Apple TV commercials are so visually stunning they make the company's advancements in assistive technology all the more impressive. Products such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch are becomingly increasingly accessible to blind and visually impaired people.
With screen-access technology (VoiceOver) and a magnification program (Zoom) built into its iOS mobile operating system, users can enlarge the screen for easier viewing or drag a finger over it to hear app names and onscreen content read aloud.
Here are 10 popular apps designed to help blind and visually impaired people use their mobile devices. All of these work on the iPhone (3GS and up); iPod touch (3rd generation and up); and the iPad 2.1. LookTel Money Reader
The LookTel Money Reader ($1.99) recognizes US currency in standard denominations ($1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills) enabling blind and visually impaired people to quickly identify and count bills. Point the iPhone camera at any US bill and LookTel's object recognition technology via VoiceOver tells users the denomination in real time. Best to organize bills before hitting the nightclub; the app doesn't work as well in low light.2. SayText
SayText (free), developed by Norfello Oy, scans text within any image, such as a medical form or restaurant menu, and reads it aloud. Center the document under the iPhone camera and double-tap the "Take Picture" button. Then raise it slowly: a beep indicates that the entire document is in the phone's frame. The app's Optical Character Recognition utility then scans the text. Tap the screen for status updates. Once scanned, swipe right on the screen to hear the document.3. Color Identifier
GreenGar Studios' Color Identifier ($1.99) uses the iPhone camera to identify and speak color names aloud. Shades identified are specific to the point of annoyance (Paris Daisy, Moon Mist) for some users. The company makes a free app called Color ID Free that sticks to basic colors. Blind people will never wear mix-matched socks or the wrong shirt again. An interesting offshoot is using the app to distinguish shades of sky, enabling one to experience sunsets or gauge possible weather changes.4. TalkingTag LV
TalkingTag(tm) LV ($9.99) from TalkingTag enables blind people to label everyday items with special coded stickers. Users scan each sticker with the iPhone camera and record and replay via VoiceOver up to a 1-minute audio message identifying what's being labeled. The app is ideal for organizing a DVD collection, locating boxes during a move, or picking the right jelly jar from the refrigerator. Stickers can be erased and recorded over.5. RFB&D Audio
The RFB&D app ($19.99) provides access to Learning Ally's library of more than 65,000 audiobooks is considered the best source for K-12 and college-level textbooks. Users can download and play on all iOS devices. A Learning Ally membership is required and is free to those with print disabilities, including visual impairments and dyslexia. Readers navigate DAISY books by page number and chapter, can adjust playback speed, and place electronic bookmarks throughout the text. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic became Learning Ally in April 2011.6. Visible Braille
Visible Braille ($3.99) from Mindwarrior is a tutorial for self-paced braille instruction. It translates English letters and words into the six-dot cells of braille characters. Users can store the images. The app teaches letters, words, and contractions and has built-in quizzes and a Help section to reinforce learning.7. Navigon MobileNavigator North America
NAVIGON's MobileNavigator North America ($44.99) transforms the iPhone into a fully functional mobile navigation system that uses the latest NAVTEQ map material. The app offers text-to-speech voice guidance, enhanced pedestrian navigation, a turn-by-turn RouteList, location sharing via email, and a Take Me Home function. It also provides direct access and navigation to iPhone address book contacts. Navigation is automatically resumed after an incoming phone call.8. Big Clock HD
The Coding Monkeys' Big Clock HD app ($0.99) is a must for visually impaired travelers. Just double tap to rotate iPad orientation to landscape view and set it atop a hotel room TV or table. You'll be able to read it with a glance while lying in bed. The clock displays time and date in the region format and language the device is set to. The app prevents devices from auto-locking when displaying the time.9. Talking Calculator
This easy-to-read app calculator ($0.99) speaks button names, numbers, and answers aloud through a customizable built-in directory that lets users record their own voice. Button names are spoken as your finger moves over the screen. Double tapping activates enters buttons. The calculator also has a high-contrast display mode to enhance visibility. Developer Adam Croser also makes the Talking Scientific Calculator app.10. iBlink Radio
Serotek Corporation's iBlink Radio was the first application promoting the digital lifestyle among the visually impaired, providing access to community web radio stations with formats spanning every genre. The iBlink network also offers radio reading services (USA Today, the New York Times, among hundreds), and podcasts covering assistive technology, independent living, travel, and more. The app's latest player toolbars simplifies navigation.