again. Enjoy a greater quality of life with the purchase of a CCTV.

Happy viewing….

Copyright 2010 by Laura Legendary

Laura Legendary is a speaker, author and educator specializing in disability awareness, accessibility and assistive technology. Visit Eloquent Insights at to request Laura for your next event. Find Laura's Accessible Insights blog at

Another place to learn about CCTVs is They have descriptions and pictures and prices and who makes them, etc. There is even a classified ad section and one for reviews.

The site is Government supported, reliable and free. It lists all kinds of assistive technologies, even discontinued models for the benefit of those looking at used ones.

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