12 mighty clever apps making smartphones work harder for blind users.
Making smartphones even more intelligent — and more inclusive.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!