A blind man using his phone

Modern technologies, especially mobile apps, are currently one of the biggest helpers for the blind and partially sighted.  Although some people still think that when a person can’t see, they can’t use a cellphone, smartphone and apps in it today can in many cases even replace the eyesight. In the following article you will find tips for 4 apps that I love myself and would recommend to others. 

Voiceover

Before we get into the apps themselves, I can’t forget to mention Voiceover. It’s a built-in screen reader available for every Apple device that actually makes me control the entire iPhone. Basically, the synthetic voice reads text on the screen where I’m touching with my finger.  Making special gestures on the screen enables me to control the device’s desktop, select items and viewing iPhone content including apps. With Voiceover, it is even possible to write on the touch keyboard and generally work with text.

A blind man holding his phone and using it with gestures
A blind man using Voiceover on his phone

1. KNFB Reader

I’ll start with the application I value the most as a student, namely KNFB Reader. It is the most expensive of all applications in this article (the price is around 100 Euros)but also the most useful and high-quality one. It is basically a small scanner with an OCR device that fits easily in your pocket.

The application works that way, that it uses the camera to take a picture of printed text (e.g. contract, magazine or textbook), converts it to a text format using OCR, and then reads it aloud. The action itself takes only a few seconds. Thanks to the advanced settings, it can turn automatic page capture on or off, which means that the blind can place the iPhone above the document, and once the whole document appears, the app takes a direct picture of it. You can also set a tilt or page margin indication. There are also several language options to choose from when recognizing text.

The last interesting feature is the ability to save the document or use the app to recognize the photo that we took earlier and we want to find out what is in it. For example, if we want to see what’s on the bulletin board, we simply take a picture of the document, and when we have time, we can go back to it and make the OCR do it’s job.

Unfortunately there are also some minor negatives. One of them might be the need of an appropriate lighting and a lot of contrast between the sheet and the background when taking the pictures. Sometimes I have experienced also problems recognizing text divided into columns.

2. Seeing AI

Seeing AI is a free app similar to the KNFB reader, which even offers much more functions. Except “document” one, that makes basically the same as the previously mentioned KNFB reader, however with less features and I would dare to say also inaccuracies, is the function “short text. Meant mainly for reading for example door signs, it makes the whole process much easier because there is no need of taking a picture as it reads the text directly after pointing the camera to it.

Another function is the “Product” that scans a barcode and finds it in a database and tells the name of it. This is quite handy, however might be quite complicated for a totally blind person to find a barcode on the product. Moreover some products are not present in the database.

The function “person” brings more of a fun element to the app as it recognizes faces and is able to guess person’s hair color, mood or even the age. This means that this app is also great for making fun among your friends or family. 

The “person” is followed by “currency”, that recognizes the value of money notes, as the name says, and “Color” and ”Scene” preview . Those two are currently just being tested but they work quite well.  The preview of “Handwriting” brings us an unique chance to have a written text recognized. However, the worse is the handwriting, the worse is the recognition. 

The last function is “Light”, a function that is primarily designed for the totally blind. It can determine the intensity of light and indicate it by making a sound. So when I head the camera of my iPhone to the window, the tone increases and vice versa. Practically it can then be used when the blind wants to know if the light is turned off or not.

A hand holding an iphone with the Seeing AI launched
Seeing AI

3. Voice Dream

Voice Dream is something for the reading and music lovers. All you have to do is upload a specific file with an audiobook, e-book in a variety of formats or with a music album and listen. For e-books, you can choose, for example, language, a specific voice, and a reading speed. It’s not even a problem to use a bookmark.

 For those who read with their eyes, there is an option to adjust the size, type and color of the font or background color for more comfortable reading. We can move freely in the text. The app is not free, but the price is around ten Euros.

A screenshot of the Voice Dream app. The currrently read text is the Pride and Prejudice which is set as a default book
Voice Dream

 Be my eyes

In the end, I would like to introduce something unprecedented, namely the app “Be my eyes”. It works by using a video call to connect visually impaired users with seeing volunteers. Those will help us with activities where a sighted person is needed. It can range from basic tasks such as determining your food consumption date, reading a document, or helping sign a contract, to navigating or shopping.  All you have to do is press the “connect with the first available volunteer” button. In addition, the app is completely free and is not paid for calls either. All it requires is a sufficient amount of mobile data and a willing person on the other side.

Conclusion

If you liked this article and would like to know about other apps, let me know. Don’t be afraid to share your types or experiences with another apps.

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