Until recently, a person with vision impairment might need to carry a mobile phone, a GPS device and a magnifier all at once. But with the increasingly accessible operating system used by Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, all this is changing.
Combining advances in software technology with fast, compact hardware, the iPhone is a mainstream product that can run many types of downloadable applications. These software applications (or apps) are much cheaper to produce than ordinary accessibility products, as they don't need to run on specialised hardware devices.
The Vision Assist iPhone app from Slinkyware is a new approach to handheld electronic magnification. It uses the camera on your iPhone to capture and magnify anything in front of you. You can alter colour, brightness and contrast to best match your vision. It also helps if you're in a dark restaurant struggling to read a menu, as the flash facility can be turned into a torch. This will drain the battery, however, so should be used sparingly.
Perhaps one downside is that you can only magnify up to five times using the Vision Assist app. Users of traditional magnifiers will often need enlargement up to twelve times, but the pluses are high portability and low cost.
Eyesight from Sighttech is a slightly more expensive app and can enlarge text or photographs up to 12 times. It also allows for colour-contrast combinations and is gesture controlled.
It can be tricky when getting around with vision impairment to know which street you're in, let alone the number of the house or business you're attempting to find. Ariadne GPS has an answer for this. Using Apple's VoiceOver software, when you move your finger up and down the screen, this app will read the street numbers to you, periodically updating the spoken information as you move. You can also ask for information on other locations, even if you are not there at the time.
Blind Square from Foursquare is another app which can offer information about your surroundings. It can inform you of features around you such as shops, post offices and banks. You can even configure it to search for the nearest pub or cake shop, although that can be somewhat dangerous to the waistline.
These apps can also be used in cars or trains and can name streets as you travel past them. They can even be set to alert you when a particular destination is close, which can save you ending up ten kilometres down the track. It should also be noted that prolonged use of GPS can also drain the battery.
In the Pink
When you're vision impaired, you might wish to know whether your pants are brown or bright orange – unless everything you wear is black. You can have some fun with this very useful application by identifying garments with your own made up names, such as peach, wax or flower. The Colorvisor uses the iPhone's built in camera and works best in good light.
If you're blind, how can you know if the light has been left on? Light Detector is an app which turns artificial or natural light into sound. The brighter the light, the higher the sound, ensuring lights aren't left on in your home when you don't need them to be.
If you can't read written material at all, you might want to try out the Say Text app. It works by taking a photo of the required page and having VoiceOver read the document out to you. Whilst a beep indicates when you have correctly placed the camera, it is nonetheless tricky to operate.
There are many more apps performing these and other functions in the Apple range of products. It could be worthwhile checking out the capabilities of other smart phones before settling on a device you wish to buy. In any case, these apps have helped bear real fruit for the blind or vision-impaired.