Review: Smartphone Apps and Resources for People with Vision Loss or Impairment, by Kelly Short
That smartphone in your hand may be even smarter than you think—there’s a good chance it has a screen magnifier built right in to make the text and images on the screen larger, and text-to-speech so it can read the text on the screen, like your emails or a webpage. Before going further, it’s also worth pointing out that as smart as they are, these phones are not for everyone—there’s a learning curve, they rely on finger gestures that may not be easy for some, and that learning curve—well, how patient are you really?
There are two popular types of smartphone, the Apple iPhone, and nearly all of the others which use Google’s operating system called Android. Both phones rely on software applications, called apps, to do tasks, like email, going to websites, listening to music, etc. Many times, an app made for the iPhone is not available for the Android phone, and vice versa.
Likewise, those features, like text-to-speech and screen magnification are done differently on the two types of phones. For example, the text-to-speech screen reader called VoiceOver on Apple’s iPhone uses different gestures than TalkBack, the screen reader used on Android phones. Sure there are some similarities, but it might take some time to go from one to the other.
For the smart phone user who wants to learn how to use the screen reader, screen magnifier, and some of the Accessibility Apps, all of this can be a bit much to make sense of. Fortunately, Kelly Short’s guide, “Smartphone Apps and Resources for People with Vision Loss or Impairment,” online at SeniorLiving.org does a great job of explaining some of the basics between the smartphones, and highlights some of the most popular apps, by category, and which type of phone the app works on.
The Smartphone Apps and Resources guide describes the basic accessibility features in the first two section, “Built-in Apple Accessibility,” and “Built-in Android Accessibility.” These are not intended to be comprehensive overviews for either screen reader, but enough information to help you find them and get an overview of how they work.
This is followed by, “Standalone Apps for People with Poor Vision,” a brief review of some of the most useful apps for users with a vision loss. Here, Short categorizes many pf the apps, gives a brief description, and indicates which phone each is available for. Categories include: Sighted Assistance Apps for a Variety of Tasks; Real-Time Apps for Scene Description, Objects, Faces, Light and Much More; Navigation Apps; Text Recognition; All Around Communications Apps; and Book, News and Film Apps. Even for the smartphone user who is familiar with the accessibility features on their phone will find this section handy, to check out apps they may not have found or tried yet. It is arguably one of the best overviews of the wide range of accessible apps, and a great starting point for the beginning user.
Several apps not included in this list worth mentioning, include the following:
Voice Dream Reader: (Available on iPhone and iPad). Voice Dream Reader is one of the most accessible reading apps available and works seamlessly with the Bookshare service, to import books, documents, and webpages, enlarge and manipulate the text style and color to make it more legible. It also has a built-in screen reader which makes it ideal for the low vision user who only uses text-to-speech when reading longer documents.
Voice Dream Scanner: (Available on iPhone and iPad). Voice Dream Scanner is one of the most popular scanning apps for iPhone or iPad. Users can take a picture or import image files that are then processed into text that can be read using text-to-speech, or enlarged and changed for easier readability.
Speak!: (Available on Android). Speak! is a free app for quickly reading a document, and scanning objects like barcodes, color, and money.
NFB Newsline: (Available on iPhone and iPad). Newsline is a service provided by the National Federation of the Blind, and available in most states for individuals unable to access printed text. It provides access to hundreds of newspapers and magazines across the U.S., making them accessible through text-to-speech, via a telephone, an iPhone/iPad app, or on the Amazon Echo. A bonus on the Newsline App is a no cost version of the KNFB Reader, an app that will convert a picture of a document into text and read it out-loud with text-to-speech.
In addition to smartphone accessibility and a comprehensive review of apps, this guide includes an overview of “Smart Home Devices and Apps,” and “Voice Activated Assistants.” Like the sections on smartphone accessibility, this section is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but rather an introduction to what is available with smart devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home Assistant, and Siri on Apple devices. The description on Smart Home Devices keeps the explanation simple and practical with several great examples.
To wrap up the guide, Short includes final sections on: “Helping Seniors with Poor Vision Remain Independent;” “Additional Resources;” and “References and Footnotes.” “Helping Seniors,” provides some practical advice for friends and relatives supporting the elders in their lives. Tips include fall prevention, lighting, medication tracking, home modifications, and more. For readers looking for more information Short includes both the references used for the guide, including links directly to Apple Accessibility and Google’s Android Accessibility Help, and additional helpful links.
If you’re trying to sort out some the differences between smartphones and their accessibility features for vision, Kelly Short’s “Smartphone Apps and Resources for People with Vision Loss or Impairment,” really does a great job of putting this information together in a relatively short, readable guide. Beginners, or more experienced users, will find the categorized list of apps really handy, and there’s a good chance nearly all smartphone users will find an app listed that they haven’t tried.
This article first appeared on VisionAware.