Recently, I was talking to another college student about different options for using visual assistance apps for virtual classes and how they could use different apps on their iOS and Android devices to help them with accessing visual information. While I frequently use visual assistance apps for reading or getting information about items in the physical classroom, I also frequently turn to visual assistance apps for helping me to complete tasks on my own in the digital classroom so that I can be successful in my virtual classes. Here are the most common ways I use visual assistance apps for virtual classes, and how these types of apps can help students who are blind or that have low vision,
What are visual assistance apps?
Visual assistance apps, sometimes called visual interpreting apps, are tools that connect users who are blind or visually impaired with people or technology that can help them to get information about something that they would not be able to see otherwise. While each app is different, almost all visual assistance apps require a user to upload an image or stream video from their device’s back camera so they can get visual information about their surroundings. Most of the popular visual assistance apps are free to download and use, though some apps charge users for a monthly plan with a set amount of minutes. I’ve linked several different types of visual assistance apps that I have written about on my website below.
- Google Lens Review For Low Vision
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision Review
- Be My Eyes App Review
- BeSpecular App Review For Visually Impaired Users
- Aira For Low Vision Review
- Google Lookout App For Low Vision
Reading text on a page/screen that is otherwise inaccessible
For users that are not confident with using screen reader tools, visual assistance apps are a great way to have text read out loud on a page/screen that is otherwise inaccessible, whether it is due to too-small font or color contrast issues. This isn’t just limited to text in a document either- visual assistance apps can help with reading dialog boxes, menus, and similar navigational tools. When taking pictures of a screen, I recommend taking a screenshot and sending it to the visual assistance app if possible for the best results, though users can also take a picture of the screen with their device. My favorite app for reading text is Google Lens since it works very well with recognizing handwritten and typed text in multiple languages, though like using the Microsoft Seeing AI image recognition feature for reading screenshots.
- Using the Google Assistant Camera with Low Vision
- Eight Ways To Read Handwritten Cards With Assistive Technology
- Recognizing Images With Seeing AI
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
Describing images, graphs, and other visual content
Have images without alt text? Visual assistance apps can be helpful with generating image descriptions and alt text whether the app uses machine learning technology or sighted interpreters. If I need to have detailed descriptions, I will use sighted interpreters over technology-generated descriptions since those descriptions tend to be shorter and less detailed than the ones provided by sighted interpreters. My favorite app for generating descriptions from volunteers is BeSpecular, since the app can be used by people of all ages and allows users to get text-based or audio-based descriptions.
- Tips For BeSpecular Volunteers From A Visually Impaired User
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- Quick Ways To Improve Accessibility For Virtual Learning Materials
Helping to fill out inaccessible forms
I’ve encountered many inaccessible online forms, tests, and documents that do not contain proper text formatting or options for me to navigate a form by myself. When I encounter these problems, I frequently turn to visual assistance apps to help me with making sure I fill things out correctly. One example of how I recently used a visual assistance app was in a math placement test where I couldn’t tell which answers I had selected when I went back to check my work, and I had a volunteer read me the answer choices and the option I selected so I could make sure that everything was correct (which was allowed by the proctor). My favorite visual assistance app for this type of task is Aira, since their sighted interpreters are professional staff who are familiar with navigating online forms and tests with assistive technology.
- Designing Accessible Documents With Microsoft Word
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
- Testing Accommodations For Low Vision Students
Providing audio description for videos and virtual tours
While I do not traditionally use visual assistance apps to generate audio description or provide descriptions of virtual tours, I know a lot of students who do use these tools to get more information about what is going on in a video or for help with navigating a virtual tour when traditional audio description is not available. Many visual assistance apps such as Be My Eyes and Aira have also collaborated with other organizations or events to share their own free audio description for special events, including concerts, plays, movies, conferences, and even royal weddings.
- Watching One World: Together At Home With Audio Description and Be My Eyes
- 8 Myths About Audio Description
- How To Create Audio Description For YouTube With YouDescribe
Reading equations or other text that is hard to see
There have been many times where I have encountered symbols in math or physics equations or formulas that are difficult for me to see. The problem is, these symbols or equations may not be recognized by sighted interpreters unless they are familiar with the subject. In times like this, I turn to visual assistance apps that use machine learning to help me with recognizing these equations and ensuring that I am inserting the correct symbols. While it is not a traditional visual assistance app, I’ve been using the Socratic app from Google a lot in the last year or so, since it can take pictures of equations or formulas and display them in a text format. For text that is not in English, the Translate function within Google Lens is my favorite way to read information.
- Socratic App Accessibility Review
- Using Online Homework Help In College
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help With Online Learning
Assisting with troubleshooting technology
Eventually, every student who is taking virtual classes will encounter an issue with their technology. Fortunately, several companies have partnered with visual assistance apps to provide free technical support for users who are blind or low vision. Representatives are trained in how to use and troubleshoot assistive technology, and the wait times are often shorter than traditional technical support phone numbers. Aira can provide free support for Vispero products including JAWS and ZoomText, though I have never tested this since I don’t use those products frequently. My favorite visual assistance app for troubleshooting technology is Be My Eyes, since their Specialized Help section supports the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk and the Google Disability Support Team.
- Be My Eyes x Microsoft- Technical Support for the Visually Impaired
- Why I Use Accessibility Support Phone Numbers
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
I am grateful that I have so many options available to me when it comes to using visual assistance apps for virtual classes, and that each app that I have downloaded to my mobile devices can help me in different ways- while I could use a single app for visual assistance, I prefer to have options and choose the best app for the task at hand. I hope this post on using visual assistance apps for virtual classes is helpful for others!