Apps: Vision Impairment
Globally, it's estimated that there's over 2.2 billion people with some degree of vision impairment. Within this, 39 million people are legally blind. Despite these massive numbers, unfortunately, many items are not designed to accomodate people with visual impairments. So, how do people with vision impairment navigate everyday life?
Around 89% of people with a visual impairment own a smartphone. For many, technology can be a life-changing tool that boosts independence. There's a wealth of apps on the market designed specifically for people who are low-vision or blind. These days, the choice can almost seem overwhelming. That's why we've compiled a tried-and-tested list of some great apps that can improve everyday accessibility. We've including useful info such as how to use the apps, their functions, and pricing plans.
This list has been seperated into categories for easier navigation. Note that some categories have more recommendations in them than others. This is because we did not want to needlessly add apps that we believed were unhelpful.
Please bear in mind that I'm making this list as a sighted person. Because I do not have a visual impairment, I cannot be an authority on what apps will work best for you. However, from a digital accessibility perspective, I have summed up the pros and cons of each app to help you make an informed decision on which apps may be useful to you.
Be My Eyes (iOS and Android)
Be My Eyes is a free app that connects you to a sighted volunteer. The app works similarly to FaceTime. When a visually impaired user makes a call, a volunteer will answer. The call will connect to your back camera, allowing the volunteer to describe whatever they see on the screen. For privacy reasons, neither person’s face is shown at any time. The volunteer can also switch on the caller’s flash for better lighting. At the end of the session, both users can rate the call to ensure that the app is not being misused.
The app has a multitude of uses. It can be used to describe locations, objects, expiration dates, and to read pieces of text – just to name a few. However, because the sighted volunteers are still strangers, you should never use the app for help with important documents or confidential information. These volunteers do not receive formal training. For the most part, they are very willing to help, however, they may not be able to spend large amounts of time on a call or help with specialized requests.
As of 2022, the app has over 6 million global volunteers. With less than 500,000 visually impaired users, calls are usually answered in thirty seconds or less. The app is available globally and supports many languages. If there are no volunteers available in your primary language, then you can select a secondary language to widen your volunteer pool.
A great feature of Be My Eyes is the specialized help section. This connects you to a multitude of companies and businesses that can help with specific information. This includes companies such as Microsoft, Google, P&G, and RNIB.
Aira (iOS and Android)
Aira is a free sighted-assistants app that comes with paid services. A visually impaired user can make a call at any time in the day and an Aira agent will answer. Using the back camera, you can then ask the agent to describe whatever is on the screen. The main difference between Aira and Be My Eyes is that Aira uses trained agents rather than volunteers, meaning that you’re likely to get high-quality help.
Whilst Be My Eyes is completely free, Aira is mostly a paid service. For free, you can connect to an agent for five minutes a day. If more time is needed, then you need to buy additional minutes which come in the form of a monthly subscription.
Aira can also link to your Uber and Lyft accounts. Through this, an agent can arrange rides for you, guide you to the pick-up point, track the ride, make sure you arrive at your destination safely, and provide you with other important information about the driver.
Aira has partnered with a variety of important locations to bring about Aira access points. These access points give you unlimited call time with an Aira agent. Access points can be found in places such as universities, grocery stores, fast food outlets, and airports.
For some tasks, it’s not a good idea to seek help from strangers. FaceTime is a useful app for Apple users with family and friends that can help them. Unlike Be My Eyes or Aira, you know who’s on the other end, making it a more trustworthy option. This is better for receiving help with private matters.
FaceTime is an app that comes pre-installed on all iOS devices. It’s a free video call service that allows you to contact your friends and family using Wi-Fi or 4G. Unlike Be My Eyes or Aira, you can flip between your front and back camera which may be useful for people who use sign language. With iOS 16, FaceTime can also now generate live captions. However, both iOS devices must have iOS 16 installed to use this feature. This is still a beta feature, meaning that captions may be inaccurate.
FaceTime comes with a variety of features that improve accessibility. You can freely change color filters during a call, making it easier to adjust the contrast as needed. You can also message whom you’re calling whilst remaining on FaceTime. This can be useful for users who have both hearing and vision impairments. Another feature allows you to exit the app, go on other apps, and remain on the call. A small version of the call will appear in the corner of your screen which you can then drag about to a convenient location for you.
The one downside to FaceTime is that you may only have a small range of people available to you at any time. Unlike Be My Eyes or Aira, there’s no guarantee that someone will be free to answer when you need them.
Facebook Messenger (iOS and Android)
For Android users who do not have access to FaceTime, Facebook Messenger is a great alternative. It’s a free app but you and those you’re contacting both need Facebook accounts.
Facebook video call is nearly identical to FaceTime in terms of concept. Facebook video call has an easy-to-navigate layout that uses big buttons with contrasting color symbols, making it a good option for low-vision users.
Compared to FaceTime, there’s some room for improvement in terms of additional features. Because it lacks features such as live captions and filters, it can be considered a slightly less accessible option. But, if you’re an Android user looking for something that does the same job, then the Facebook Messenger video call feature is a solid option.
AI Object Identification:
Seeing AI (iOS)
Seeing AI is a free object identification app by Microsoft, created for people with vision impairment. It uses AI to recognize a variety of things that it can relay back to you. The app is currently available in 70 countries.
When you open the app there are nine different buttons at the bottom of the screen. These features are known as channels.
The first button is Short Text. This can instantly read any short text presented to the camera. You don’t need to take a photo, simply hover your camera over the text and the app will automatically read it back to you. When tested, this feature was fast and accurate. This feature has unlimited uses but could be useful for tasks such as identifying food labels, street names, and screen reader error messages.
The next button is the Document Reader. This is for bigger chunks of text. Hold your camera over the document. Once it’s aligned, the app will automatically take a photo for you. The app will convert the text onto your phone. This can be read back to you using the play button on the bottom left.
The third button is the Barcode Reader. This can be useful for distinguishing products such as tins, which can be notoriously difficult for people with visual impairments. Hold the camera over the barcode and the app will automatically detect it, letting out a beeping sound once the barcode has been identified. Once complete, it will automatically read out what the product is and take a photo of the barcode which you can share. You can also click a More Info button which will take you to a page with a product description, an ingredients list, and nutritional info – all of which you can have read back to you using the play button.
The fourth button is the Facial Recognition feature which can be used with either your front or back camera. To use it, you need to take a photo of the person you would like to identify. The app will then describe the approximate age, gender, facial expression, and hair color of this person. For example, the app would say something like ‘a 50-year-old man with grey hair, looking neutral.’ You can also train the AI to recognize specific faces. However, we did find that this feature was lacking. After being taught to recognize my face (22-year-old female), it then recognized my colleague (58-year-old man) as me.
The fifth button is the Currency Reader. Currently, this can recognize 17 different currencies. However, we found that this feature was somewhat limited. Despite having the currency set to GBP, the app did not recognize any Scottish notes when tested, even when the monetary value was clearly displayed. Because we had no other notes to test, we cannot confirm its success with other currencies. However, we’re inclined to say that there are better currency readers on the market.
The sixth button is the Scene Identification feature that identifies significant objects within your surroundings. To use, position your camera towards the scene you wish to identify and press the camera button to capture it. The app will make a beeping sound as it processes this and will then automatically read aloud any objects that the AI has identified. Personally, I found this to be the app’s most impressive feature. When tested, it was around 90% accurate. The processing time was very quick, only taking a second or two to identify the scene.
The seventh button is the Color Identification feature, but we wouldn’t recommend it. At worst, it was downright inaccurate, and at best, the color identification was basic. When pointed at a gray bin, the color identifier stated it was bright pink. The descriptions also lacked detail; the app rarely differentiated between shades. For example, it would simply say that a jacket was red instead of dark red or burgundy. There are other apps out there that are far more accurate such as Color Inspector (iOS).
The second last button is the Handwriting Reader which we found very impressive. Even after testing it against the worst handwriting in the office, it came back with about 90% accuracy. With legible handwriting, it was completely accurate. To use, simply align your camera with the text you want to read, then press the camera button. Once processed, the app automatically reads the text aloud.
The last button is the Light Detector. The app uses a series of tones to indicate how much light the camera picks up. The highest tone will indicate something is very bright whilst the lowest tone will indicate something is very dark. This is a solid feature that was responsive and accurate.
Overall, some aspects of the app were amazing. Others needed improvement. We found that handwriting and scene identification was great whilst the facial recognition feature needed some work. Seeing AI has its strengths and its weaknesses. It’s not a one-stop solution to all vision impairment accessibility needs, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Envision AI (iOS and Android)
Envision AI is a free object recognition app. Unlike Seeing AI, Envision AI is available on both iOS and Android. The app can read text in over 60 languages, including non-Latin script languages such as Japanese and Hindi.
Once opened, at the bottom of the app is a navigation bar. On this, you’ll find five main features. These are Read, Identify, Find, Glasses, and Settings.
The first button, Read, brings you to a screen that has three options on it. These are Instant, Scan, and Library. The Instant button will read any short text that the camera sees in real-time. To use, just hover your phone over any text you want read out. Because this feature works in real-time, the app tends to read back absolutely everything in its view. Even text that I thought was out of shot. So, I would recommend using this feature on text that has a lot of white space around it. Otherwise, it can become a little overwhelming.
The second button is Scan. This allows you to process larger pieces of text. To use this, position your camera over the document you want read aloud. The app will use a blue box and audio feedback to indicate whether the document is aligned or not. Then, press the camera button. This will convert your document into text on your screen which is automatically read back to you. You have the option to scan a single page or a batch. Although the scanner was very accurate, I had some problems with this feature. As a sighted person, I had issues with the app’s auto-alignment feature. Even on a flat surface, the app was having trouble recognizing the page. For someone with a visual impairment, I think this problem would only be furthered. I also found that this feature didn’t work for books. Since the app relies on the edge of a page being visible to process the information, an open book with two pages presented some issues. So, I wouldn’t recommend this as a reading tool.
The next button is Library. This allows you to store all your previously scanned documents. You can also import them from your Envision glasses, files, or camera roll.
The second button on the main navigation bar is the Identify feature. Under this, there are three further options. These are Describe Scene, Detect Colors, and Scan Barcode.
To use the Describe Scene feature, simply navigate your camera toward the object you would like described to you. The camera will automatically detect the scene and play music as it loads. Once it’s finished processing, the app will automatically read the description, which you can also save. So far, the AI has been fairly accurate with only a few errors. However, one of the errors we found was that the AI failed to recognize a fire extinguisher, an object that could be essential for survival. So, on that front, the app needs some work.
The next option is the Color Identifier. To use this feature, simply hold your camera over the item you want to know the color of. You need to hold the camera close to the item as the scope of the camera is fairly big and may pick up another color by accident. After testing, we pulled similar results to Seeing AI. The color descriptions were limited to the absolute basics, and some were slightly inaccurate. The app takes a few seconds to process the color, so this feature only works if the object is stationary.
The final feature within Identify is the Barcode Scanner. To use this, point your camera at the product’s barcode and tap the screen. The app will then identify the product by reading it aloud. You can click a More Information button which will take you to a Google search of the product. When tested, this feature worked well with food products and essential toiletries. However, this feature didn’t work well with identifying books or non-essentials such as make-up products. This feature was inconsistent, so we recommend to use a different barcode scanner.
The third button on the navigation bar is Find. There are three options within Find. These are Find People, Find Objects, and Teach Envision. The first button, Find People, allows you to scan the room and your phone will make a tinkling sound when it comes across a person. You can also teach the app to recognize certain people. If the camera sees a recognized face, it’ll notify you of who it is.
The next option is Find Objects. When you click on it, Envision will come up with a list of common objects such as a cup, laptop, phone, bus, or toothbrush. To use this feature, select the item you would like Envision to find, then point your camera around. The app will begin beeping when the object has come into frame. If the object you need isn’t on the list, you can use the Teach Envision feature to teach the app to recognize any objects you need. At the bottom of the list, there is also a button to submit any requests you would like added to the objects list.
The final option within Find is Teach Envision. This feature allows you to teach the AI to recognize specific objects or faces.
Envision also comes with a built-in magnifier that can be found at the top left-hand side of the screen. You can control the magnifier using a bar at the side of the screen. The magnifier is smooth and clear, with an option to invert the color contrast. It’s a great feature that’s easy to use.
Overall, Envision AI is a useful app that has some minor faults. If you’re an Android user with a visual impairment, then I would highly recommend that you download it. However, we did find that Seeing AI was a little more accurate. If you’re an iOS user, then we would recommend that you use a mixture of both and decide which one works best for you.
TapTapSee (iOS and Android)
TapTapSee is a free AI object identification app that’s available on both iOS and Android. You can take a photo of any object and the app will identify it for you.
To use, position the phone towards the object you want to identify. Click anywhere on the screen to take a photo. The app takes a second or two to process the object. Once complete, a text description of the object is placed at the bottom of the screen which can be read out with VoiceOver. The app also comes with a gallery feature that allows you to choose any photo from your camera roll which the app can identify for you.
Flash automatically goes off every time you take a photo. If you’re looking for a discreet way to identify objects, then you need to turn this feature off in settings before you begin using the app.
At times, the descriptions were accurate but somewhat vague. For example, using the gallery feature, I uploaded a picture of a group of alpacas. Instead of saying they were alpacas, the app simply said that they were a group of four-legged brown and black animals in a field during the daytime. Although this wasn’t wrong, it does leave a lot of room for guessing.
However, this app does work well at specifying brands. For example, it managed to identify the brand of my headphones and laptop within seconds. This is something that the other apps were not able to do. I think this app would work best for people who often need to differentiate their branded items, particularly electronics.
Google Lookout (Android)
Google Lookout is a free object recognition app by Google, developed for Android. Like the previous apps, Lookout uses AI to recognize objects and verbally describe them to you. This app works offline, meaning that processing times are minimal.
When you open the app, at the bottom of the screen, there’s a horizontal scroll bar with six options on it. These buttons are Explore Mode, Food Label Identification, Quick Read, Document Scanner, Currency, and Images.
Explore Mode is the feature that the app automatically opens with. This feature notifies you of important things in your environment such as people, objects, and text. The app uses clock directions to indicate the direction of the object. For example, the app would say ‘black shoes at 12 o’clock.’ This would indicate that the shoes were directly in front of you. The app is very quick to respond to objects it perceives, however, you may need to hover over an object for it bit to get specific details. For example, if you had a spoon, the app is likely to say ‘tableware’ first rather than ‘spoon’. After processing for a few seconds, the app would then recognize it as a spoon rather than generic tableware.
The second option on the navigation bar is the Food Label Scanner. This feature uses both the barcode and the label to identify a product. To use, just hold your camera over the barcode for a few seconds, and the app will automatically process the item.
The third option, Quick Read, reads out any short text within the camera frame in real time. To use, just hover your phone over any text you would like read out and press the play button. This feature was extremely impressive. For English text (we didn’t test it with others), the AI read the text accurately even when it was upside down. Further, it worked when the document was crooked as well as upside down. This is a great accessibility feature as many individuals with vision impairment may be unable to discern the orientation of their text. So far, I think that Google Lookout is the best app for reading text.
The fourth button is the Document Scanner. This can be used for longer pieces of text or any text you would like to be read more accurately. To use this feature, hold your camera over the document and the app will give you verbal instructions on how to align yourself. Then, press the camera button and the app will automatically begin to read aloud the contents of your document. Like Quick Read, Document Scanner can also read text upside down.
The next button is the Currency Reader. Currently, this only supports USD, Euros, and Indian Rupees. It also only identifies notes, not coins. So, it’s still pretty limited. It did identify USD quickly and easily, even when the note was folded. But its limitations make it difficult to recommend.
The most recent addition is an images feature which is still in beta. This feature describes the contents of an image, giving both details and a summary of it.
Overall, Google Lookout is a great app to have on your phone if you have a visual impairment. Most of the features are quick and accurate. However, the Currency Reader needs some work as it fails to cater to enough different currencies and nationalities.
Supersense (iOS and Android)
Supersense is a free AI object recognition app that’s available on both iOS and Android, which comes with a paid subscription option. The free version of the app comes with unlimited access to the Magnifier, Quick Read, Import Mode, and Read History. The premium plan includes all the free features as well as unlimited access to the Smart Scanner, Document Reader, Multipage Scanner, Currency Reader, Barcode Scanner, Explore Environment Mode, Find Objects, and Scene Describer. The app comes with two modes, these are Read Mode and Explore Mode. You can switch between these by pressing the E or R button in the top right corner of the screen.
The app automatically opens to Read Mode. Within this, there are nine options. These are Smart Scanner, Quick Read, Document, Multipage, Currency, Barcode, Magnifier, Import Images or PDFs, and Read History. The layout of the app is simple and easy to navigate, particularly with a screen reader.
The app opens on Smart Scanner. This feature automatically detects any text on the screen, determines what type it is, and then reads it out to you. Using this, you can scan and read barcodes, letters, documents, books, currency, and more.
The second feature is Quick Read. This was a quick and accurate way to read out pieces of short text. To use this feature, simply hold your camera over any text that you want read out. Like other short text features, the app will read out everything within the camera’s view, so it’s best to use this on pieces of text surrounded by lots of white space.
Document allows you to scan longer pages of text. The app uses voice commands to instruct you on how to position your phone. Once the document is aligned, the app will automatically take a photo and process it. Once done, the text is transcribed and read aloud. You can fast-forward the text-to-speech, which will skip it to the next paragraph. On the transcription, you can adjust the font size and invert the color contrast.
Multipage can be used to scan multiple pages of text. Like with the document scanner, the app will transcribe the document onto your screen which is then automatically read aloud. To test this feature, we used two pages of an open book which was quick and accurate. This feature is a far better tool for reading books and textbooks compared to other AI recognition apps on this list.
The Currency Reader can identify USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, and CAD. Although its range is limited, this was one of the best currency readers that we tested. None of the other ones have been able to identify Scottish notes, however, this one did so with no problem. On top of this, this feature had a quick processing time. However, this feature did have some trouble recognizing pound coins. Like the others, it’s only suitable for identifying banknotes, not coins.
The next feature is the Barcode Reader. To use this feature, simply place your camera over the barcode and the app will automatically take a photo. Then, the app reads out the product name, which you can click on to get more product information such as a description, an ingredients list, and nutritional information. Out of all the apps mentioned on this list, we found this barcode reader was the best. However, like the other barcode readers, it did not recognize the barcode of my book. If you’re looking to identify books, then it’s best to use the short text feature. Alternatively, use an app like Google Lens.
A great feature within this app is the Magnifier. To magnify, simply drag the button on a bar at the top of the screen. The zoom remains clear throughout and there’s also an option to put the screen in contrasting colors.
The Import Image or PDF feature allows you to submit any photo from your gallery or any PDF from your phone for the app to identify. This will identify what the object is as well as any text from the image. After processing, both are automatically read aloud.
Read History shows everything that you’ve processed through Read Mode in a list. It will show what feature was used and a description of what the object or text was. You can share or delete any of these items.
Once you switch to Explore Mode, there are three different features. These are Object Explorer, Find, and Scene Describer.
Object Explorer allows you to point your camera around your surroundings and it will notify you of any objects of interest. To use, just point your camera around the room and the app will flag any significant objects. You can also tap the screen to identify specific objects. This feature was good but not great. Response times were pretty quick, however, the AI struggled to identify basic items such as cups and mugs.
The Find feature allows you to select from a list of items that the app can look for. This includes things such as bathroom items, hobby items, traffic, and more. Once you have chosen, move your camera around and the app will scan for items in this category. It will start beeping once the item has been found. The app will also make a voice announcement to inform you specifically of what the item is. We found that this worked very well for some items and not so well for others. For example, this feature was great for identifying electronic items but, once again, it had problems identifying cups and mugs.
Scene Describer allows you to take a photo of your surroundings for the AI to process and read aloud to you. To use it, just point your camera towards the scene you would like described and then tap a button at the bottom of the screen. You can also save these images to your gallery. This feature was around 75% accurate. Compared to the others we tested, it could have been better.
Google Assistant (iOS and Android)
Google Assistant is a free virtual assistant app that you can control via voice commands. For users who have trouble with speech, there’s also an option to type your requests. Google Assistant can be used for a variety of everyday tasks. This includes tasks such as hands-free calling, setting alarms, getting directions, playing music, and setting reminders.
Arguably, Google Assistant is better than Siri in many ways. I’ve found it doesn’t take as long to process requests, it’s more responsive to voice activation, and it’s easier to give commands in multiple formats (for example, typing instead of voice commands).
Personally, if you have an iOS device, I recommend that you download Google Assistant instead of using Siri. To use Google Assistant with an iOS device, you need to open the app before making a voice request. Which for some people with visual impairments, could be considered a downside. However, if you put in a shortcut which you can find out how to do here, then you can use Google Assistant on iOS without having to open the app first.
In my opinion, it’s the faster and better option.
Siri is a pre-installed feature that comes with all iOS devices. It works with voice commands to complete tasks hands-free. The uses of Siri are largely varied. From sending texts, to getting directions, to Google searches, Siri can do mostly anything.
For iOS users that do not want to have to install Google Assistant, Siri is a straightforward option. However, there are some faults with Siri. Firstly, it can be somewhat slow. I’ve noticed this is a big problem when asking Siri to play music. Especially, when asking for particular songs. Secondly, it often doesn’t recognize commands or will ask you to repeat yourself frequently.
It’s not a terrible voice assistant, but it’s not a great one either.
WayAround (iOS and Android)
WayAround is an NFC (Near Field Communication) labeling system that works with a free corresponding app. It’s a system created specifically for people with vision loss, by people with vision loss. After buying a set of smart tags from the WayAround store, you can tag any object you would like. Then, add these tags to the app with any relevant information about the object. Once you’ve done this, you can scan the smart tags with the app and get on-demand information about your items.
WayAround is a great way to get detailed information about tagged items. After tagging, you can write a description of up to 2,000 characters about your items. Using the app’s smart fields, you can also add additional information such as expiration dates, ingredients, and laundry instructions – just to name a few.
The multi-functional smart tags can be bought in a variety of different formats. Some of these designs include machine-washable smart buttons, plastic clips, magnets, and stickers. You can buy these in single packs as well as mixed starter packs.
Cash Reader (iOS and Android)
Many people with vision impairment have cited Cash Reader as the best money reader app available. Specifically created for people with vision impairment, this app has been designed with accessibility in mind.
To use, start by selecting your currency. If you’re unsure of the currency, then select all currencies mode instead - note that this is more likely to be inaccurate. Then, hold your phone over a banknote. The value will be read out and displayed on the screen in large bright letters. Alternatively, you can use the app in privacy mode which will indicate the value through vibrations instead of speech. This is great for noisy areas or for when you need privacy.
Compared to Seeing AI, Cash Reader has a far larger selection of currencies to choose from. In fact, it’s the money reader that identifies the largest number of currencies. So, it’s a good option for people that use less widely used currencies.
You don’t need to hold a note in a particular orientation for the app to identify it. This is a great accessibility feature for people with vision impairment as they may not know the orientation of the note. The app also works offline, so you don’t need to worry about having an internet connection to access your money.
We found some faults with the app. Despite selecting Scottish pounds, the app struggled to identify the £20. Though, the £10 was identified without any issue. This seems to be a common problem for money readers. We can only assume this is due to the ever-changing designs on the Scottish notes. If you’re Scottish and visually impaired, the banknotes come with braille to differentiate their values which may help.
Color Inspector (iOS)
Color Inspector is a free color identification app available on iOS. To use, simply point your camera at the object you would like color identified. The app uses a magnified square in the middle of the screen to pinpoint the exact spot you want to know the color of. You can also increase the size of this square to get more accurate results. The app has a button to turn your flash on for times when you’re in low-light areas.
The app works with VoiceOver to announce any colors that the camera passes over. A great aspect of this app is that the color descriptions are detailed and accurate. Many AI object recognition apps have very basic color descriptions. For example, an AI recognition app would simply recognize something as yellow or brown, whereas Color Inspector would recognize it as dark gold.
Examine Clothes Color (iOS)
Examine Clothes Color is a free color and pattern identification app available on iOS. This app has specifically been designed for people with visual impairments.
Once you open the app, simply take a photo of the clothing by pressing the examine button at the bottom of the screen. The app will then automatically read aloud to you the colors of the clothing item as well as the pattern on it. This app has a straightforward layout and is pretty accurate.
However, the examine button at the bottom could be slightly bigger as it could be difficult for users with visual impairments to click on it first time around. On top of this, the text description of the previous item overlaps slightly with the examine button, making it more difficult to take multiple photos in one go.
Within the visually impaired community, BlindSquare is one of the most popular GPS navigation apps. This app gives you useful information about locations around you and can be used in conjunction with other navigators like Google Maps or Apple Maps. The app will also describe your surrounding terrain and warn you of upcoming intersections.
When you first open the app, you are presented with a long list of place categories. For example, Arts & Entertainment, Restaurants, and Colleges & Universities – just to name a few. At the top of the app, there is also a navigation bar that has functions such as Search, Add Place, Tools, FourSquare, Other, Filters, and Mute Speech.
To use the app, you can either search for a specific location or choose a category from the app’s list. Once you’ve selected your category, the app will show you a list of the closest and most popular places. After selecting a destination, in-app you’ll be able to get contact info, open the restaurant’s menu or Twitter feed, make a phone call, start tracking the place (using clock directions from where you are), and use a navigator (such as Google Maps or Apple Maps) to get turn by turn directions to your destination.
The app knows if you’re traveling by car, train, or bus and will announce interesting places in front of you as well as street crossings as you pass them.
This is a paid app that, as of 2022, will set you back $39.99 in the App Store. On top of this, the app charges an additional fee for using voice commands. However, unlike many other apps, it doesn’t use a monthly subscription method. Instead, you’re just paying a flat fee, making it one of the more cost-effective apps for people with vision impairment.
Though, BlindSquare has some downsides. Firstly, as it’s GPS-based, it isn’t completely accurate. Due to this, it will probably only get you within 15-30 yards of your intended destination. This means the app is better for longer journeys (one mile plus) rather than short journeys. Secondly, because it’s constantly running GPS, this app can drain your battery. Lastly, because it doesn’t give turn-by-turn instructions, it must be used alongside another navigator. These are all things to consider before purchasing.
Though, BlindSquare has some downsides. Firstly, as it’s GPS-based, it isn’t completely accurate. Due to this, it will probably only get you within 15-30 yards of your intended destination. This means the app is better for longer journeys (one mile plus) rather than short journeys. Secondly, because it’s constantly running GPS, this app can drain your battery. Lastly, because it doesn’t give turn-by-turn instructions, it must be used alongside another navigator. These are all things to consider before purchasing.
Google Maps (iOS and Android)
Google Maps is a very popular app among people in the low-vision and blind community. It’s the most data-rich GPS app on the market, so the directions are likely to be of a higher quality than other navigators. It’s also completely free which makes it a widely accessible option.
Google Maps comes with an assortment of accessibility features. One frequently used by low-vision and blind users is the detailed descriptions feature. This feature notifies you when you’re approaching a turn, if you leave your route, or if you’re coming up to an intersection. The app is easy-to-navigate and compatible with screen readers. The app also allows you to check the accessibility of public transport before boarding.
Google Maps has real-time traffic information. Many people with vision impairment rely on public transport, so this lets them plan trips accordingly.
Microsoft Soundscape (iOS)
Soundscape is a free 3D-sound navigation app created by Microsoft that uses audio beacons to guide you to your destination. As you pass places of interest, the app will flag them up by speaking in your right or left ear which indicates where it is in relation to you.
As a sighted person testing this in a familiar area, I have to say, there were aspects of this app that confused me. For example, the audio beacon feature doesn’t give you traditional instructions such as left, right, or straight ahead. Instead, it uses tonal shifts to indicate which direction you should be going. A low pitch indicates you’re going in the wrong direction whilst the highest pitch indicates you’re going in the right direction. Without left and right commands, it felt like I already had to know where I was going rather than the app doing this for me. Furthermore, the tones weren’t frequent at the beginning. It was only as I neared my destination that they became more noticeable. This made the start of my journey somewhat difficult.
Due to its lack of directions, Soundscape must be used in conjunction with another navigator such as Google Maps or Apple Maps. Due to this, sometimes the audios overlap which can make the directions unclear and confusing. Things are made more confusing by the fact that directions from Soundscape and Google Maps often contradict each other. Furthermore, this app could be dangerous for navigating traffic-heavy areas. Especially, because you must wear headphones to use Soundscape. If you aren’t using this app with bone conduction headphones, then we recommend that you only use it in pedestrian areas such as malls. Also, as this app relies on tonal shifts, good hearing is needed to follow the navigator. Therefore, Soundscape is unlikely to be helpful if you have both vision and hearing impairments.
Although not the best for navigating to a specific location, Soundscape is great for making a mental map of your surroundings. Navigating in 3D space can allow you to get a better feel for your environment and help you familiarize yourself with the exact location of essential places such as bus stops, shops, and ATMs.
After seeing multiple people with visual impairments review this app, their consensus seems similar. This app is great for surroundings awareness and knowing where points of interest are, but not so great for getting you from A to B.
Magnifying Glass + Flashlight (iOS and Android)
Magnifying Glass + Flashlight is a free magnification app available on iOS and Android. Although the uses are unlimited, magnification apps are commonly used to read items such as menus, prescription bottles, and food packaging.
To use the app, just hold your phone over what you would like to magnify. Anywhere on the screen, simply swipe forwards to zoom in and backward to zoom out. To freeze the image, just press down on the screen. The frozen image can be saved to your gallery using a button on the bottom right-hand side of your screen.
The app comes with a built-in flashlight which can be adjusted using a bar at the bottom of the screen. Though, I found this bar overly small. Frequently, it adjusted the magnification rather than the flash. Ironically, overly small buttons and text were a continual problem throughout the app. I also had problems with the flash which came on automatically every time I opened the app. Which in public, can be inconvenient.
There were a few more downsides to the app. One is that it comes with ads which can be an interference, particularly for people with vision impairment. The second is that with the free version, you have no access to different color contrast filters. To unlock no ads and high contrast mode, you have to upgrade to pro which is $1.99.
Overall, this is not a bad free magnification app. The flash feature can make it a good option for people with light-perception difficulties. The simple swipe to zoom also makes it a good option for people with dexterity issues as there’s no need to use overly small control bars to magnify. If you use a screen reader, then purchasing pro to get rid of the ads may make the app easier to use. However, the magnification feature on apps such as Envision and Supersense does the same thing in a more accessible format.
WeZoom is a free no-ads magnification app for Android users. The layout is simple and easy to navigate, making it a good option for screen-reader users
To magnify, simply use a swiping motion anywhere on the screen. This is a great accessibility feature as it means there’s no need to use overly small control bars. The app provides smooth magnification for up to x8. You can also freeze-frame your magnification by using the pause button. This lets you get a better look at your magnification away from the item. You can save these freeze-frames to your gallery and share them via social media or messaging.
WeZoom comes with a variety of high-contrast filters that you can add to your magnification. Currently, the filters available are black/white, black/yellow, blue/white, blue/yellow, and black/green. This is a great accessibility feature.
Tiny Scanner (iOS and Android)
Tiny Scanner is a free app that can scan text documents and convert them into digital PDFs on your phone.
To use the app, click the plus symbol to open your camera. Once you’ve taken the photo, you can crop the image so that it only picks up the text you need. After this, the app will turn the text into a PDF. From here, you can increase the color contrast which will darken the text and make it easier to read. You can also convert the PDF into color, greyscale, and picture formats.
Converting your text into a PDF improves the text’s clarity. The PDF format also lets you zoom in and out of the document, allowing you to read smaller text. Any documents you make can either be shared as a PDF or a JPG.
BARD (iOS and Android)
The BARD app is a free library app for people with vision impairment. It’s part of the US National Library Service, so it’s a completely free service. Only eligible users who have enrolled in the program have access to the collection. However, if you’re a US citizen with a visual impairment that prevents you from reading regular text, then you are likely to be eligible for the service.
The service gives you access to their collection of audiobooks, audio magazines, braille books, and braille magazines. Their collection also includes music instructions and scores. The collection has tens of thousands of options, often updated daily. You can download any of these items for a set amount of time. Users have a download limit of 100 books every 30 days. If you’re a big reader, then this is a great option since paid reading services can quickly become expensive.
The app has been specifically designed for blind and low-vision users, meaning it has a simple layout that works well with a screen reader. The app also has a variety of different features that improve accessibility. Audio playback speed is customizable on all audiobooks and audio magazines. For braille books, you can enable an auto-scroll feature which you can customize, allowing you to read at a pace that suits you. Auto-scroll also means you don’t need to press any keys, making it a good option for users with mobility problems.
Libby by Overdrive (iOS and Android)
Libby is a free app that pairs with your library card to access your local library’s digital collection. This includes audiobooks, e-books, and magazines. Depending on your library, options will differ, but most libraries have a great selection of all three. If you have a membership with a library specifically for people with visual impairments, then you are more likely to have access to a large selection of audiobooks.
The app allows you to customize font size, color palette, font style, typeface, line spacing, and weight. It also allows you to use Open Dyslexic font on any novel, making it more accessible for people with reading disabilities. All e-books and magazines work with the Speak feature on your phone, meaning any print book can be read as an audiobook.
All audiobook playback speeds are completely customizable. Libby also comes with a night timer, meaning the audiobook turns itself off after a certain time. This might be a useful feature for individuals with low mobility who may have difficulty exiting an audiobook.
Libby comes with several different accessibility features such as reduced color variation, reduce text variation, and reduced motion. The only downside to this app is the design. The layout can come across as a little confusing and it doesn’t translate all that well on a screen reader. There are quite a lot of unnecessary labels and links, so it may take some time to get your bearings with the app. However, if you can get over this, then it’s a great way to access a large selection of free books.
BorrowBox Library (iOS and Android)
Like Libby, BorrowBox is a free app that connects to your library account and gives you access to your local library’s digital collection. This includes any e-books, audiobooks, and magazines that your library owns digital copies of. You can download any of this collection for a set amount of time, completely free of charge.
BorrowBox has similar accessibility features to the other reading apps such as customizable playback speed, complete page customization, Open Dyslexic font, and screen reader compatibility.
Audible (iOS and Android)
Audible can be a great way for people with vision impairment to read. In the US, Audible is the largest provider and producer of audiobooks, making it a good option if you’re looking for new releases or less popular novels.
Audible is a paid service. It works on a monthly subscription method which gives you access to one or two credits a month, depending on your subscription. One credit equates to one book. Credits can roll over onto the next month if they aren’t used. Alternatively, you can buy audiobooks individually. However, this can quickly become very expensive. Whereas the average book would set you back somewhere around $14.99, a single audiobook on Audible can cost around $30.
The app layout is simple and works well with a screen reader. The app uses large buttons, making it more visible for low-vision users. There’s also a button’s-free mode, which uses gestures anywhere on the screen to control the app. For many people with a visual impairment, this can make controlling the app a lot simpler. The one downside of the app is that I feel some text is a little on the small and narrow side. This becomes particularly noticeable when the app is in dark mode. However, if you’re a screen reader user then this is less of an issue.
Audiobooks.com (iOS and Android)
An alternative option to Audible is Audiobooks.com. Both are nearly identical in terms of concept and business model; both work by using a monthly subscription service. Your subscription gets you one credit a month which equates to one audiobook a month. However, sometimes the app does member deals in which you can get two audiobooks for the price of one. Members can also purchase additional credits which give them access to more books.
The app offers over 350,000+ different titles and over 100 million podcast episodes. If you find your local library’s collection lacks variety, then this may be a good alternative.
The app layout is clear and easy to use. However, like Audible, I thought some of their text could be challenging to read. Particularly, the narrow white font on the bright orange background. So, if you’re low vision and don’t use a screen reader then I would suggest increasing your font size in settings before using this app.
Storytel (iOS and Android)
Storytel is a non-English speaking alternative to Audible and Audiobooks.com. Storytel owns both Audiobooks.com (for English-speaking audiences) and Mofibo (for Danish-speaking audiences). As of 2022, it operates in 26 different countries.
Like other audiobook apps, Storytel operates on a monthly subscription basis. Alternatively, you can purchase annual plans as well. A monthly subscription gives you unlimited access to the Storytel collection – unlike the credit-based audiobook apps. Although, this changes slightly depending on your country.
The app is simple and easy to use. Compared to the other audiobook apps, I found that the text-to-background contrast ratio was much better. Storytel offers the same accessibility options that the previous two do with customizable playback speed, a sleep timer, and offline listening.
Librivox (iOS and Android)
Librivox is a free public-domain audiobook app. The app uses volunteer narrators, making the service completely free. Since all the audiobooks are in the public domain, they’re mostly classics by authors such as Charles Dickens and Herman Melville.
Librivox has audiobooks in a multitude of different languages. You have unlimited downloads, so it’s a great option if you’re a big reader. Within the app, you can control listening speed, easily skip to specific chapters, and set playback timers.
The only downside to Librivox is that because the service relies on volunteer narrators, the narration quality isn’t always great. Some audiobooks have multiple versions, narrated by different people. So, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Altogether, this is a great, cost-effective way of reading.
Kindle (iOS and Android)
Like Audible, Kindle is a paid reading service created by Amazon. However, instead of audiobooks, Kindle is a text print book service. The app is free to download, however, you must buy individual books or use a monthly subscription service to access # the Kindle library. Kindle often has book offers which can make it a cheaper option than traditional print.
The Kindle app can be a good option for low-vision users as it offers a host of customizable reading features. This includes custom font and size, brightness, color palettes, and line spacing for any books you’re reading. You can also have your phone read any Kindle books back to you using Speak (iOS) or Select to Speak (Android).
Apple Books is a reading app that comes pre-installed on all iOS devices. To read using Apple Books, you need to buy them from the in-app bookstore. However, there’s also a large selection of public domain books available for free in the store.
Apple Books includes a multitude of accessibility features such as customizable font, font size, color palettes, line spacing, character spacing, word spacing, and bold text. Like the Kindle app, you can also have the screen read back to you, using your accessibility settings.
Apple Pay (iOS)
Apple Pay can be a useful feature for individuals with vision impairment. To activate it, you simply press the power button twice. This will open your wallet with all your cards in one place. Alternatively, you can also open it using the app. For security, you either need to use your Face ID or Fingerprint ID to unlock your contactless cards.
For people with vision impairment, cards can present a problem. Much of the time, it’s hard to distinguish them from each other through touch alone. With Apple Pay, you can store all of your cards on your phone. With VoiceOver activated, you can easily tell each card apart. Using Apple Pay also saves you from having to root around your bag for your cards, so it’s a very convenient option. Apple has also come out with an Express Cards feature which allows you to use your Apple Wallet whilst your phone is in reserve mode. This feature mainly works for travel passes.
Apple Wallet isn’t just limited to cards, you can upload boarding passes, train tickets, and loyalty cards as well.
Google Pay (Android)
Google Pay is a convenient way for Android users to use contactless via their phone. Like Apple Wallet, you can store and access all your cards from one app. When used with TalkBack, cards can be easily identified, preventing you from having to identify cards by touch.
To use Google Pay, you need a Google account that’s connected to your phone number. You then must download Google Wallet from the Play Store. Once you’ve added your cards, you can access your Google Wallet from your lock screen, making contactless payments easier. Like Apple Pay, this prevents you from having to look around your bag for your cards.
StoCard (iOS and Android)
StoCard is a free loyalty card app that’s available on iOS and Android. With this app, you can store all your loyalty cards in one place.
Without any raised bank numbers, store cards can be even more difficult to discern than bank cards. Used with VoiceOver, StoCard can easily identify each card, meaning that you don’t have to miss out on points. You can also redeem rewards and vouchers using this app, so it can be a good way to save money.
This app supports most major retailers including grocery stores, coffee shops, fast-food joints, and high-street stores. StoCard isn’t just limited to loyalty cards. You can store cinema tickets, boarding passes, and gift cards within the app too.
Travelear is a free 3D-sound travel app. The app connects to your headphones and delivers a selection of immersive 3D soundscapes from around the world, allowing you to travel from your phone.
Within the app, there’s a large selection of binaural soundscapes. You can select these from a list or explore the options using a map. Many of the audios are free, however, some are a premium feature. Simply click on the soundscape you want, put your headphones in, and let the audio transport you to another country.
Earcatch (iOS and Android)
Earcatch is a free app that allows you to download audio descriptions for movies, shows, and stage performances. The app plays the descriptions through your headphones, so it can be used at home, in cinemas, or at the theatre.
To use, simply choose something to watch. Once in the app, select the title you’re watching and press play. The app will detect which bit of the movie you’re watching, and the audio description will automatically sync with it.
The app is originally German, so most available audio descriptions are in German. However, there is an English version of the app which has a smaller movie selection. We presume that they’ll expand the movie selection in due time.
Uber (iOS and Android)
Since many people with visual impairments cannot drive, many rely on public transport and taxi services. Uber is one of the most widely used taxi services across the globe. Currently, it’s available in more than 80 countries.
The Uber app is free to download, and the taxi fares are usually fairly low compared to their local competitors. The app also comes with several safety features such as share journey, driver ratings, and an emergency button. The app also has a feature called RideCheck which notifies the app if your car has stopped for an unusually long time or if it looks like there may have been an accident. The Uber app is also compatible with iOS VoiceOver and Android TalkBack.
However, it must be noted that Uber drivers have no official qualifications. Anyone can apply to become an Uber driver, so it’s always a good idea to check driver ratings and notify friends or family if you’re making an Uber journey.
National Rail Enquiries (iOS and Android)
Although public transport varies greatly from country to country, many cities have apps for their public transport systems. Often, these apps will notify you of arrival/departure times, routes, and other important information.
National Train is a free app for UK railway users. Many times, essential travel information such as platform numbers, journey stops, and destinations are put on above-head screens. Not only are these far away, but they often have moving text as well as a poor background-to-text contrast ratio. Apps such as National Train allow you to access this information from your phone which can be easily read back to you using VoiceOver or TalkBack. This can make using public transport easier and take some of the anxiety out of it.
Braille Tutor (iOS)
Braille tutor is a free app on iOS for anyone looking to learn or practice contracted braille (Unified English Braille). The app is specifically created for iPad devices, the bigger screen is needed to accommodate the on-screen braille keyboard. All Grade One lessons come free with the app; Grade Two lessons can be purchased in-app if you’re looking to widen your learning.
The app is self-voiced, so you don’t need to turn on VoiceOver, but it also works with Apple accessibility settings. The app uses different sounds and a text-to-speech feature to support users with visual impairments.
You can connect the app to a Bluetooth keyboard to receive kinesthetic feedback as you type. The app also supports refreshable braille displays.
Brailliac: Braille Tutor (Android)
Brailliac is a free braille-learning app available for Android devices. The app comes with several different learning modes. These include Targeted Practice Mode, Challenge Mode, Translation Mode, and Options Mode.
Targeted Practice Mode identifies what symbols you need help with. Challenge Mode lets you compete in time trials against your friends. In Translation Mode, you can translate sentences to and from braille. The app also comes with a built-in braille dictionary, allowing you to quickly search and find the symbols you need.
Brailliac supports the following braille codes and languages:
- Unified English Braille
- Swedish Braille
- Czech Braille
- Slovak Braille
- Tamil Braille
- Spanish Braille
Braille Scanner (iOS)
Braille Scanner is a free braille reader available on iOS. Braille Scanner can scan a page of braille and instantly convert it into text. This can then be read out using text-to-speech or be copy and pasted into other applications.
Currently, the app only recognizes Unified English Braille (UEB Grade One), also known as uncontracted braille. The app uses auto-detection to identify single pages of braille. As the app receives more feedback, the machine learning function will expand and, hopefully, recognize braille in more formats.
Tags: Assistive Tech
First posted Nov 2022