Technology Needs in the Primary Setting:

Video Magnifiers

Introduction

In Spring 2023, a short- life working group was set up to explore the technology used by learners who have low vision and attend primary school, particularly the use of video magnifiers.

The SSC wishes to acknowledge the help and support from the following Qualified Teachers of Vision Impairment who have shared their honest reviews as well as learners and mainstream teachers.


Key Considerations

Prior to the purchase of any piece of equipment for a learner with visual impairment it is important to establish the level of functional vision that the learner has, and how well they can use it. One key question that must be addressed is: Which sense can the learner use effectively to gain information and thereby to learn? It is important to keep in mind that the answer to this question may change over time, depending on, but not limited to, changes in functional vision, volume of educational material, learners' skills and abilities, environment, and more appropriate products coming to market. It should be remembered that it is unlikely that one single device will meet all of a learner's needs for accessing printed materials.

A video magnifier mostly uses a stand-mounted video camera to project a magnified image onto a screen. Choosing the correct video magnifier involves a number of factors such as:

There are other issues that need to be considered too but these will be discussed later. Any device that is considered for purchase should be trialled with the learner first to ensure that it does meet identified needs. Here are some points to consider when you are thinking about a device for a learner - whether it is a piece of mainstream equipment or a video magnifier.


Video Magnifiers

The range of features that video magnifiers offer has increased over the years. Clarity of magnification has improved as cameras become more sophisticated. In addition, there are options for different coloured text and backgrounds, masking which means that only a single line of text appears at a time, and in some models, a text-to-speech facility.

Hazel, Catriona and Ann share their experiences with a variety of video magnifiers that have been used successfully with learners they are supporting.


Acrobat Video Magnifier

This device is currently used by a number of learners in Primaries 3 - 7 in East Renfrewshire. Almost all learners have used them since Primary 1 and are very familiar with them.

Advantages of the Acrobat Video Magnifier

Learner's Opinion

"Perfect, easy to use and I can see the board well with it". (Primary 6 Learner)


Prodigi/Connect 12

The Prodigi is no longer available and has been replaced by the Connect 12 which is sold by Humanware and other companies. These devices have an integrated tablet and can connect to the internet. a small number of learners in the local authority currently use this device.

Advantages of the Prodigi/Connect 12

What works less well


Reveal 16

In Dundee, the Reveal 16 which is sold by Humanware and other stockists, has been used very successfully with younger learners. They have enjoyed using it and are they are able to demonstrate its use to peers, staff and parents/carers. It is a piece of technology that can be introduced in the home setting fairly easily as it does not require a huge effort to set up. Therefore, it helps link the use of technology between home and school.

Advantages of the Reveal 16

  • It does not have many controls/buttons. This makes it easy to use for the younger learners.
  • The distance camera is easily manipulated by small hands and is quite robust. It is easy for them to point the camera and zoom in. It takes a little while for them to gain accuracy on where to direct the camera though.
  • The near view camera has a dedicated light which helps light up what the learner is looking at and is useful in that you do not need another bit of equipment to provide a light source.
  • The distance zoom is very clear and the image very sharp.
  • Once taught how to do so, learners are able to write on worksheets whilst looking at the magnification screen.
  • The device allows learners to keep pace with their peers.
  • The device allows learners with VI to sit in their own seat rather than having to look at teacher’s computer monitor.
  • Adults can move the device.
Reveal magnifying a book.

What works less well

  • The Reveal 16 devices have been returned for repair quite often while they have been under warranty. As with any device, repairs outwith the warranty period have the potential be expensive, for example a new charging cable for one device had to be purchased as it was just outside the warranty period.
  • Too heavy for the learner to move themselves.

Learners' Opinion

"I like using it. It helps me see the board in class. It's easy for me to use as I've been using it since Primary 1!"

"The Reveal is a brilliant magnifier; it helps zoom in and changes the contrast. It helps me to read things that are smaller and look at things in the distance and helps me in school and at home. At home I use it for piano homework or reading a smaller book or if I have to write in a smaller book. I use the lock button to freeze the screen to look at things closer. The Reveal is good for spying!"

Reveal helping with viewing things at a distance.

Mercury 12 and Mercury 13

In Ireland, the Mercury 12 which is sold by Sight and Sound Technology and other companies, is used by many learners in Ireland and at the time of putting this page together, the Mercury 13 had recently come to market (June 2023). Like the Connect 12 and the Reveal 16, both Mercury devices are use the Microsoft Windows Operating System and have of a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet which can be removed from the stand and taken home. Both models come with a wireless keyboard and mouse. A distance camera is an optional extra but regarded as essential.

Advantages of the Mercury 12/13

  • These devices are more than just video magnifiers, they have the potential of addressing many Assistive Technology needs in one purchase.
  • The split screen option allows near and distance tasks to be viewed at the same time.
  • With the purchase of an additional screen for the Mercury 13 the split screen function can be split over two screens, one showing the near task and the other the distance view.
  • The devices can take a picture both at distance and near levels for accessing at a later time.
  • The devices have an OCR scan and read function, which can be individualised visually and aurally for the student’s vision needs. The text or image can be saved and edited at a later stage. This can be very useful for worksheet style handouts, or for quick access to books which may not be in an adapted format.
  • It has many different languages included with the software, good for students at senior school level.
  • It is relatively simple to use, easy to set up and close down.
  • Other apps can be installed on the tablet such as Dolphin Easy Reader.
  • The distance camera gives a high-quality image on screen. The learners can manipulate the camera either by using the icon on the Read Desk screen, or they can use the buttons on top of the camera itself to zoom in and out.
Mercury 12 magnifying objects.

What works less well

  • The clip that holds that tablet in the frame can break quite easily.
  • Does not allow a large number apps (eg 4) plus internet connection at the same time.

Catriona says:
"For many of my younger students the Mercury 12/13 has been a wonderful solution. The frame allows all schoolwork to be placed directly in front of the learner at eye level. They can place worksheets under the frame, and, by using the internal tablet camera, can manipulate the magnification on the screen to enable them to complete their tasks. Learners can write on a handout page under magnification in real time through the Read Desk software, enabling them to complete the same task as their fully sighted peers. Learners can also use the OCR option to scan and read a piece of text, save that text, review it later. Overall, the Mercury 12/13 is a really good product which has its place in education."

Mercury 12 magnifying text.

Some barriers to using any video magnifier

Looking ahead to Secondary School

In Ireland many of our senior level students are now opting for a stand-alone magnification system. Currently we are using the Looky Book Pro (called the Clover Book Pro in the UK, available from VisionAid) as our magnification solution and a laptop with Easy Reader, Calibre, scientific calculator and Microsoft Office, with other personally required AT solutions. This means that they now have two separate items on their desks, but it is their choice.

The Final Words

As new products come onto the market, QTVIs should look at them and see if they are useful for learners. Keep in mind that you are trying to find suitable products for educational use, ie, to assist the students in accessing their school curriculum. There is a fantastic range of products available, but they may not be fully useful in a school setting. As one classteacher said:

"[the video magnifier is] as necessary in class as a pencil and paper."


Stockists

Humanware Video Magnifiers

Professional Vision Services

Sight and Sound Video Magnifiers

VisionAid Low Vision Products

RNIB Shop


References

Argyropoulos, V and Gentle, F. (2019) 'Formal and non-formal education for individuals with vision impairment or multiple disabilities and vision impairment: current trends and challenges.' In Ravenscroft, J. (ed) The Routledge Handbook of Visual Impairment : Social and Cultural Research. Taylor & Francis.

Leventhal, J. (2008) 'Advice on classroom reading for a child with low vision.' Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 102 (1), pp 47-49.

Presley, I and D'Andrea, FM. (2009) Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired : A Guide to Assessment. American Foundation for the Blind.