Before one of my close friends moved to another country for two years, they gave me a handwritten card that is filled with all sorts of memories and inside jokes about our friendship. Shortly after they handed me the card, my friend asked me if I can read handwriting or if they needed to take the card back and type out their message in large print instead. I reassured them that there are several options for reading handwriting with assistive technology, and that I would not have any issues with reading their message as long as they had written in pen. Here are my favorite tools and strategies for reading handwriting with assistive technology for vision loss, inclusive of low vision and blind.
Recognizing handwriting on iOS: Seeing AI
Seeing AI is a free iOS app developed by Microsoft that helps people with visual impairments get information in real-time about the world around them using artificial intelligence. Seeing AI requires an internet connection but does not require a Microsoft Account or any other subscriptions.
There are two different options for reading handwriting with Seeing AI:
- Seeing AI has a handwriting feature within the app that allows users to take a picture and have handwriting converted into large text and read out loud with a synthesized voice. This image is not saved to the gallery.
- Users can use the image recognition feature in the gallery to have Seeing AI recognize text and describe other visual elements. This feature can be accessed from the Share menu in the Photos app.
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision Review
- Recognizing Images With Seeing AI
- Seeing AI on the App Store (apple.com)
Recognizing handwriting on Android: Google Lookout/Google Lens
Google Lookout and Google Lens use artificial intelligence to provide visual descriptions and recognize text, similar to Seeing AI. Handwriting recognition features are available in both applications, and Google Lens has the additional feature of translation, so users can have handwritten text translated into their native language- this was incredibly helpful when I received a Christmas card in French.
There are two different options for reading handwriting with either Google Lookout or Google Lens:
- Opening the application and holding the device over handwritten text, or taking a picture in the app and having the text read out loud or copied to the clipboard
- Selecting the “Lens” option in the Camera app or in the phone gallery, which can recognize text and have it read out loud with Select-to-speak, TalkBack, or copied to the clipboard.
- Google Lens Review For Low Vision
- Google Lookout App For Low Vision
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
Another OCR handwriting application: Envision AI
Envision AI is another free application for iOS and Android that can recognize handwriting and provide other visual descriptions, and I was impressed with the app’s ability to read my own messy handwriting. When my friend asked if I could read the card when they first handed it to me, I opened Envision AI on my phone and showed them how the application could recognize the text on the front of the card, and my name on the envelope. The Envision AI app is free for all users as of 2022.
- Envision AI on the App Store (apple.com)
- Envision AI – Apps on Google Play
- How I Use Technology To Improve Handwriting
No downloads necessary: Camera and/or Magnifier
One of my favorite ways to use a video magnifier on the go is to open my phone’s Camera app and zoom in on information, whether it is a card on my desk or a sign on a bulletin board in the college dining hall several feet away. Another option is to use Apple’s Magnifier app, which has several options for adjusting color contrast and magnification.
- Use Magnifier on your iPhone or iPad – Apple Support
- Creating Accessible Bulletin Boards For College Dorms
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
Using a human interpreter: Be My Eyes
I know I’ve talked a lot about using technology and AI, but there are some cases where I find it more helpful to talk to a person or hear another human’s voice. Be My Eyes is great for reading handwriting with assistive technology, as long as the handwriting in question does not include any identifying information. Be My Eyes is free and available for iOS and Android.
Converting to another format: Microsoft Office Lens
I wanted to scan a copy of my friend’s card so I could read it more easily on my computer, so I used Microsoft Office Lens to take a picture and convert it to an OCR format so I could easily recognize the text and save it in cloud storage. My friend’s handwriting is very neat and doesn’t resemble cursive, so I had no issues with recognizing text with the application. I prefer to use this app over my ScanMarker Air when scanning cards or notes from friends, since they don’t always write in a straight line. Microsoft Office Lens is free and available for iOS and Android.
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
- ScanMarker Air: OCR Scanner Pen for Low Vision
- Tips For Writing Letters To Visually Impaired Recipients
Making everything bigger: Magnifying glass or video magnifier
Mainstream technology is great, but specialized assistive technology for low vision like a magnifying glass or video magnifier is also a great option for reading handwriting with assistive technology. If I didn’t have access to a video magnifier in my dorm, I would go to the campus library and use one of their desktop magnifiers, resting my card on a sliding table so I could move it around more easily.
- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
- All About The Eschenbach SmartLux Digital Video Magnifier
- College Libraries and Low Vision
Focusing on a single line: Typoscope
Typoscopes are a piece of black plastic with a cutout opening that make it easier to focus on a single line of text while reading. This is helpful for readers that have double vision or that have trouble following along with lines of text. Another option is to use an index card as a line guide, moving the card along a line of text.
- Two of Everything: Living With Double Vision
- Simplified Reading Displays and Low Vision
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
Other tips for reading handwriting with assistive technology
- To make it easier for me to read text, I ask my friends to write in pen or use markers that provide adequate contrast against the background of the card
- One of my friends received a card that included a handwritten note and a QR code on the back. Scanning the QR code would open an audio file of the person reading the inside of the card, which I thought was really sweet
- Looking for a card to send to a friend with vision loss? Check out my post Tips For Choosing Greeting Cards For Visually Impaired Recipients