Written By: Reena Mukamal for the American Academy of Ophthalmology
Technology tools can help make everyday life easier for people with vision impairments. Whether you need more support navigating to a destination, reading, or enjoying another favorite activity, technology can lend a hand.
We’ve rounded up some of the top apps, devices and resources for people with low vision. The technologies featured here can be used on a smart phone or tablet, including most Android and iOS devices.
Disclaimer: These tools are presented for your information only. They are not the only such devices, but are merely representative of the types of devices that are available. These devices are not endorsed by the Academy, as the Academy never endorses products, companies or organizations. Ask your low vision team, including your ophthalmologist, to help identify apps and technologies that might best address your needs.
Built-in tools on Apple and Android devices
If you already have a smartphone or tablet, built-in tools such as large font and high contrast are waiting to help you access many capabilities on your device.
If you’re an Apple user:
- VoiceOver is a screen reader that provides a description of everything happening on your screen.
- Siri is a voice recognition system that lets you send messages, place phone calls and more.
If you’re an Android user:
- Apps that run on the Android operating system use a built-in screen reader called TalkBack.
- Android devices also use Google Assistant, a “virtual helper” powered by artificial intelligence. Google Assistant lets you perform a wide variety of actions on your phone or tablet using voice commands.
Daily tasks and object identification
- Seeing AI (iOS, free) – This app can narrate the world around you. Simply point your phone or iPad camera at something, and Seeing AI will tell you what it is, out loud. It can help read currency, name colors and even decipher handwritten cursive.
- Lookout (Android, free) – Provides spoken feedback about things around you. Lookout uses the camera and sensors on your device to recognize text, people and objects.
- Be My Eyes (Android and iOS, free) – This app connects visually-impaired people with sighted volunteers through a live video call. Volunteers “lend their eyes” to help with short, simple tasks such as reading a street sign or troubleshooting technology. For security reasons, do not ask volunteers to read personal information such as mail containing your address, financial or credit card information.
- Aira (Android and iOS, $29 to $199 per month) – Connects highly trained agents to people with vision impairment for assistance with daily tasks, including mobility tasks such as giving directions, navigating around obstacles in a path and describing an environment in real time. You can sign up for 30 to 300 minutes of help per month. A note about confidentiality: Aira agents signs a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not share customers’ personal information. Security measures are in place so that Aira agents can help customers with tasks such as personal finance. Aira may be used at no cost in some airports, national attractions, universities and partnering shopping centers such as Walgreens, Wegmans, AT&T and Target.
- LookTel (iOS, $9.99) – Uses the camera of your iOS device to instantly identify and read aloud the denomination of paper money.
- TapTapSee (Android and iOS, free) – Lets you photograph objects and have them identified aloud.
- Light Detector (iOS, free) – Helps you identify when lights are switched on at home, where windows are and whether curtains are open or closed. This app works by transforming any natural or artificial light source it encounters into sound.
- Brighter and Bigger (Android and iOS, free) – This reading glasses tool uses your camera’s light and features adjustable magnification to help people who have trouble reading fine print.
- KNFB Reader (Android and iOS, $99.99) – This voice-to-text tool lets you take a picture of any text—books, recipes, product labels—and have it read back to you or converted to braille.
- Audible (Android and iOS, $14.95 per month plus downloads) – Provides downloadable audiobooks, periodicals, newspapers and more. Their collection currently includes 200,000+ books.
- Kindle app (Android, iOS, PC and Mac, free) – An e-reader app that allows you to download books. Books can be purchased and directly downloaded from Amazon, or downloaded from your library app into the Kindle app. The free Kindle app can be downloaded onto many iOS and Android devices.
- Bookshare (Android and iOS, $50 per year) – An online library for people with low vision. Currently, the Bookshare collection contains nearly 850,000 titles, downloadable in a choice of formats including ebooks, audio, braille, and large font. Membership requires verification of your print disability, and includes free downloads.
- BARD Mobile (Android and iOS, free) – A talking book library that offers access to tens of thousands of titles. You must first enroll in the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Print Disabled at the Library of Congress. Note that this program may only be available in the United States.
- Overdrive (Android and iOS, free) – A service that lets you borrow both audio and text eBooks through your library or school.
- NFB-Newsline (iOS, free) – A service offered by the National Federation of the Blind allowing people with print disabilities to phone in and listen to newspapers, magazines, and other news sources.
- The MD_evReader (Android and iOS, free) – This app presents text from eBooks in a scrolling stream across the screen, in a similar way to a news ticker. The app is designed for those people who use Eccentric Viewing (EV) and/or steady eye strategies for reading.
- Blind Abilities (Android and iOS, free) – Blogs and podcasts covering accessibility, technologies, devices and job opportunities for the blind and visually Impaire
Navigation and transportation
- Soundscape (iOS, free) – Designed for use with stereo headphones, this app provides 3D audio cues about surroundings in real time. It can be used in conjunction with GPS navigation.
- Nearby Explorer (Android and iOS, free) – This app combines GPS navigation, turn-by-turn directions in pedestrian and vehicle modes, points of interest, and transit data.
- RightHear (Android and iOS, free) – A spatial orientation app built for people with low vision. RightHear provides navigation and points-of-interest information using audio guidance.
- Blindsquare (iOS, $39.99) – A GPS app that describes the environment and announces points of interest and street intersections as you travel.
- Uber and Lyft (iOS and Android, free) – Both apps have a partnership with Aira that lets visually impaired riders use Aira agents to help initiate and manage rides. Uber also supports wireless Braille display.
- Moovit (iOS and Android, free) – Through a collaboration with Aira, visually impaired Moovit users can have live help to navigate bus, rail, subway and other public transportation routes in a number of cities around the world.
- Blind Bargains (Android and iOS, free) – Lets you search the web to identify the hottest deals available on talking products, braille printers, accessible gadgets and other products for the visually impaired.
- Talking Calculator (iOS, free) and Voice and Talking Calculator (Android, free) – Provide a fully voice-operated calculator that reads numbers, formulas and answers aloud.
- Facing Emotions (Android, free) – A facial recognition app that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify seven different emotions by turning them into sounds that you can hear. The app must be used together with Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro
- Instagram (Android and iOS, free) – This popular social media app now includes an alternative text feature that lets users add and hear rich descriptions of photos as they browse. This feature works together with the device’s screen reader.
- YouTubefor Android has expanded its voice command features for video navigation.
- Pandora (iOS and Android, $9.99 per month) recently added a “Hey Pandora” voice command for a variety of tasks.
Technologies coming soon
The future of low vision tech is exciting. Tools in development include:
- A virtual reality “Canetroller” that aims to help people map
out a virtual space by using vibrations and sounds.
An AI-based technology for car windows called “Feel the View” will also use vibrations to help “show” what’s outside.
Patients with low vision can also ask their ophthalmologist for help and a referral to a low vision specialist. Specialists can help with customizing digital devices and apps. Many low vision centers offer computer workshops or have occupational therapists who can provide training and support on how to use these helpful tools effectively and tailor them to particular visual needs.