Apps for People with Vision Loss

Apps for People with Vision Loss

April 22, 2022

Living with low vision or blindness can present numerous challenges on a day-to-day basis. Simply running errands, preparing meals, recognizing objects, and performing tasks at home or work can become overly complicated and frustrating, to say the least.

Thankfully, there are plenty of mobile applications available to offer assistance to people with visual impairments.  Many of these are low-cost or free.

These image recognition apps let you identify currency, plants, products, and more using your Android or iPhone camera.

A 2021 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology reports that more than 7 million people of all ages in the United States are living with uncorrectable vision loss, including more than 1 million who are living with blindness.

To assist people who have vision loss gain or retain their quality of life, a variety of low vision products and services are available, including a growing number of smart device apps.

While these apps are not a substitute for devices and services provided by a low-vision and other specialists who perform a thorough evaluation of the patient, they may be able to assist patients with a number of everyday tasks.

Magnification

Most smart devices offer options to increase the size of text and images on the screen by swiping or tapping the screen, or through the device’s settings menu. In addition, a sampling of magnification apps includes:

Bigger and Brighter

This is a free magnification app to help users read fine print. It’s available on iOS and Android.

Magnifying Glass with Light

This is an iOS low-vision app that allows users to magnify text and other objects up to 10 times their size. Similar apps are available on Android.

Travel/Getting Around

The GPS technology built into smart phones can provide audio turn-by-turn directions for walking. Locales may provide public transportation routes and schedules to these GPS apps for planning bus or train trips.

A sampling of navigation apps:

Aira

This connects users with trained agents to assist with daily tasks such as giving directions, identifying obstacles, and describing the environment.

Users pay for the service ($29 to $199 per month) but no-cost options may be available at partner locations that include retailers, airports, universities, and more. The app can also be used with Uber, Lyft, and Moovit, an app which helps to navigate public transportation in many cities. Available on iOS and Android.

Ariadne GPS

This offers a talking map that can provide street names and numbers by the user touching the location on the screen. Users can also use voice commands to ask for information about their position. The app costs $4.99 and is available on iOS.

BlindSquare

 This is a GPS-app developed for the blind, deaf/blind, and partially sighted. Paired with third-party navigation apps, BlindSquare’s self-voicing app offers detailed points of interest and intersections for travel both outside and inside. The app costs $39.99 and is available on iOS.

Microsoft Soundscape

 This uses audio 3D technology to describe the environment and also call out intersections, street signs, and other landmarks. The app allows save and share markers created by the user. Available on iOS.

MyMoveo

This allows users to activate Okeenea’s Audible Pedestrian Signals (APS) at crossways and audio beacons at points of interest. (APS devices were recently installed in Manhattan.) Available on iOS and Android.

The NAGDU (National Association of Guide Dog Users)

 This app provides information on state and federal laws regarding service animals to protect the rights of disabled individuals who use service dogs.

Available for the United States and Canada, the app provides information regarding guide dogs in establishments, such as hotels, restaurants, and health facilities, as well as the ability to connect with a live advocate to resolve access issues. Available on iOS.

Navcog

This is a navigation app that allows users to navigate with turn-by-turn guidance, similar to GPS. Available on iOS.

NaviLens

This uses the device’s camera to read NaviLens codes (similar to QR codes) to help users interact with their environment in places such as subway stations, bus stops, museums, or public buildings. New York City’s Metropolitan Transport Authority is currently using NaviLens codes at some of its stops. Available on iOS and Android.

RightHear

This is a virtual accessibility assistant that aids users in orienting themselves to new environments to help make users feel more independent. Using audio guidance, the app provides navigation and point-of-interest information. Available on iOS and Android.

Uber

This can be accessed using tools built into smart phones (VoiceOver for iOS devices and TalkBack for Android devices). Available on iOS and Android.

The vOICe for Android maps live camera

 This views soundscapes, offering augmented reality and visual detail for the blind through sensory substitution and computer vision. It also includes live talking OCR, a talking color identifier, talking compass, talking face detector and a talking GPS locator, while Eye-D and Google Lookout object recognition can be launched by tapping the left or right screen edge.

Where to Go

This helps users find animal relief areas in U.S. airports. Available on iOS and Android.

Talking Books/News/Entertainment

Built-in apps, such as the Apple News app, include audio content. In addition, subscription video services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, offer a secondary audio channel (SAP) that plays video along with an audio description. Additional apps:

Audible

 This Amazon app offers downloadable recorded books. Subscription plans (starting at $14.95 per month) may also include subscriptions to “The New York Times” or “The Wall Street Journal.” Available on iOS and Android.

BARD Mobile

This allows users to download content from the Talking Book Library, the oldest producer of accessible books and magazines, through the BARD website (nlsbard.loc.gov). The service requires enrollment in the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Print Disabled at the Library of Congress. Available on iOS and Android.

Bookshare

This is an online library for individuals who have print disabilities and can download titles as either text or as an MP3 audio file. Android users can access the library through the Go Read app; iOS users can use the Bookshare Read2Go app. The app costs $50 per year and requires verification of vision disability.

Kindle

New models will read books aloud using a Bluetooth speaker, earphones, or Amazon Echo.

Learning Ally Audiobooks

 This is audible content designed for students K-12 who are blind or sighted and learn best by listening. Available on iOS and Android.

Overdrive

 This provides users with audio and text ebooks through its app Libby (for library members) and Sora (for school libraries). When used at a library, the service requires a library card. Available on iOS and Android.

NFB-Newsline

This National Federation of the Blind’s app allows access to over 500 publications, including newspapers, breaking news sources, and magazines. It is a free service available to anyone who is blind, visually impaired, or print disabled. Available on iOS; it can also be accessed via the NFB-Newsline website or through an Amazon Alexa smart speaker.

Task/Activity Asistance

For daily activities, there are apps that can help with learning, occupations, shopping, social interactions, and more.

Built-in smart phone tools for iOS include VoiceOver, a screen reader that provides a description of what is happening on the phone or tablet screen; and Siri, a voice recognition system that allows users to place phone calls, send messages, retrieve information from the web, and more.

Android phones include the built-in TalkBack screen reader app and Google Assistant, which allows users to use many of the phone’s or tablet’s functions using voice commands. Other task-related apps:

Be My Eyes

 This connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a live video call where the user and volunteer can communicate directly to solve a problem. Available on iOS and Android.

BeSpecular

 This sends a photo of an object and user’s voice message to the BeSpecular community of sighted who then reply. Available on Android.

Blind Abilities

 This provides the blind, visually impaired, and deaf/blind with podcasts and blogs dealing with accessibility, technologies, and devices to enhance opportunities in the job market. Available on iOS.

Digit-Eyes

 This reads manufacturer barcodes. Available for $9.99 on iOS. A “Lite” version is available at no cost.

Eyenote

This allows users to scan U.S. paper currency to determine the denomination. Available on iOS.

Lookout–Assisted Vision

This uses computer vision to assist people who have low vision or blindness. Using your phone’s camera, the app provides information to help the user do daily tasks, such as sorting mail, putting away groceries, and more. The app also uses the device’s camera to read text, food labels, currency, and other objects. Available on Android.

My Vision Helper

This helps with magnification, color contrast enhancement, and optical character recognition. Available on iOS for $29.99.

OneStep Reader

This is an optical character recognition app that can read menus, bills, documents, mail, and more. The $99.99 app can read or convert results into braille. Available on iOS and Android.

Pandora

This streaming music service now includes voice commands for a number of features. Available on iOS and Android.

Prizmo

This is an app that allows photo capture, text recognition, and text interaction using the device’s camera. It also offers text-to-speech and accessibility features. Available on iOS.

Seeing AI

This can recognize text and speak text detected by a smart phone camera. It can read information, such as barcodes and product labels, currency, handwriting, and more, as well as detect colors and light levels. Available on iOS.

Smart Braille

This lets users communicate through an app version of braille. Available on Android.

Speaking Email

This voice reader works as a fully voice-operated email app. A sighted assistant is required for initial setup. Available on iOS and Android.

Speechify

This is a text-to-speech audio reader that allows readers to toggle reading speed up to 900 words per minute. Available on iOS and Android.

Spoken Rx

This is a CVS app that tells users which prescription they are holding and how to tag it. Available on iOS and Android.

Talking Calculator

This is an app that provides voiceover support for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Available on iOS and Android.

TapTapSee

This takes photographs of objects and then provides a description aloud. Available on iOS and Android.