Visually Impaired? There’s an App for that.

Want to know how much money you’re holding? How about the color of your shirt? Or maybe you just want to curl up with a book? If you’re one of the over 20 million adults in America alone who suffer from vision loss, these everyday actions can be cumbersome and difficult. What can you do to help with these daily tasks while retaining your independence?

Reach for your iPad, of course.

As technology becomes increasingly intuitive and user-friendly, more and more visually impaired people are embracing high-tech solutions for their everyday needs. And while of the 20,000 apps developed each month, many are, shall we say, less than useful (for only $1.99, “Melon Meter” uses the iPhone’s microphone to measure the ripeness of watermelons!), several developers are using the capabilities of modern technology to aid visually impaired individuals in innovative ways. We’ve taken a look at just a handful of such apps now available for iOS (most of which you can get for the low, low price of FREE!):

TapTapSee (FREE) Download here

An OT demonstrates the TapTapSee app for a man and a woman, using an iPad to identify a fire extinguisher.

TapTapSee identifies objects, from a fire extinguisher to a car.

Billed as a “mobile camera application designed specifically for the blind and visually impaired,” TapTapSee allows the user to take a picture of any object and have it identified within seconds. The device then speaks the identification aloud to the user.

Beyond its accuracy, what makes TapTapSee so impressive is its specificity. That’s not just a can, nor is it just a can of soup – it’s a can of “Campbell’s Tomato Soup.” That’s not just a car, it’s a “White Honda Accord.” Even those tiny little packets of condiments or sugar substitutes are easily and specifically identified with just a pair of taps. The app even has a “Share” button that lets users post pictures on Twitter or Facebook, as well as send it via email or text – great for showing your friends that awesome new can of tomato soup you just bought!

(Read a blind man’s review of TapTapSee here.)

Voice Dream ($9.99) Download here

Voice Dream is a text-to-speech app that reads documents, ebooks, and web pages aloud. In addition to websites and files such as PDFs and Word documents, Voice Dream is compatible with the Gutenberg and Bookshare digital libraries. Unfortunately, books in Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and most online bookstores cannot be used with this app due to their DRM (digital right management) protection.

Voice Dream can read text in 27 languages using the 36 built-in iOS voices (other “premium” voices can be purchased for $1.99-$4.99), so if you’ve ever wanted to hear Pride and Prejudice in a Southern accent, now’s your chance. Voices, as well as their speed, can be switched on the fly. Other features include the ability to rewind if you missed something, quickly look up a word’s definition, or set a “sleep timer” so you can doze off while reading.

EyeNote (FREE) Download here

An OT demonstrates the EyeNote app on an iPad for a man.

An occupational therapist demonstrates the EyeNote App.

The EyeNote app was developed by the government, but despite that it actually works quite well. This Bureau of Engraving and Printing-produced app using your device’s built-in camera to quickly and easily identify American paper currency. Simply place the bill in the camera’s field of view and it displays the value via large on-screen text, as well as stating it aloud in either English or Spanish. It even tells you if you are looking at the front or back of the bill – essential for dealing with fussy vending machines.

Don’t want everyone in the supermarket to know you’re walking around with a stack of hundred-dollar bills? The app also has a Privacy Mode in which, rather than announcing it aloud, your device will pulse a certain number of times to indicate the value: one pulse for a one-dollar bill, two for a two-dollar bill (if you’re a collector of rare currency), three for a five-dollar bill, etc. So rest assured, it will not pulse twenty times for a twenty-dollar bill.

Best of all, the app can identify bills without the need for any special lighting or positioning, as long as at least half the bill is visible. This means it can identify money in your hand – no flat surface required.

SuperVision (FREE) Download here

Sometimes the simplest apps are the most essential. SuperVision (not to be confused with Super Vision, a PBS Kids app that lets parents monitor their children’s online activity) is a magnifier app developed by the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. It functions as an electronic magnifying glass, letting the user adjust the amount of zoom with either an onscreen slider or the “pinch-and-zoom” method.

What sets SuperVision apart is its “supreme image stabilization capability.” As their website proclaims, “Blurred images due to hand shaking can now be a thing of the past.” Users can also “lock” an image on the screen so that a user could, for example, look at a magnified still image of a menu rather than having to continue to hold their device over it while they decide if they want the chicken parm or the shrimp scampi.

Color ID (FREE) Download here

A woman uses the ColorID app on an iPad to identify the color of a sweater on a table.

The ColorID app knows that sweater is “almond frost”-colored.

Just because you’re visually impaired doesn’t mean you can’t spend too long deciding what to wear. This app is very simple: hold your device over an object and it will identify the color – useful for matching your clothes or settling debates over whether something is indigo or violet.

The app contains two modes, called “Simple Colors” and “Exotic Colors,” and tapping a square in the upper-left corner allows you to switch between them. This is fortunate, because the “Exotic Colors” mode contains a massive library of obscure color names, so if you don’t know your Paris Daisy from your Moon Mist, you may want to stick with the “Simple Colors” mode.

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About mabvi

Pressing Need The number of seniors with low vision is expected to double by 2030, as the “baby boomers” experience sight loss such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Low vision makes it difficult to complete activities of daily living, puts elders at increased risk of falls, and complicates health care compliance. There is a pressing need for low vision services today more than ever, to ensure people with vision loss can continue to live the lives they want. Elders are the fastest-growing and most vulnerable population of persons with sight loss. Four of the five major causes of blindness are directly related to the aging process: age related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. According to data published by the Commission for the Blind and the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness, there are an estimated 105,000 elders in Massachusetts with serious sight loss who cannot receive state-funded services because they are not “legally blind.” Nevertheless, their vision impairment is serious, and without appropriate intervention, can have a devastating impact on their independence.

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