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Peripherals for the Visually Impaired? 57

schmiddy asks: "My father, a self-proclaimed Internet junkie, recently lost most of his eyesight, but he can still see a bit out of his right eye (enough to read magnified text on a monitor, with a narrow field of view). As he spends a large amount of his time surfing the web and reading, he's been finding it hard to cope. I've seen a lot of cool toys out there for the rest of us, but can the Slashdot crowd recommend any special monitors, peripherals, or (preferably (F)OSS) text to speech or other software that would help? I think he would much rather continue reading the old-fashioned way than having to use a hack like a Braille output. Also, what about the idea of simply using a large TV screen as a computer monitor?"
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Peripherals for the Visually Impaired?

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  • by Tyrdium ( 670229 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:44PM (#8403042) Homepage
    First, I suggest you don't use a TV as a monitor; interlacing looks horrible. Try a cheap projector. They go to huge sizes, and you can find a decent one at about $1000 or so. As for the keyboard, if he doesn't touch type, there's an easy way to fix that. Just pop the keys off, and either put some large-type stickers on, or paint the letters on directly. It's cheap, crude, and effective. If you don't have the space for a projector, projection glasses may work. I've seen some that simulate up to a 40" display or so, if I recall correctly.
    • by pbox ( 146337 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:48PM (#8403081) Homepage Journal
      Yes, although a large projection TV would be fine (with line doubling, aka deinterlacing). Preferably with D-Sub or DVI input. This would go a long way towards quality. You don't need to go for high-end, as you need a lower resolution (like 800x600) to achive large type.

      DLP and LCD projector and back-projection TVs also have the advantage that he will not be showered in radiation...
    • by Linux_Bastard ( 220710 ) <linux DOT bastar ... org AT gmail DO> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:52PM (#8403121)
      You are better off with a very high quality small monitor that can be used close up and easily positioned than with bigger more expensive one. The plasma display that my grandmother uses is only 10 in. , and is on a long position arm, similar to the ones with the gigantic magnifiying lens. (which she also uses)

    • Cheap projectors don't work very well in brightly lit rooms...
    • stickers? (Score:4, Informative)

      by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @01:52AM (#8405675) Homepage Journal
      Google for

      large print keyboard

      samples at


      these are nice, I've seen them much cheaper elsewhere

      • I know that you did mention they are cheaper elsewhere, but does anyone else find it almost criminal to sell a standard keyboard with the only modificaiton being REALLY LARGE LETTERS at a $100 premium, especially consdering the market?

    • I call bullshit. I've been computing almost exclusively on my 36" television for years. Some web text is occasionally too small, so I do view->text->larger (Which doesn't work with stylesheets -- GRR). But for the most part, I can read everything, including my 4NT ("dos") command line (at about 132 columns by 45 rows or so). And, as I've said before, porn looks great! Although a TV lacks the resolution of a monitor, skin tones and pictures look better due to some sort of airbrushing effect. Sort
      • Some web text is occasionally too small, so I do view->text->larger

        Use Opera - Keypad +/- zoom up down very nicely.

        Although a TV lacks the resolution of a monitor, skin tones and pictures look better due to some sort of airbrushing effect.

        TV's are optimised for linearity: monitors are optimised for sharpness. Monitors often have greater persistance, which reduces flicker but tends to give blurry trails on movement.

        For those with normal sight, a monitor is undoubtedly better than a TV for compu
        • I have 20/20 vision. For development, I certainly like a nice dual-monitor setup at 1280x1024. For leisure (like right now), I vastly prefer sitting 7 feet away from my 36" tv in my comfy chair with a wireless keyboard on my lap.

          No point. Just thought I'd say that.

  • Festival (Score:5, Informative)

    by Linux_Bastard ( 220710 ) <linux DOT bastar ... org AT gmail DO> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:45PM (#8403046)
    Festival does text to speech in a basic but useable form.


  • by 8282now ( 583198 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:47PM (#8403070) Journal
    I used to have a prof in college with a similiar problem. He was legally blind but still teaching (Comp Sci).

    His solution was to use a very large monitor (for the time), something like a 21" with the text magnified to a point that was comfortable for him. Basically the text was about .25 inches high.

    I think I would've begun to lose sight in MY eyes trying to work from his screen but it seemed to work for him.

  • Check the OS (Score:5, Informative)

    by __aafkqj3628 ( 596165 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:53PM (#8403136)
    Some operating systems provide a lot of features for the visually-impaired -
    Windows (XP) has magnification, text to speech, alternative input, etc.
    Mac (OS X) has magnigication (which magnifies the whole screen and uses the cursor to also move around your 'viewing window'), text to speech, high contrast, etc.
    • Re:Check the OS (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bishop ( 4500 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:51AM (#8405915)
      Those "useability" tools in OSX and XP suck for the visually imparied. Those tools were written by sighted people unable to comprehend how a person with partial sight would use a computer. Basically the whole windowing/desktop paradigm does not work well.

      A large high quality magnifying glass is far better then any of the screen magnifiers. With a magnifiying glass it is possible to use some positional information from the screen because the user can determine where the magnified part of the screen is in relation to the rest.

      I have found that text based tools can work better then GUI based. With text based tools it is easier to blow up the font to 2 inch high letters (and larger). This works well with a minimal window manager with no overlapping windows like ion or ratpoison. GUIs tend to waste too much screen space, especially when you increase the font size. With a magnifying glass the buttons and icons don't need to be huge.

      There is a screen reader for emacs, but I have not used it. My client is partially deaf as well.
      • Re:Check the OS (Score:2, Informative)

        by jonbboy ( 324416 )
        Actually, the "Zoom" feature in Mac OS X's "Universal Access" control panel does give complete positional information (about "where the magnified part of the screen is in relation to the rest") at all times.

        While the pointer/cursor maneuvers the actual view displayed on the screen through the greater "windowing/desktop" environment, the pointer is in the same place on the visible screen as it (and the visible screen) is in relation to the windowing/desktop environment.

        For example, when the pointer is in t
      • I haven't used the tools in OS X [other than the 'speak what the dialog box says'], but I have for Windows --

        The 'accessibility wizard' is a complete joke -- it asks you to click on the largest text you can read comfortably, and then on the next screen, goes right back to something in the 10-12pt range.

        And it doesn't increase the size of all text -- especially not dialog windows generated by the OS or most other applications. It only really affects the desktop, and web browsers. And you still have to go
        • The problems you list are typicall of well meaning developers who simply don't understand the full scope of the problem.

          And don't try using 640x480 on windows anymore

          This is a common problem if you set your font size to "large" and are forced back to vga mode for any reason. I think it has been an annoyance since windows 95.
  • HDTV (Score:4, Informative)

    by man_ls ( 248470 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:54PM (#8403144)
    Many HDTVs accept component inputs, and can be connected to a computer and configured to work in that capicity.

    640x720 or whatever...and the higher resolutions.

    Go with that.
    • Re:HDTV (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Naffer ( 720686 )
      The problem lies in the fact that the dot pitch on HDTVs can often be pretty bad. I would definitly recommend a 20" LCD like the one that Dell has. Windows XP includes high-contrast themes to make reading easier as well as a magnifying glass.
      • I am not visually impared, but as your talking about this monitor, I should add that I simply *LOVE* the 2001 FP - 20" LCD from Dell. I bought it 1 month ago, it's 1600x1200. It's not a cheap monitor, though.
      • A guy at the school I attend is almost completely blind. The shcool have borrowed one of those LCDs for him, and he uses it at 640x480 with a text magnification tool and high contrasts.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I have a 50" HDTV that I can use as a computer screen. You would not believe the difference it makes in FPS when your teammates and the enemy are fairly close to the size you'd expect in real life.

      However, be advised that most HDTVs including mine have very terrible screen resolutions via the designated computer port. My set supports a maximum of 1024x768 and on a 50" screen, no amount of anti-aliasing is going to prevent jaggies. At some point in time, reading jagged text that big is just going to crea
  • I know (Score:3, Funny)

    by gustgr ( 695173 ) <rondina@nOspam.gmail.com> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @08:00PM (#8403199) Homepage
    this is really nostalgic, but how about the old punched card or punched paper tape system ? That time you didn't get a display just a little printer and some paper to deal with, having a good vision wasn't really necessary to analyze that tiny holes.
  • by gustgr ( 695173 ) <rondina@nOspam.gmail.com> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @08:05PM (#8403237) Homepage
    The following programs make the console accessible for blind people worth downloading. One of the administradors of the FreeNode [freenode.net] is legally blind and use the first one:

    SpeakUp [linux-speakup.org]
    EmacSpeak [sourceforge.net]
  • by El ( 94934 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @08:41PM (#8403511)
    Does this remind anybody else of the old Saturday Night Live routine where Gavin Morris translated everything Chevy Chase said "for the hearing impaired" by just shouting the same phrase out loudly?
  • Tool.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by camelrider ( 46141 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @08:44PM (#8403539)
    The Opera http://www.opera.com browser has zoom up to 1000%.(some values distort fonts) You can set a default value so he doesn't have to set it for each session/window.

    The free (beer) version of Opera displays small adverts, but you can choose their category.. Or you can couch up USD40 for the registered version.

    Opera is also feature-rich and still fast.
    • Re:Tool.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by infornogr ( 603568 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @11:11PM (#8404690)
      The joke's on them. He can't read the ad.
    • I may be wrong, can't check am at work (IE only ... except Netscape4!!), but if you hit F11 and go to full-screen mode the ads aren't shown ... if you use mouse-gestures this works fine.
  • OnocularSX (Score:5, Informative)

    by almaon ( 252555 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @09:10PM (#8403775)
    Mac OS X could be a good solution, it has a nice on the fly and controllable zoom feature for those of us with poor vision. You can hold down cmnd+option+ -/+ to increase and decrease the zoom around the cursor. Quartz text is very smooth to start with so it makes it easy to read once zoomed in.

    Combined with that feature, you have inverted color modes which can sometimes be easier to read depending on the impairment. The enhanced contrast feature also takes out the drop shadows on elements making objects more defined. Large on screen command keys will also overlay if you desire to help ensure that you're holding down the correct keys and combinations.

    Built in voice recognition for commands may speed up the process a bit as well. Although it's not flawless and takes some time to 'train' the computer to your Father's voice.

    Text highlighted by the cursor will be spoken aloud via the tex-to-voice feature, and most applications will allow you to highlight bodies of text and will attempt to read them aloud to you via the same tech.

    Any simple G3 or G4 would suffice, a model that has the capacity to output to a larger display/television would also help.

    Those of us with severe handicaps can benefit from this a lot, hope you find some way to help out your old man.
  • Gateway sold a line of large monitors such as this 31" presentation monitor on ebay [ebay.com]. It's only 640x480, but at this point he needs size, not resolution. Also a low resolution will help with applications that don't provide large sizes. I believe they also sold a 34" 800x600. You can get them on surplus places every so often. Shouldn't be more than $300, if that, for one in good shape.

    Note also that sometimes people who are losing their sight need brightness more than size, and a very bright screen, such as a presentation monitor, might be a better solution than simply buying a larger screen. Also make sure that webpage colors are overridden by the browser, and don't show background images.

  • Start low tech (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bishop ( 4500 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @03:30AM (#8406038)
    I have faced a similar challenge. The very sad state of affairs is that a large high quality magnifying glass coupled with a good monitor beat all the other "solutions" I tried. Useing the magnifying glass was frustrateing for the user, but they kept comming back to the it.

    I have found that text based tools can work better then GUI based. With text based tools it is easier to blow up the font to 2 inch high letters (and larger). This works well with a minimal window manager with no overlapping windows like ion or ratpoison. GUIs tend to waste too much screen space, especially when you increase the font size. With a magnifying glass the buttons and icons don't need to be huge.

    Simple software with few dialogs and popups, and a consistent behaviour is key. My partially sighted client tends to use keyboard navigation and short cuts. They navigate throught the windows and screens from memory. For example to send an email they type: ALT-N "recipient" TAB "subject" TAB "message" CTRL-ENTER.

    A single randomly occuring bug is devistateing. I found early versions of MS outlook express to be particularly bad at not always returning to the same state after a given action. The focus caret would sometimes move between the folder list and the email list. This was not a problem I noticed until my client complained.

    When helping a partially sighted users continually ask how the display can be better. As a sighted person you really don't know what they need to be able to better read and interact with the computer. Little things like serif, sans serif, or monospaced fonts can make a big difference. As can colours and contrast.

    Ofcourse remember that this experience is far more frustrateing for them then it is for you.
    • Has anyone played with "sound icons?" The idea is that a .wav is played when you mouseover a desktop icon or when its selected via alt-tab. Maybe one of the distros can look into doing this?
  • Using a TV as huge monitor: I own a very recent TV with 100 Hz (storing a 50 Hz PAL picture and displaying it twice) that also has a VGA input, limited to 640x480 @ 60Hz. You can not calibrate the picture geometry as exactly as with a high end VGA monitor, so squares look like hand-drawn boxes and circles look like eggs. High contrast test pictures (three bars white-black-white across the entire screen) influence the geometry as well. So this is no solution you want to use day by day for several hours. But it is usable for surfing and mailing. Some problematic websites assume a resolution of at least 800x600, so you have to scroll a lot. Opera [opera.com] in full screen mode (F11 key) is usable.

    Using a beamer: This beasts are loud, need a lot of power, and a replacement light bulb costs half of a new beamer. But you get 800x600 or even 1024x768 at a screen size of 2 meters or more, depending on the quality of the beamer. But you need the room for that picture.

    Huge keyboards for nearly blind people or people having trouble with fine motor manipulations: Simple! There are several vendors offering custon keyboards for electronic cash register systems. Those systems are essentially stripped-down PCs, so you should have no interfacing problems. A friend of mine (suffering spasticity) uses a standard PC keyboard combined with a cash register keyboard at work. That keyboard has a matrix of programmable push buttons and can be equipped with key caps that fit one, two, or four (2x2) pushbuttons. He uses it with 2x2 key caps, so he has the 20 most used keys on the cash register keyboard rapidly available even with spasticity, and for the other 80 keys, he still can use the standard keyboard, with a "speed penality".

    Mouse replacement: I don't look at my mouse, I feel its case and buttons. I know where it is placed, about 5 to 10 cm right of my keyboard. No need to look away from the screen. So I guess blind people should have not much problems using a mouse. My friend (suffering spasticity) uses a standard mouse (now wireless, but just for fun) with no special hardware, I just slowed down the settings in the mouse driver (low speed, low acceleration). He's not as fast as me using Windows, but he reaches nearly the speed of an average Windows user. A touchpad or that little nipple on IBM laptops would be horror for him, but I think he could also work with a trackball, with a little training. We also tried a special mouse driver that used a low cost PC joystick to move the mouse cursor. It was quite usable, but my friend decided to use a standard mouse, mostly because the driver conflicted with the games that needed a joystick.


  • I can't imagine the text on something like a 50" or 61" Samsung DLP being too small, plus it'd doubble as a great TV for him to watch when he wasn't using the internet.. Most companies will allow you to take a product home and bring it back within 30 days no questions asked (Sears, I think Best Buy, others..). So I would try out a big monitor from Best Buy or other local store, explain your situation, and get someone to promise that you can return it no problem. If that didn't work, I'd look at using a l
  • braille (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chrisopherpace ( 756918 ) <cpace @ h n s g .net> on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:08AM (#8407917) Homepage
    If your father has recently lost most of his eyesight through "natural" causes, it will probably only get worse, unfortunately. I have a blind friend who did this very thing, but fortunately was smart enough to learn braille. Now he is totally blind, and uses a VB II (Versa Braille 2, very old serial braille machine) to surf the net. I set him up with a Linux box (he already knew *NIX), and just redirected STOUT, and STDERR to the VB (sh &2>/dev/ttyS0). He now loves it, but before used a voice system where the program (EEyes if I remember correctly) would tell him where the mouse position was, and what text it hovered over. EEyes was for win32 only.
  • by Lord_Frederick ( 642312 ) * on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:47AM (#8408309)

    The company I used to work for used JAWS [clb.org] for allowing blind employees to use windows software.

    It interfaces very well out of the box with standard applications, like IE, and it also allows you to write custom scripts so that it is usable with any application. We had to heavily customize it to work with out proprietary apps. It also interfaces well with many braille readers and text-to-speech synthesizers.

    The downside is that it's expensive, and hardware to extend the functionality is also very expensive.

    • With risk of being redundant; parent post has the exact same message as I have: Jaws does the trick.

      I guess my only addition would to vouch for it. A visually impaired fella at my work uses it and says he happy with that, in conjuction with other tricks.
      He's a top telesales guy having the customer in one earpiece and the computer speech voice in the other. Amazing dude.
  • by schmiddy ( 599730 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @03:45PM (#8410915) Homepage Journal
    Thanks for all the responses folks, I really appreciate it.
    I was surprised, and happy, to see the link [ebay.com] to that big Gateway monitor (too bad for WA only).. I've never seen monitors over 21-22" before, and even those are usually mondo-expensive and aimed towards graphic designers and so forth.
    I'm not sure yet whether I'm gonna have to set him up with a real big monitor/TV or depend on software for magnification/text to speech because we're not sure how bad his vision is going to get. . he went from being a regular glasses-wearer to near blind in like a week, was kind of scary. Makes me really value my health at this point.

    Anyway thanks for all the suggestions, got to run to class so haven't been able to follow around all the links but I'll get around to it. Thanks!

    P.S. Also, I appreciate the idea of the big keyboards.. I've seen them in my googling, but hadn't really thought much of them. But I don't think me dad ever learned to touch-type as well as he should have by this point, so he could probably use one of them.
    • Find out what the auction companies are in your area, and keep an eye out. Even companies that are moving into new digs might sell off all of their stuff, rather than trying to move it.

      If you find a display that's ONLY a monitor, you should be able to get it cheap. [ie, it has no TV tuner in it as well]. The ones that are sold as 'HDTV ready' are going to go for more, as they're useable by the general public, and not just the vision impared or those who want them for a conference room, and can't use a p
  • I like to blast music. My phones are broken in a weird way where only one of my three phones rings each time I receive a call. Which phone that is is completely random. Do not ask. I don't know why that's how it is.

    I'm interested in a device that deaf people have -- that notices the phone ring, and turns on a strobe/siren light. That way I can know the phone is ringing, even when blasting music.


    • My phones are broken in a weird way where only one of my three phones rings each time I receive a call.

      Probably because your phones exert too much of a load on the line. Look at the bottom of a phone; it should have some sort of "Ringer Equivalence Number". The RENs on one phone line should not exceed 5.0 or so.

      And if you're looking for signalers that can power a lamp when the phone is ringing, try this [google.com].

  • by Satan's Librarian ( 581495 ) * <mike@codevis.com> on Friday February 27, 2004 @04:34PM (#8411423) Homepage
    Check out EnhancedVision.com [enhancedvision.com], they've got some pretty cutting-edge equipement.

    I put together a magnifier and color compression utility [codevis.com] for Windows that might be useful, but it's experimental rather than a production app - unless he has color deficiencies (e.g. the blue-colorblindness associated with diabetes) then you'll do better with the built-in magnifier in windows or other software available on the internet [magnifiers.org].

    I've thought about making a simple application using a standard web camera and blowing up the image from it to full screen.. Right now there are a lot of proprietary systems out there for doing such though that might be useful.

  • by BenEnglishAtHome ( 449670 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @04:34PM (#8411426)

    ...and some of the posters here just pull answers out of thin air.

    My employer, [irs.gov] however, has a long-standing commitment to employing the visually-impaired. We have a large support office dedicated solely to their needs. From the intranet site of that office, let me offer a couple of things.

    First, here's the general background paragraphs designed to let managers know what sort of things can be done to assist people with low vision:

    The term "low vision" covers a broad range of possible conditions and types of visual impairment. The solutions offered below may be of benefit to some individuals with low vision, but not to everyone. The individual to be accommodated must be included in any product decision since no one else can see the world in exactly the same way they see it through their eyes.

    Large Monitor with High Resolution (e.g., a 21 inch SVGA monitor): Increases character size in proportion to monitor dimensions and provides a crisp, sharp image.

    Magnified display of computer screen: Software solutions exist to present the images on the computer in a larger format. Character size can be increased from 2 x 16 times.

    Magnified display of hardcopy material: Hardware exists that will magnify any item placed under a special camera. Documents, drawings, phone messages, etc. can be seen enlarged on a special monitor.

    Keyboard orientation aids: A raised dot can be added to certain keys such as the home row keys or the number five on the numeric keypad to give a tactile orientation to the keyboard to augment visual orientation. Alternately, adhesive backed keycap labels can be purchased and applied to the standard keyboard that have very large, bold letters.

    As for specific items available for us to install and use, this is the list for low vision folks. Note that you'll need to Google various terminology to get a look at the actual products. (I apologize for the way the lameness filter has forced me to mangle this list by cramming everything onto one line; I hope it's still reasonably readable.)

    Blind/Low Vision

    Raised Keyboard Dots, ZoomCaps Large Font Key Caps, Braille Key Labels, Super Disk External Drive, VoiceNote QT, VoiceNote BT, Braille Express 150 High Speed Braille Printer, Clearview 700 CCTV/CCD System, MiniViewer Portable CCTV/CCD, ViewSonic G810 21, ZoomText Xtra Level 2, JAWS Professional Edition for Windows, JAWS Part One Basic Training, JAWS Part Two Advanced Training Session JAWS Scripting, Handi-Cassette II Stereo Tape Recorder/Player with Case, Tutorial: Using Microsoft PowerPoint with JFW, Tutorial: Using Microsoft Internet Explorer with JFW, Tutorial: Using Microsoft Outlook with JFW, Tutorial: Using Microsoft Word with JFW, Tutorial: Using Microsoft Excel with JFW, Duxbury Braille Translator for Windows, DECTalk Express External Speech Synthesizer, Sound Blaster Live Audigy MP3+, Dual Headset model 8050 MPAII Headset Amplifier, Yamaha RH2b Stereo Headphones, Sound Blaster SBS 250 Computer Speakers, Kurzweil 1000 Integrated Optical Character Recognition System, Alva MultiMedia 440 Refreshable Braille Display, Mod 80 Refreshable Braille Display, Juliet Pro 60 Interpoint Braille Printer, Basic Navigating in Windows Using Adaptive Technology, JawBone Software, Optelec Traveller, BrailleStar40 Training Outline, BrailleStar80 Training Outline

    Note that that's a long list of equipment and training aids, many of which aren't applicable to your situation. But if you don't get some good ideas from that list, you're just not trying. I work with this equipment all the time and I gotta tell ya, it's truly gratifying to set up a computer so that a blind or nearly-blind person can use it and make a living instead of being dependent on other people. Good luck in your efforts. They will be worth whatever effor they require.

  • by Nick of NSTime ( 597712 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @04:54PM (#8411600)
    Tell him to look at a Braille display and see if it works out for him. Remind him to keep an eye open for good deals.
  • by meldroc ( 21783 ) <meldroc @ f r i i . c om> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @06:02AM (#8415616) Homepage Journal

    I have a friend with retinitis pigmentosa who is legally blind, but has some vision left. He was running a Windows box with a few tricks: a high-contrast color scheme with a black background and gaudy purple and yellow text & widget decorations. He also used a text magnifier and a tool that snapped the mouse cursor to the middle of the screen when he middle-clicked (he frequently lost the mouse cursor.) He also had a hardware speech synthesizer, with text-to-speech software that would read icon labels when he moused over them, read web pages, emails, documents, etc.

    For an open-source solution, you might want to try Festival [ed.ac.uk], an open-source speech synthesis system.

  • There is a linux distro out there called oralux at http://www.oralux.org/ it is based on Knoppix with Emacspeak mods and others. It is designed for visualy impaired people. Give it a try.

    They seem like decent guys so please lets try to not /. them!!


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