Yesterday, a close friend of mine gave me a handwritten card. They asked if I would have trouble reading it, as they weren’t sure how to read handwritten cards using assistive technology. Luckily, there are many options for people with vision impairments to read handwritten cards. Today, I will be sharing eight ways to read handwriting and handwritten cards with assistive technology. Almost all of the methods listed here are free, which is an added bonus as well.
Seeing AI is a free app by Microsoft that helps people with vision impairments get information in real time about the world around them using artificial intelligence (which is the “AI” in Seeing AI). One of the features I use the most is the “Handwriting” feature that allows handwritten items to be read out loud in a natural way. Since Seeing AI is only available for iOS devices, I have to hold my iPad over the card or note, which can be difficult at times. However, iPhone users will have no problem using their phone with Seeing AI.
Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and vision impaired users with a volunteer sighted guide. The volunteers I have worked with have been very helpful, especially with simple tasks. They are willing to read information or identify images, which is great for describing the front of a card. Even though they have no formal training, the volunteer guides are awesome at helping me when I need them.
- Be My Eyes on the App Store
- Be My Eyes for Android on Google Play
- My Be My Eyes review for users
- Be My Eyes tips for volunteers
Google Assistant Camera
Android users that have the Google Assistant app can use the camera function to take a picture of handwritten text. After processing the photo, the text can be read out loud or shown with the system font on screen. The image is not stored on your phone, though the text can be copied onto the clipboard.
Aira is a service that allows for blind and low vision users to connect with a trained sighted guide 24/7 for completing a variety of tasks. Agents access information through the user’s phone camera or through a pair of smart glasses with a camera in the center. Aira agents are great about reading text and handwriting, and I have used the service in the classroom frequently. Aira is a paid service, so users would need to have a plan in order to use it.
Using a video magnifier
Many people with low vision use video magnifiers for magnifying text and other small objects. They are perfect for people who don’t want to mess with a smartphone, or for someone who spend lots of time magnifying items. I have the Eschenbach SmartLux video magnifier and highly recommend it.
Did you know that you can use your phone camera as a makeshift magnifier? If you don’t want to mess with a bunch of apps, simply hold your phone above the card and zoom in. iOS users can also use the Magnifier feature, which can be enabled in accessibility settings.
Microsoft Office Lens
Microsoft Office Lens is a free scanner app that works with your iOS or Android device. Users can take a photo of the card and have it scanned into the Office Lens app. After scanning, they can export to another app so it can be magnified or read out loud with Immersive Reader. I prefer to use Office Lens to scan in the card or note as an image so I can magnify it. For those who want to read text, there is a built-in handwriting detection feature that converts handwriting to text.
- Microsoft Office Lens for iOS on the App Store
- Microsoft Office Lens for Android on Google Play
- My Microsoft Office Lens Review
I started using Envision AI as a Seeing AI alternative on my Android phone. Both apps have a lot of the same functions, but Seeing AI is not on Android. The handwriting feature for Envision AI was able to read all of different handwritings that I tested, including my own messy handwriting. I also like the ability to “teach” Envision AI to recognize faces- this would be great for identifying people in a Christmas card photo!
- How I used the HP Sprout to improve my dysgraphia
- Envision AI for Android on Google Play
- Envision AI for iOS on the App Store
While I prefer to read notes that have been typed out, there’s just something exciting about reading a handwritten note from a dear friend. I hope that these tips help you to read wonderful handwritten notes and cards with assistive technology this holiday season and beyond!