Winning Solutions for Failing Sight
Serving Our Community Since 1979

Closed Circuit Television

Everyday it seems that another new high-tech low vision aid comes on the market, and many of these are wonderful and not as expensive as one would think. These high-tech aids can offer significant help to people with low vision.

One of the more common and popular high-tech aids is the Closed Circuit Television, also known as a CCTV or reading machine. CCTV's magnify reading material, medicine bottles, photos, etc. and display the image on a TV screen or monitor. CCTV's can also be used for writing, filing fingernails, and other tasks. CCTV's have a range of magnification and are made in either black and white, or in color.  Many can be switched to reverse the image colors when desired.  Some models require you to focus the camera; others do it automatically.

There are many different kinds of CCTV's, each offering its own advantages:

  • Free-standing Units -- Sometimes called "desktop" systems, these units consist of a monitor above a flat platform. The user places the material to be read on the platform and moves the platform around to read. The material appears on the monitor magnified as much as the person desires.  Some models have the monitor built into the base unit.  Others have a separate monitor that can be placed atop the base unit; in this case, it may be possible to substitute a different monitor or TV to meet your needs.

  • Units with Text-to-Speech -- Like ordinary desktop CCTV systems, these units display a magnified image.  However, they also give you the option of having the machine convert any text in the image to audible speech.  For some people, this is less tiring than reading visually.

  • Portable CCTV's -- Portable CCTV's can be plugged into any television.  One such unit is a camera on a stand, which can be aimed at the material to be viewed.  This kind has the advantage that it can be used on objects some distance away, as well as closer objects.  Another device is about the size of a computer mouse and is rolled across the material to be read; the magnified image appears on the TV.  Some models allow a wireless connection between the mouse-like device and the TV.

  • Head-Worn CCTV's -- These units use the same mouse-like device, but the image appears not on a TV but in a pair of goggles one wears.

  • Handheld Video Magnifiers -- These battery-powered devices combine the camera, light source, and small video screen into a single handheld unit.

  • Tablet-Based Systems -- These systems start with a tablet computer and add specialized software and hardware, such as a folding stand, to allow the tablet to be easily used as a portable desktop CCTV.  They combine all the features of a tablet computer with the specialized video magnification features.  They generally include OCR and text-to-speech, too.
Even devices not specifically designed as low vision aids can be helpful.  A digital camera or a cell phone or tablet computer with a built-in camera can sometimes provide enough magnification for certain tasks.  The same is true of a computer connected to a camera or document scanner.  Apps are available for most smart phones and computers to allow them to convert text to speech.  Remember, you needn't limit your toolbox to only one or two tools!

Legally blind people of limited means may be able to get financial assistance for the purchase of a CCTV or other assistive device from the Assistive Technology Fund operated by the Association of Blind Citizens.

The Low Vision Center accepts donations of used CCTV systems and sells the donated units to help finance its operations.  Follow this link to a list of used CCTV systems currently available, or call us at 301-951-4444 for more information.  You are welcome to make an appointment to come try any system we have available, whether or not you want to buy it from us.