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12 mighty clever apps making smartphones work harder for blind users.

Making smartphones even more intelligent — and more inclusive.

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Perkins School for the Blind

When braille was invented in the early-1800s, it was world-changing and life-altering.

Louis Braille was only 15 when he invented the world's first written language for the blind. Inspired by a language of raised dots used by French army officers to communicate silently at night on the battlefield, Braille envisioned a simple series of tactile raised dots to help translate the written word into something that could be read by the blind.

His innovation helped bring the worlds of blind and sighted people closer than ever before. Now whip-smart mobile phone developers are building off his work to keep our world connected and inclusive with helpful mobile apps that assist people with visual challenges in their daily life.


Downloading these apps and using them regularly is one small — but meaningful — way everyone can make the world more inclusive and accessible for people with vision challenges. Dozens of apps abound online, but here are 12 of our current favorites:

1. Contribute to a blind person's experience of a neighborhood with BlindWays.

BlindWays is a navigation app for iPhone that picks up where GPS navigation leaves off. Through information provided by sighted members of the community, the app guides blind travelers to the closest bus stop sign with easy-to-understand navigational cues. Best of all, it's user-powered and updated regularly — so the next time you're walking around the block to the store, take a few seconds to open the app and share some information that will help a blind person get around. It's only available in Boston right now, but they're hoping to expand to other areas.

2. Be My Eyes connects sighted and blind people for momentary acts of kindness.

Want to help a blind person navigate a quick challenge? Be My Eyes is the answer. This iPhone app connects blind or visually impaired users with sighted helpers through a live audio-video connection. Blind users can point their phone camera at an object or place they'd like assistance with — like installing batteries correctly or checking expiration dates on food — and sighted users can lend their eyes. For sighted users, it's a lovely way to be generous with a few minutes of your time.

3. Access braille and audio versions of 50,000 books with the BARD mobile app.

The next generation of braille is here (and on your phone). Image via iStock.

Have an Apple mobile device? Load it up with more than 50,000 books, magazines, and music scores courtesy of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Library of Congress. It works with Bluetooth-enabled braille keyboards too!

4. Listen to radio stations with content by and from blind and visually impaired people with Sero.

Finding community with people experiencing life in the same way you are is an important part of being blind or visually impaired. The Sero (formerly iBlink radio) app for iPhone collects radio stations, reading services, and podcasts of interest to blind people, their caregivers, and their friends. And every station is owned or operated by people with limited or no eyesight.

5. Ariadne GPS combines navigation and narration to help people find their way.

Raised crosswalk indicators are useful for finding intersections. Ariadne GPS takes navigating to the next level. Image via iStock.

This excellent talking map service was designed with the blind in mind. Users can navigate using their finger on the screen while Ariadne gives them verbal and tactile clues about the world around them. Crossing the street? The iPhone will vibrate. Need a bus or train stop? Ariadne will let users know.

6. Turn sunshine into sound with the Light Detector app.

Need to get changed and want to make sure the blinds are closed? The Light Detector app for iPhone and Android shows the source of light in a room by transforming it into a sound. Users simply point the camera at a light source (or where they expect one to be) and the app creates a sound that rises or falls in intensity depending on the brightness of the light.

7 & 8. Talking Goggles and the KNFB Reader help blind folks experience Google Glass (without the dorky hardware).

It's the Google Glass that Google Glass wishes it were! Image via iStock.

If there's text on something — a street sign, a poster, even a bottle of shampoo — text- reading apps like Talking Goggles and the KNFB reader can recognize it and read it out. Users can point the phone's camera at what they want to read, and the app does the rest. Even better? It works on both iPhone and Android, and it can read in different languages — with the correct accent.

9. Need to know what's in front of you right now? This iPhone app lets users Tap, Tap, and See.

What's in the pantry — a can of peaches or a can of baked beans? TapTapSee helps blind or visually-impaired users identify the objects around them with a quick click of their iPhone or Android device camera. Once a photo is taken, a voiceover will share what the object is. A useful app for blind and sighted folks!

10. Listen to music (and the rest of the world) with the Awareness! app.

It's every pedestrian's nightmare: You're walking outside, listening to Katy Perry roar, and you don't hear that oncoming train. Unsurprisingly, missing important auditory warnings is a very real concern for blind and visually-impaired people. Awareness! is a music-listening app for iPhone that helps users stay connected to the rest of the world while they rock out. Songs play like normal, but in the case of important sudden noises, Awareness! will silence the song and let the real world — and all its dog barks, car horns, and fire alarms — through.

11. Make sorting money easier with the LookTel Money Reader.

A woman going through her wallet. Image via iStock.

With or without a visual impairment, sorting through America's uniformly green bills can be a challenge when you're in a rush to pay. Fortunately, the LookTel Money Reader app for iPhone removes the chance of confusion. Turn on the app, point the camera at the bill, and LookTel will announce the denomination out loud.

12. Make sure your pants and shirt match with Color ID.

Searching for your lucky green tie? Want to know if the cat you're petting is a brown tabby or a silver one? Color ID can help. Like most of the apps on this list, all it takes is pointing the mobile phone camera at an object, and Color ID does the rest. Now you'll finally know if those pants your wife hates are khaki or just greenish-brown. It's available for iPhone and Android.

This is just a small sample of the mobile apps available to help make the world a little easier to navigate for blind and visually-impaired people — and there's more being developed all the time.

Here's to a digital world that makes the real world safer, more fun, and more inclusive for everyone!

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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