I started to write this post to inform patients with low vision about the added utility of using Firefox to make the screen more readable. Very simply you can magnify the Firefox window by holding down the CTRL key and then hitting the + key or the – key as appropriate to make the entire Firefox screen change size. The post then grew to including useful Firefox addons, which will be our next blog post. However, in researching other Firefox addons for low vision patients I came across LowBrowse™ and I am very glad I did. It is a great program for patients with limited vision from diseases such as macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa or glaucoma.
First of all the easiest way to get LowBrowse™ is directly from its developer, the Lighthouse International. The step by step instructions are very detailed and easy to understand. LowBrowse™ was developed in the Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute by vision scientist Aries Arditi, Ph.D. under a research grant from the National Eye Institute. Dr. Arditi has also developed larger mouse icons which are very essential to increasing a computer’s usability for patients with low vision as well as improving the functionality of LowBrowse™ for the severely visually impaired.
Installation was easy and no different than any other Firefox addon. Once the browser restarted a window appeared just above the Firefox tabs and below the toolbars. This window is where the magnified text appears and is referred to the reading window. Below the reading window is the normal Firefox browser window which is referred to as the global window.
The reading window is configurable as to the size of text, font and color. The default color of the reading window is white print on a black background. Initially the reading window was blank for me. I discovered that the Firefox extension “Tab Mix Plus” was interfering with LowBrowse™. Once I disabled the offending extension and restarted my browser my magnification window, or reading window as it is referred to in the help file, displayed text that was about 2 inches tall.
Once you place your cursor over any text in the global window, the text in that paragraph will be available in the reading window by scrolling through it with the left and right arrow keys. If the LowBrowse™ extension is enabled you can not use the left and right arrow keys for navigation in the large global screen, they are only available for scrolling text in the reading screen.
LowBrowse™ also has a text to speech function that was developed in cooperation with Charles L. Chen. I found the text to speech function to work very well and was quite accurate on my Windows Vista PC. The speech function worked very much like the magnification window. You place your cursor on the text you want to read in the global window and it reads the paragraph.
I found LowBrowse™ to be a great addition to our inventory of options available for patients with low vision. When combining Firefox’s inherent ability to magnify the webpage in the larger navigation window with the speech function and greater magnification capacity of LowBrowse™ it truly opens up the Internet to patients with low vision.
Another device we have reviewed and found useful for some low vision patients is the Amazon Kindle, for more information see our review. Also see our review of the 10 must have Firefox Addons.