Apple’s iPhone TV commercials are so visually stunning, they downplay, if not belie, the company's ability to make the smart phone -- as well as the iPad and iPod touch -- accessible even to those who can’t see the screen.
The VoiceOver screen reader and Zoom magnification -- built into all iOS devices -- and a growing host of third-party apps make the iPhone increasingly popular among blind and visually impaired persons.
Some apps harness the phone's built-in camera to see for the user. Here are 10 iOS apps designed specifically to aid low-vision users.
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.
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 to hear the document read aloud.
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 mismatched socks or the wrong color shirt again. An interesting offshoot is using the app to distinguish shades of sky, enabling one to experience sunsets or gauge possible weather changes.
TalkingTag™ 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 been 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.
The Learning Ally app ($19.99) provides access to Learning Ally's library of more than 70,000 audiobooks is considered the best source for K-12 and college-level textbooks. Users can download and play books on all iOS devices. A Learning Ally membership ($99 per year) is required. Persons with visual and learning disabilities can seek reimbursement from their school. 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.
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 the characters comprising the braille alphabet. Users can store the side-by-side images. The app teaches letters, words, and contractions and has built-in quizzes and a Help section to reinforce learning.
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
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.
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 a button enters the number onscreen. 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.