Having a talking meter makes it possible for those with reduced vision or total blindness -- common side effects of diabetes -- to monitor their blood glucose levels without outside help. Even if you are fully sighted, abnormal blood sugar levels may cause blurry vision that makes having a talking meter very handy. However, just being able to speak your readings out loud isn't enough to make a blood glucose meter truly accessible to those with limited vision.
"Buyer beware!" writes Connie Kleinbeck, a diabetes educator who compares six talking glucose meters for the National Federation of the Blind. She explains that while other talking meters "are being aggressively marketed to blind and low-vision users… you will find that you need sighted assistance to use essential functions such as time and date and memory review on many of these products."
One blood glucose meter, however, stands out as offering everything you need for truly accessible blood glucose testing: The Prodigy Voice (Est. $42). Experts say the Prodigy Voice works just as well for blind people as regular meters do for sighted people. In addition to typical features like a 450-reading memory function and providing averages over 7, 14, 21, 30, 60 and 90 days, it also talks you through every feature (including setup, testing and memory readings), doesn't require any coding, and comes with a volume control and external headphone port so you can test discreetly without announcing your blood sugar readings to everybody within hearing.
There's more: The Prodigy Voice's large buttons have high-contrast coloring to help those with limited vision, and have raised labels that are very touch-friendly. There's also a button that repeats the last message or blood sugar reading spoken -- an important feature that many other talking meters lack. Users say the test strips are easy to handle by feel and that the test strip port in the meter is also easy to locate by touch.
Ann Bartlett, a board member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation who tests talking glucose meters at HealthCentral.com, adds that the Prodigy Voice can also help people with dyslexia, giving "both a visual and audio sample to prevent recording the wrong number."
All in all, the Prodigy Voice offers everything a diabetic with no sight or limited sight needs to independently monitor his or her own blood sugar. It's no wonder that it beat four other talking glucose monitors in a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, and has won awards from the National Federation of the Blind and American Foundation for the Blind. Even the customer service department has been specially trained to work with those who have little or no vision.
Prodigy offers a second talking meter, the Prodigy Autocode (Est. $14) whose primary advantage is that it can talk you through every aspect of the testing process in any of four languages: English, Spanish, French or Arabic. The Prodigy Autocode shares many features in common with the Prodigy Voice, including storage for up to 450 date- and time-stamped test results, no coding required, and a USB port for downloading the meter's results into Prodigy's free diabetes management software.
However, the Prodigy Autocode lacks a few of the key features that make the Prodigy Voice such a standout for those with limited sight. Instead of the Prodigy Voice's five highly tactile buttons, the Autocode has a single button on the front of the device, with a separate set button inside the battery compartment that might be problematic for non-sighted users. It does have adjustable volume but lacks a headphone jack, which makes it difficult to test your blood sugar discreetly in public.
Finally, the Prodigy Autocode also draws more complaints about accuracy than the Prodigy Voice. Most users report being very happy with its performance, however, it's always good to double-check your blood glucose meter's accuracy at your doctor's office. Overall, the Prodigy Voice remains the clear favorite in this category, although those who need the Prodigy Autocode's multilingual capabilities should be very happy with its function. Both meters are also approved for use on five alternate test sites: palm, forearm, upper arm, calf and thigh, and the Prodigy AutoCode offers a smaller range of averaging functions (7, 14 and 28 days) than the Prodigy Voice.
Both the Prodigy Voice and the Prodigy Autocode use the same Prodigy No Coding test strips, which average around $8 for a box of 50 -- overall, a very affordable price that might inspire people who don't need the talking feature to buy these meters.
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