I’ve written about several visual assistance apps on Veronica With Four Eyes, and how I use visual assistance apps with low vision in my day-to-day life. However, it can be difficult to keep track of what each service does, and how it is used. For this post, I will be sharing links to visual assistance apps that I have talked about on my website so far, with more to be added in the future.
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.
Visual Assistance Apps That Use AI
Microsoft Seeing AI
Seeing AI is a free iOS app developed 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. When the app is opened, Seeing AI will recognize objects, text, and other items and provide information about them in real-time, though users also have the option of taking a picture and having the app recognize what is in the image.
Seeing AI can do the following things:
- Read short amounts of text as well as longer documents
- Identify products through barcodes
- Identify currency
- Detect light and provide information about colors
- Recognize faces and provide a description of what a person looks like
- Provide scene descriptions of a space
Google Lens is a free Android app that uses image recognition technology to provide information about objects that it identifies. Google Lens is also part of the Google Assistant camera, though some users prefer to have the app instead.
Google Lens can do the following things:
- Translate text in another language
- Copy text from the camera with OCR
- Identify objects through image recognition
- Scan barcodes or identify items and provide information about a product
- Give more information about dishes on a menu
Google Lookout is a free Android app that uses AI and image recognition technology to identify objects and read text through the phone camera for users with visual impairments, including blindness and low vision. While it is not a replacement for mobility aids, it can help tremendously with users who have trouble with navigating indoor spaces or avoiding obstacles, as it reads text and provides descriptions continuously. Google Lookout requires an internet connection in order to work and can be used on wifi or data connections.
Google Lookout is separated into four modes:
- Explore mode (default) can identify objects that are in front of the camera, and provide information about their distance or location
- Shopping mode can read different barcodes for products, as well as identify currency when it is held up to the camera
- Quick Read mode allows users to read documents, signs, and other environmental text, though it works best when the camera is within close proximity to the text
- Scene Description requires the user to press the camera icon to get a description of their surroundings
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision Review
- Recognizing Images With Seeing AI
- Google Lens Review For Low Vision
- Using the Google Assistant Camera with Low Vision
- Google Lookout App For Low Vision
Visual Assistance Apps That Use Human Interpreters
Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free smartphone app for iOS and Android. Be My Eyes connects blind and low vision users with sighted volunteers or company representatives for visual assistance through a live video connection. The call works similar to a video call, though the volunteer does not share video and the calls are considered anonymous since no identifying information is provided by the app about the volunteer or the user. There is no limit for how often a user can access Be My Eyes, and the service is free to use. The app also can be used from anywhere in the world, with no language restrictions, though users must be at least 17 years old.
Aira is a free smartphone app for iOS and Android that connects blind and low vision users with professionally trained visual interpreters for visual assistance through a live video connection, though users also have the option to use a “chat” feature that allows them to receive information in a text-bassed format. When users first download Aira, they are able to input their own personal preferences, such as whether they use a blindness cane or guide dog, or how they prefer to receive directions. There are many Aira access spots around the US as well as promotions that allow users to access the service for free, as well as a paid plan that gives users a set amount of minutes per month. Aira is available in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and is only available in English. Users must be at least 18 years old to use Aira, though an Aira staff member has told me in the past that younger users can access the service if their parent or guardian fills out a form.
BeSpecular is a free app for iOS and Android that allows users with visual impairments (who are referred to as VIPs) to take pictures or upload them from their phone gallery and have them described by sighted volunteers (who are referred to as Sightlings) within minutes. VIPs can choose to type questions or record themselves asking the questions, and Sightlings will send back recorded or typed responses to their questions. BeSpecular is available on iOS and Android, with language support for English and Italian. One unique feature about BeSpecular is that there is no age restriction on who can use it, compared to Be My Eyes and Aira which have age restrictions.
- Be My Eyes App Review
- Tips For Be My Eyes Volunteers From A Vision Impaired User
- Be My Eyes x Microsoft- Technical Support for the Visually Impaired
- Aira For Low Vision Review
- Airaport- How I Use Aira At The Airport
- BeSpecular App Review For Visually Impaired Users
- Tips For BeSpecular Volunteers From A Visually Impaired User