Bill Holton

In the February 2018 AccessWorld special senior's issue we offered a roster of smartphone apps that we feel are "must downloads" for any person with a new visual impairment hoping to get the most out of their new iPhone or iPad. These apps can assist with everything from navigating from here to there to carrying dozens of Talking Books on your phone so you can listen along the way. Most of these apps are also available for Android smartphones and tablets. In this update, we'll take a second look at our long-time favorite access essentials, then turn you on to some exciting new offerings that can further enhance your enjoyment and independence. Along the way we'll link to past AccessWorld articles that take deeper dives into many of these accessible tools. Some of these apps were developed specifically for the user with a visual impairment. Others are mainstream apps that are accessible and can also assist the visually impaired person with some of blind life's challenges.

An Extra Pair of Eyes

We all need sighted help from time to time. But what if there's no one around?

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is an absolute must-have app that uses your phone's camera to connect to one of hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world eager to lend their eyes to help you with anything from setting the temperature on your oven to color-coordinating your outfit before you leave the house. Microsoft, Google, and several other businesses have also signed on to offer expert tech assistance to the blind and low vision community using the app's one-way video connection. Computer won't talk? They can help you get through that silent error message and be on your way. More from AccessWorld: A Review of the Be My Eyes Remote Sighted Helper App for Apple iOS

Seeing AI from Microsoft

This free app from Microsoft uses machine intelligence to recognize text, identify currency, offer a light meter and color identifier, and describe the scene before you or in a photograph. It's literally the Swiss Army knife of vision assistance.

More from AccessWorld: Microsoft Seeing AI: A Quick First Look at this Groundbreaking iOS App

Getting from Here to There

Apple and Google Maps (also available for iOS) have come a long way, offering enhanced accessibility, spoken prompts, and turn-byturn directions. For example, ask Siri, "Where am I?" and Siri will respond with the nearest address. Ask "Where's the nearest bus stop?" and Siri will tell you where it is and then offer turn-by-turn walking directions with distance markers and estimated arrival times. For even more blind-friendly navigation, you may also want to try…

Nearby Explorer Online

Nearby Explorer Online includes a number of blindness-friendly features, such as turn-by-turn walking directions with upcoming intersection announcements, and virtual maps you can use to explore another neighborhood, or even a distant city, before you travel. The original Nearby Explorer app included a set of proprietary maps and cost nearly $100. This newer version relies on open source map data, and it's free. The app was originally developed by the American Printing House for the Blind, but recently they handed the technologies and other assets off to a new company, Access Explorer. The focus of this new company is to facilitate indoor navigation at airports, municipal facilities, and other large venues.

More from AccessWorld: Getting Around with Nearby Explorer for Android from APH; The Nearby Explorer Blindness-Focused Navigation App from APH Comes to iOS; Indoor Wayfinding with Access Explorer from American Printing House for the Blind: One Step Forward Note that Access Explorer is now called Good Maps. The Good Maps website has the most current information on this project.

A Library in Your Pocket

You may still be able to read large print books, but you've likely noticed that unlike the books themselves, the selection of titles is rather slim. Kindle users can enlarge the display text both on the physical Kindle devices and when using the iOS Kindle app. You can also use the iPhone's built in screen reader, VoiceOver, to read Kindle books. Or you can choose to purchase and listen to books from (Audible](—their app is also extremely accessible. Overdrive offers both e-books and audio titles you check out of your local public library. But your choices don't end there.

Bard Mobile

Are you a patron of the Library of Congress's Talking Book Library? If so, you have likely been given a digital player and receive your books on digital cartridges you have to wait for and mail back when you're done. You can avoid all these delays and the back-and-forth by installing the BARD Mobile app. It's a virtual full-feature Talking Book player with the same familiar controls. You can search for titles and download them using the app, and build your own library you can carry with you everywhere you have your phone.

More from AccessWorld: An In-depth Evaluation of the BARD Mobile App from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped


Bookshare is a non-profit repository of reading material produced in text formats for the blind. Their collection ranges from elementary school textbooks to popular novels and esoteric works of science, history, philosophy and literature. Certification of blindness or other print disability is required for Bookshare and the next service we cover, NFB-Newsline.

The easiest way to search, download and read Bookshare titles is with an app. Red2Go is the recommended app, but many blind individuals prefer Voice Dream Reader, a third-party app developed with a number of special features for the print impaired.

More from AccessWorld: A Guide to the Read2Go App for Apple iOS, from Bookshare; A Review of the Voice Dream Reader for iOS: A One-Stop Solution


The National Federation of the Blind offers the Newsline service, which provides electronic version of hundreds of local, regional, and national newspapers, and a growing catalog of popular magazines—including AccessWorld! You may be familiar with the telephone access to this service—call a local number and use your touch-tone controls to navigate the library and have various articles read to you. If you own an Amazon Echo you can also ask Alexa to read your favorite newspapers and magazines aloud. However the best way to access Newsline content is by installing the NFB-Newsline app. You can also access your local weather, TV listings and a selection of store sale circulars. The latest app version also includes KNFB Reader Light text recognition software!

More from AccessWorld: Reading Remains Fundamental with the Help of NFB-Newsline

Text Recognition

As far as we've come using computers and mobile devices to read emails, books, and other text-based information, there are still times when you really need to read actual print. Trying to sort your mail or reading the directions on a box of cake mix can be problematic. You can always use Be My Eyes (see above), but for the sake of personal independence you may wish to use one of the many optical character recognition apps that can turn print text into machine-readable text.


As mentioned above, the latest version of this news reader app includes a free copy of KNFB Reader Light. The original full version is still available for $95. This app works best for small blocks of text—again, reading your mail or cooking instructions on a box or package.

Microsoft Seeing AI

If you've already followed our recommendation to install Microsoft Seeing AI then you've discovered it includes three different text recognition settings—four-, if you count currency recognition. Short text, document, and handwriting. The first mode is real time: point your phone toward a mail envelope, for example, and the app will do its best to speak what text it can find. The document setting requires you to frame the page and snap a picture before recognition takes place. The handwriting feature is rudimentary, but feel free to try it on that hand-addressed birthday card. It just may impress.

Voice Dream Scanner

For heavy-duty text recognition, such as a multi-page report or a complete hardback book, we recommend either the full version of KNFB Reader or Voice Dream Scanner, from the same blind-friendly developer as Voice Dream Reader. Both apps allow you to scan multiple pages and save them as a complete document.

More from AccessWorld: Voice Dream Scanner: A New Kind of OCR; KNFB Reader for iOS: Does This App Live up to All the Hype?

Getting There and Back

As described above, your smartphone can do a great job of offering walking and public transportation directions. But what if you need a ride? The past few years have seen the emergence of at least two major "ride share" services: Uber and Lyft. Some larger communities may also offer other ride share options. You use the app to pinpoint your location and indicate your destination. A driver is summoned, and the app alerts you when your Uber or Lyft will arrive, along with the car model and license. Upon arrival at your destination, the fare is automatically charged to your registered credit card, so no more fumbling with currency and trusting the driver is giving you the correct change. You can add a tip later using the Uber or Lyft app. Many drivers drive for both services. Consider registering with both, however, as they tend to send out various discounts. Frequent riders may also be interested in one of their subscription plans.

More from AccessWorld: Lyft and Uber Have Changed the Transportation Game for People with Visual Impairments.

Grocery Shopping

How many of your trips out are to pick up groceries? These days it's easier than ever to have them delivered. Some smaller grocers and large chains offer their own delivery services. This includes Walmart Superstores which we reviewed in a recent AccessWorld. The app is quite accessible. Prices are the same as in store. Delivery charges vary, depending on the time of day you wish to receive your groceries. They also offer free delivery with paid monthly or annual memberships.

Other grocery stores and chains use either Instacart or Shipt to provide home delivery. The apps are fairly accessible, but be warned, along with delivery fees the prices may be slightly higher when shopping using either of these apps.

More from AccessWorld: Shop Independently with Shipt: an Accessible App that Brings the "Store to your Door"; A Review of Dinner Delivered: Accessible and Easy Ways to Receive Meals Direct to Your Door, by Kim Loftis and Chris Grabowski

Eating Out, In

Times were, if you wanted prepared food delivered, unless you lived in a big city your choices were basically pizza or Chinese. With the gig economy in full bloom, your in-home dining options have expanded exponentially. In fact, there are now four different home dining delivery services in heated competition for your dining dollar: Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats, and DoorDash. Their apps are all accessible. They offer online menus, and online payment and tipping, so again, no front door fumbling with currency.

You may wish to add all four apps to your device. First, because each offers a slightly different menu of delivery options, and second, because you may be able to take advantage of the current battle for market share. Each of the services offers frequent promotions, sometimes up to half off your next order.

More from AccessWorld: The Hunger Pains: A Review of the DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Uber Eats Food Delivery Apps

More Access Goodness

Regular readers of AccessWorld will recognize that the apps mentioned here are only a small percentage of the services, devices, and apps that we've introduced our readers to over the years. Check back every month for more access goodness. Even better, subscribe to the AccessWorld Announcement list!

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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February 2021 Table of Contents

Bill Holton
Article Topic
Access Issues