The fight to see my PC

14 Jun 2012

Davey Winder explains how he adapted his PC to cope with a sudden deterioration of his eyesight

The month before I started writing this feature, I had pretty good eyesight for a man knocking on the door of 50. My last eye test was only three months ago and, apart from the lazy left eye that’s required me to wear glasses for close work since I was a boy, all was well. That was before I woke up one morning and the world hadn’t only gone blurry, but strangely distorted.

At first I thought the cold I’d developed was the reason that everything was out of focus, but after a week of my sight continuing to deteriorate, with straight lines becoming curved and close objects seemingly being viewed through a goldfish bowl, I decided to see the optician again.

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To cut a long story short, I found myself at the local hospital under the care of a specialist retina consultant who discovered I had wet macular degeneration (wet MD) – in my “good” eye!

This progressive disease strikes very quickly, and by the time I had the first injection of a stabilising drug directly into my eyeball – I wish I was joking – the central vision of my right eye had worsened to the point where people’s faces had turned into a grey smudge. The closer the object and the finer the detail, the less I could see. Between the rapidly degenerating vision in my right eye and the poor state of my lazy left eye, continuing to work as a writer seemed rather unlikely – impossible even.

Suddenly, I found that my choice of screen, word processor, even my web browser, was unworkable. But technology triumphs over all. I’ve found ways to combat my failing vision, as different degrees of impairment and different medical conditions will pose different obstacles for the sufferer. However, I hope that my first-hand experiences as an IT professional will be of some use to those readers with failing eyesight, who are finding it harder to do the everyday computing tasks that they’ve always taken for granted.

Software choices

As a freelance journalist and author, not to mention small-business IT consultant, I spend much of my time sat in front of Microsoft Word. Or at least I did, until I discovered that black text against a white background wasn’t a good combination for me, and the alternative blue background/white text option had been discontinued since Word 2007.

I could still set the page colour to blue using the page layout options, which automatically turned the text white, but this left some text in black, and highlighted text changed to black against very nearly black, which clearly isn’t… clear. With no apparent way to properly customise the text display colours, I started to look elsewhere. I soon found the answer was already installed on my PC, in the shape of my coding text editor of choice.

Touchscreen

I now use NoteTab Pro with bright yellow text against a dark blue background, since this provides the best contrast for my eyes to comfortably cope with. This particular editor allows me to also quickly increase the size of the text to something easily visible (which for me is 20pt or more) without any of these display-only factors impacting upon the printed document or actual file copy. It doesn’t have Word’s broad set of features, but when all you really need to do is put words on a page, NoteTab Pro hits the spot with a spellchecker, word count and, most importantly, the ability to let me decide how it displays the document.

Email is another vital part of my business and my previously preferred method of viewing as many items from the inbox as possible – combining small fonts and closely formatted subject lines – soon became impossible. Thankfully, for now at least, I don’t have to discard my email client of choice, Gmail. I delved into the configuration options and discovered that the mail display density could be set to “comfortable”, which spaces each item further apart within a set of ruled lines, and is therefore perfect for both the larger monitor and smaller visual accuracy I now have.

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