How I Created the Perfect Computer Setup for My Nearly Blind, 85 Year Old Father.

After 85 years on this earth, my dad’s vision has declined dramatically due to macular degeneration. It got so bad that he was using a magnifying glass to read emails on his 27-inch iMac. This is especially tough because my dad is actually in the late stages of writing & publishing a 600+ page book about Billy the Kid, the famous outlaw.

As a Christmas present, I replaced my dad’s iMac with a Mac Mini and a 50-inch TV. Now he can read emails and browse the web with just his regular glasses on. He’s happy as a clam and I’m really happy for him.

How It Started

My dad had been using a late-2009 iMac passed down by my older brother. He would bring it with him when he’d visit us in San Francisco. This is what it looked like setup at my standing desk in the old living room:

Here's my dad two years ago using his old computer at my standing desk. Pretty clever. He hacked my standing desk using a chair and an ottoman.

Here’s my dad two years ago using his old computer at my standing desk. He hacked my standing desk into a sitting desk using a chair and an ottoman. Pretty clever.

My dad would bring his 27-inch iMac on the plane as checked luggage. He reinforced the original packaging with plywood to make the box travel worthy.

Dad at the airport with his gigantic portable computer

Dad at the airport with his 27-inch iMac in tow. He reinforced the original box with plywood to make it impact-proof and wrapped it in plastic to make it waterproof. Then he tied it all together with an old telephone cord.

Everything was great, or so I thought, until I visited my parents’ home this Christmas. Dad’s vision had worsened and he was struggling to see the letters on the screen. To read emails, he would pick up a magnifying glass, hold it close to his eye and push his head toward the screen.

“Papa,” I said, “there’s got to a better way!”

The Perfect Computer Setup for My Nearly-Blind, Elderly Father

Late in one afternoon, I took elderly parents to the Apple Store. After briefly considering the new 27-inch iMac, we picked up an upgraded Apple Mac Mini for $700, though you can buy the base model from Amazon for $459. I chose the Mac Mini because:

  • Just a computer – Works with any size computer monitor.
  • HDMI port – can use a TV instead of a traditional computer monitor.
  • Small size – easy to transport on a plane to San Francisco or car to the Apple Store.
  • Apple Genius Bar – my dad can take it in to get fixed and troubleshoot any problems that crop up. <––Makes life way easier for me and my brother!

Next stop: Fry’s Electronics of Anaheim, computer store of my youth. In case you’ve never been, Fry’s is an electronics chain known for low prices, massive warehouses and used-car-esque salesmen.

I walked into Fry’s thinking we’d buy a ~32-inch computer monitor for $500, which seemed like a decent option. However, I was concerned that we could get something much cheaper online, but then I realized: We could actually get my dad a big ass TV and use it as a monitor!

Me, I couldn’t deal with having a TV as a monitor. The resolution just isn’t high enough. I need a higher density of information and pixels. My dad however had the opposite problem. He didn’t just need a big screen, he needed big pixels and big text. The bigger, the better.

Dad at Fry's checking out TVs.

Dad at Fry’s checking out TVs. He’s still a bit confused about the end goal at this point. 

After perusing a few smaller options, we settled on a 50-Inch Flat Screen Television with 1080p resolution for $425 (refurbished). If you’re willing to settle for something slightly smaller, this 40-Inch, 1080p TV from Amazon looks like a great deal at $279.

I chose the big screen TV because it is:

  • Bigger display size than a regular monitor.
  • Cheaper than a regular monitor.
  • Text appears bigger than a regular monitor.

This turned out to be an excellent decision financially and practically. There’s no way we could have gotten a display that size for anything close to that price.

Since my dad already had a keyboard and mouse that he liked, we just needed an HDMI cable and a webcam to use for grandpa-grandson FaceTime.

Mom and Dad FaceTime with me and grandson

Mom and Dad on FaceTime. Me and Luca say hi.

FaceTime with my parents is one of my favorite evening pastimes with my son, so having a functional, low-hassle webcam attached to the computer was crucial.

We chose this HD Webcam by CreativeLive!. We paid $40 at Fry’s, but you can buy it Amazon for $20. Things I liked about it include:

  • Works reliably with Mac / Apple products.
  • 720p HD resolution.
  • Built-in microphone.
  • Lots of positive reviews.

Getting everything in the car paid for and in the car was a bit of a pain in the ass, but we made it home safe just two hours after we left. Getting started was pretty easy because I’d already set my dad up with a Dropbox account and used that store all his important files, including his book. I also made sure that he shared all his folders with me and my brother, so that we could poke around with files just in case he got into trouble.

A Huge Win for Accessibility & Usability

I was pretty sure my dad would be happy with the end result, though he was a bit skeptical during the purchasing process. After a day at the helm of his new computer, he was unequivocally happy with the new setup. “It’s tremendous!” he said, calling me the next day. “Son, I can read everything just fine. I don’t need the magnifying glass.”

My dad's new computer setup - rear view

This is me showing my dad how to share a Dropbox Link. Man, that’s some huge text. 

My dad's new computer setup - side view

Suddenly, my dad could see the text and do work without squinting or using the magnifying glass. Pretty awesome!

My dad looking happy with his new computer setup

My dad with his new computer setup. “It’s tremendous!” he told me the next day. “I can see everything with just my glasses.”

In case you’re interested in buying this setup for someone you love, I created an Amazon store so that you can buy this setup for someone you love who is vision impaired.