Thursday, February 22, 2018

smartphone apps for low vision

February is Low Vision Awareness Month. Low vision is a term used to describe significant, permanent visual impairment that cannot be fully corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. This can be due to eye diseases (like macular degeneration), injury, or genetic conditions. Most people with low vision are not totally blind, but have enough vision loss to interfere with daily activities. The goal of low vision rehabilitation is to help people make the most of their remaining vision. It's important to start the process early so that patients can make adjustments and adapt to a new way of doing things.

Fortunately, there are devices that can help people with low vision function more efficiently and independently. There are many types of magnifiers, telescopes, and electronic devices that low vision specialists can help set you up with. This post will focus more narrowly on smartphone applications that can help those with low vision. Big thanks to Omar Mohiuddin, occupational therapist at Duke, for allowing me to use some of his content.

First off, here is an app that simulates low vision conditions: ViaOpta Simulator (Android and Apple). It shows how various eye disease like macular degeneration, glaucoma, etc, effect your vision.
ViaOpta Simulator
Secondly, every smartphone has basic accessibility features that can help individuals with visual impairments immensely. Those features include larger text, voiceover, increased contrast, and much more.
Accessibility features on Apple iPhone

Now for the low vision aids...

If you could only use one app, I would recommend Seeing AI (Apple). It has many of the features we'll discuss below, so it's a handy and convenient tool. Seeing AI can read websites and documents aloud as well as identify products via their barcode. You can teach the app to recognize people, and it can tell you when they appear in the camera frame. More details on this app here.

Seeing AI can identify products using their barcode

1. Magnifiers: There are a ton of these apps out there, and they're used by sighted and visually-impaired individuals alike. Many of them not only magnify text, but invert colors and change the contrast to make reading easier.
Brighter and Bigger allows you to magnify text, invert colors, and adjust contrast

2. Color Identification: These apps use the smartphone's camera to identify the color of objects in view.
  • Color ID (Apple and Android)
  • Aipoly Vision (Apple) - My two cents here: This app is good for identifying colors, but not that great at identifying objects. I tried to identify a spatula, and the app said it was either a toothbrush or a maraca...
Aipoly can identify colors

3. Object Recognition: These apps use either the smartphone camera or remote sighted individuals to help identify objects.
  • TapTapSee (Apple and Android)- My two cents: I found this app to be fairly accurate and specific. You simply take a picture with your smartphone, and the app identifies the object(s) within the frame, using the Voiceover feature to communicate the findings. 
TapTapSee identifies objects

4. Currency Identification: These apps use the camera on your smartphone and audibly tell you what denomination the bill is.
EyeNote can identify bills

5. Speech-to-Text: Lots of these exist.

6. Text-to-Speech:

7. Reading:
  • GoRead (Android)
  • Read2Go (Apple, $)
  • Audible (Apple and Android, $)- Sighted and visually impaired persons alike love Audible because there are a TON of audio books available. 

8. Navigation: These apps use GPS to help visually impaired persons know their location, their environment/surroundings, and their position relative to other locations.
ViaOpta Nav can tell you your location, including the nearest junctions and
their position relative to you

If you or a loved one has a visual impairment, talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist about your options! If they are not able to equip you with low vision rehabilitation services themselves, they can certainly refer you to a low vision specialist that can.

To find a low vision specialist:
To find services for the visually impaired: American Foundation for the Blind

CliffsNotes: Visually impaired persons can benefit greatly from learning to use smartphone apps early on.  Seeing AI is a great one to start with!

Additional Resources: