As we mentioned in the last section of this guide, you can use both UPCs and QR codes to help with identifying consumer products and any other items you might care to tag. But what if the item is not tagged with either a UPC or QR code? Happily, there are other mobile resources you can tap to help you determine if you have just put on your gold necklace or your silver necklace, or if the soda can in your hand is Coke or Pepsi.
The Apple iPhone and iPad, and any late model iPod touch all come with a video calling service called FaceTime built in. FaceTime allows you to easily make a video call to anyone else with an Apple iOS device. FaceTime a friend, and you can point your phone’s camera at the item in question.
If your friend or sighted assistant does not have an iOS device, consider installing Skype. Skype is a voice and video calling service that uses the Internet instead of phone lines. The app is available for any mobile device or computer and can be operated successfully using a computer or mobile screen reader. Skype to Skype video calls are free.
If you would like remote assistance while you are traveling, there is a new service that might interest you. It’s called Echo Sense Network Glasses, and it pairs an Android phone with special glasses equipped with a video camera. Turn it on and anyone you designate can log on to your video stream using either a computer or their own Android device and offer audio updates and guidance as you travel. There is a complete review of Echo Sense in the December 2014 issue of AccessWorld, but note that recent improvements in the service have allowed the company to cut the initial price in half. Check the company website for current pricing.
Apple iPhone users may wish to read the July 2014 AccessWorld article entitled BlindSquare App for iOS: A Solution for Accessible Navigation. This mobile navigation app is also covered in our guide to accessible navigation, but it deserves a mention here, too, because it includes a feature that enables you to snap a photo of your current position and then e-mail it to anyone in your contact list. The recipient will receive your photo, along with a Google Street View map of the same area so he or she can offer enhanced assistance, such as “The doorway is on the left,” or, “The bus stop is 20 yards ahead.”
A New Video Assistance Solution
A new, free iOS app and service called Be My Eyes was released in early 2015 that offers users a link to a network of nearly 100,000 sighted volunteers who offer video-based sighted assistance. You can sign up as either a user or as a helper. When you request a help session, you are connected to the next volunteer in the cue. The app uses the rear facing camera, which is the higher resolution of the device’s two cameras, to show the helper what you need to identify. You can find a complete review of Be My Eyes in the February 2015 issue of AccessWorld.
Accessible and Independent Identification
As blind individuals, we always strive to become as independent as possible. So far in this section we have described several methods of obtaining sighted assistance remotely. In this section we will offer several apps that can help you identify objects you can’t see using only a mobile app—no sighted assistance required.
In the last section we mentioned that you can use the Google Goggles app for Android to not only scan and voice UPC barcodes and QR codes, but also identify most currencies. In addition to these helpful functions, Google Goggles can also identify much more, using a database that contains millions of product photos, along with images of landmarks, works of art, city skylines, and more. Snap a photo and the app will do its best to match it to one of these images, then present the results on screen, where you can review the results with the TalkBack screen reader.
The Apple iOS version of Google Goggles has been discontinued, but if you have an iDevice, you can still take advantage of the extensive Google image database. A different app, Talking Goggles, available for both Android and iOS, uses the same image database to identify items. Both Google Goggles and Talking Goggles do an excellent job of identifying pantry items, such as a jar of pasta sauce, or a box of Wheaties. They can even identify snippets of text, then use optical character recognition to convert the image into readable text. The apps will not be 100-percent accurate all the time, but, even so, they can be quite useful to identify a DVD jewel case, a book or magazine title, or to help sort the junk mail from bills and personal letters. (See the next section for more on using your phone to recognize text.)
An app called TapTapSee, which offers identification services using a combination of computer databases and paid, web workers, was developed from the ground up to be used by those with visual impairments. The app is available through the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Snap a photo of anything from a piece of fruit to a swimming pool and if TapTapSee cannot identify it using its image database, the image will be passed along to a human worker, who will send back a succinct description, such as “an apple,” or “three people swimming near a diving board.” “
A full description and review of both TapTapSee and Talking Goggles is available in AccessWorld.
The response within the blind community to TapTapSee was so overwhelming, that, in order to hire enough Web workers, the company had to change to a subscription model. The first 15 image descriptions are free. After that, you must sign up for a paid monthly subscription, or add additional photo credits to your free account for approximately ten cents apiece via an in-app purchase.