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

Making smartphones even more intelligent — and more inclusive.

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

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.