Apps are empowering people with visual impairments in ways we could only once dream. There are apps that can read text on the go, identify people and products, turn cameras into magnifiers, summon live help, and light the way.
Here are some apps you should know. All are available for iPhone on the App Store, and may be available for Android or Windows as well. Apps are free unless specified.
Reads Short Text, Documents, Products, People & Scenes
A magnanimous gesture from Microsoft exclusively to iPhone users. This is actually five apps in one, and it’s free! The Short Text channel is the grand prize, point the camera and it reads signs, price tags, labels, addresses, and more. No snapping photos or waiting to process, just point and it reads instantly on the go. This app reads documents and product bar codes with VoiceOver. It can identify people using facial recognition which does not seem all that practical, but it is fun. And try the Scene channel to get a description of the environment you are in. Click here for our first post about Seeing AI.
So far, everyone agrees, this is an amazing app. Enjoy it, and remember, it’s a work in progress, just like the rest of us. Help Microsoft keep making it better by sending your feedback to SeeingAI@microsoft.com
KNFB Reader $99
High Quality text to speech OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
This app seemed totally worth the price, until a moment ago when Seeing AI became available, with it’s free document reader. There are some noteworthy differences. KNFB does not require a connection to the Internet to process; Seeing AI does. KNFB has it’s own reader; Seeing AI depends on VoiceOver. You will find that KNFB Reader is faster, as recognition is performed on your device rather than uploading it to the cloud. Keeping the processing on your device provides better security. KNFB can be set to read text in columns and tables; Seeing AI cannot. KNFB batch mode copies and saves multi-page documents; Seeing AI does not.
Be My Eyes
Access Live Help
This app boasts an impressive 600 thousand sighted volunteers on call to assist it’s 40 thousand visually impaired and blind users in 150 countries. Tapping on the main page to “Call First Available Volunteer” will establish a live video connection enabling the volunteer to read or describe what your camera is pointed at. If you need help with an appliance, an electronic device, distinguishing items, or reading instructions, these volunteers are ready and able. No need to worry about being a pest, call as often as you need. You do have to be somewhat patient, they say the average wait time is about 1 minute, which can feel like an eternity if your in the street or standing in a grocery store aisle.
Brighter and Bigger
Just as the name says this video magnifying app gets up to 10x bigger, with options for brightness, reverse, clearer and freeze. Thanks to the vast improvements in mobile cameras these magnifying apps are as good as the portable versions we once had to pay big bucks for. Opens with Siri command.
Adjustable light and blinking strobe can be conveniently turned on by asking Siri. Now you know where the flashlight is when you need it.
National Library Service Talking Books (888.657.7323)
If you are registered for the National Library Services Talking Books program, consider going mobile. It takes a bit of time to sett it up and requires patience as you learn to navigate this, sometimes cumbersome, app, but book lovers with visual impairments absolutely love the totally free access to audio books. Click here to read our post on NLS.
Always good to have a digital recorder on hand. We used to spend hundreds to have one in our pocket, now it’s sitting right in our phone for free. High quality recording, 3 button interface. Trim, save, and share options.