The following article is adapted from some iPhone training material that I created for special education teachers in June 2011. It describes over 70 accessible iPhone apps.
Apple’s iPhones (starting with the 3GS) are accessible to people who are blind as they come, complete with a screen reader, “VoiceOver”, and print enlarger “zoom”. As you know, the iPhone is famous for its touch screen so this is a very new experience for most blind users. Apple reps are well prepared to sell these phones and to explain their accessibility features in their stores, although it’s a noisy environment so it can be somewhat challenging. Similar accessibility is experienced on iPod Touch and iPad devices.
I found the book Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users to be most helpful. It is $18, but an updated version that covers both the iPhone and iOS5 is available for $22.
Additionally the LookTel VoiceOver, by IPPLEX, is a downloadable app that proves a Tutorial for new users to learn the specialized gestures necessary for using the iPhone with speech.
With my iPhone I can schedule appointments on the calendar, set and change alarms, time my dinner in the oven, check the weather, write notes, record short messages or long lectures, send texts, check e-mails, surf the web and of course, make phone calls. And, this is all done with apps that come preinstalled on the phone.
With additional apps, many free or very low cost, I can read books, identify household products, determine businesses in my area, play games, check TV schedules, learn what street I’m on and the nearest intersection, read recipes, find people via white/yellow pages, and much more and growing.
Unusual blindness-related uses include learning how long it is until sunrise/sunset, figuring out what day of the week a certain date is, learning package information for foods, and knowing what paper currency I’m carrying. I can also use a color ID program, although it’s not perfect, which is the case with scanners. We are still in the development stages.
One of the main ways to keep abreast of iPhone app development is by visiting and reading the information at www.applevis.com. This site provides an app directory, links to listservs, iPhone guides written for blind folks, podcasts, and app usability information. Please be aware that folks post information about apps that are not accessible so we don’t all try to use the same inaccessible apps. However, if you use the advanced search you can find more than 160 apps that people have posted as being generally accessible to folks who are blind.
What I will do next is to discuss various groups of apps, describe where we are with accessibility, and highlight some interesting apps. I describe more than 70 apps, and if you purchased them all today you would spend less than $135.
Apple’s Maps app now included on their devices is amazingly accessible, allowing you to hear street names and zoom in/out of an area. It also provides quite good driving and pedestrian directions. Voice navigation is only available for driving.
Nothing rivals the Trekker re: automatically calling out intersections as you approach them, but many commercial apps work well for other features. Prices range from free to around $50. Often folks will choose which one to use depending on a particular route. Folks are also using apps to alert when they arrive at a specific location.
Sendero GPS Look Around – $4.99 is a basic GPS with compass, displays your location on the screen by shaking, and gives nearest intersection and 5 points of interest in category chosen.
Navigon GPS is priced according to geographic area included. Prices range from about $50-$75. Watch for this app on sale, but beware since sales are short, usually 1-2 days. This is a full-fledged GPS product that can be used in pedestrian or vehicle mode. It will call out directions for a route and re-route if needed. It does have a considerable learning curve, however.
Some enterprising folks use an app called Where To ($2.99) to find businesses and import the info into their contacts. It’s then easier to have Navigon provide a route to the business once it’s in contacts.
A1GPS Lite (free) is an app that Some folks like for determining names of streets at intersections.
Blindsquare ($11.99) is a new app that uses GPS and compass to locate you. It gets information of the surrounding environment from FourSquare. BlindSquare has some unique algorithms to decide what information is the most relevant and then speaks it with high quality speech synthesis.
Taxi Magic allows one to schedule a taxi directly through local dispatch, know how far it is to your location, and pay via the app.
iBooks is a free app for reading books, and some are free from the iTunes store. You can either turn pages or you can use a VoiceOver command to read continuously. You can set bookmarks, search for text, and navigate to sections via the table of contents. You can purchase books from their store and read them via this app. Pictures do have labels but they are quite brief. There are many children’s books in the ibook store for purchase.
Additionally the NOOK app, by Barnes & Noble is accessible and allows the user to choose from NOOK books, magazines, and newspapers. Although purchase of books must be done on the Nook website, book contents are accessible.
Two apps, LookTel Money Reader ($1.99) and EyeNote (free) do a really nice job of quickly and easily reading U. S. paper currency. The company LookTel is working on several other apps that will be beneficial to blind people. http://www.looktel.com/products#products-development
Other free apps that allow you to read certain material include dictionary, bible, and white/yellow pages.
Scanning is becoming possible on the iPhone. Most apps, however, require you to manipulate a section of text shown by the camera–a feat not possible for most blind folks.
To date the best scanner is Prizmo ($9.99). It isn’t good enough or fast enough to read a whole book but for handouts, identifying mail, etc., it can work well once you learn the technique and are careful about the lighting.
Another scanner type app is Talking Tag which is free although the labels to use with the app cost $20 for 200. This app allows you to record a one-minute description identified by the specific label you scanned. Then you attach the label to an object like a can of food or medicine bottle. When you want to know what that object is you start the app and scan the label and it plays your recorded description.
LookTel Recognizer is a very useful app for taking a photo of an object and recording an audio label. Once a database of familiar objects is created, it can recognize such things as packaged goods in the pantry, identity cards, soda cans at the grocery store, or CDs in a music collection.
Individuals with low vision and an iPhone 4 may benefit from the various magnifier apps, including iCanSee (free), Magnifying Glass with Light (free), Magnifying Glass ($0.99), MagLight+ Magnifying Glass Flashlight ($0.99), Magnifier-TiAu ($0.99), Over 40 Magnifier and Flashlight ($0.99), AmpliVision ($1.99), See it – Video Magnifier ($3.99), VisionAssist ($5.99), ZoomReader ($19.95), dozens of others at iPhone-Apps-Search.com.
free app Ultimate Magnifier Plus. People who are blind have also been using the free app, oMoby to take pictures of objects and find the image on the internet which can sometimes identify the object and perhaps provide information such as instructions etc.
Color Identifier ($1.99) is an interesting app that is somewhat accurate; it has elaborate color names so one needs to select the setting for simple colors. Lighting makes a big difference. Speaking of lighting, Light Detector ($0.99) helps blind folks determine if lights are on in a room or on an appliance. Another useful app is Talking Timer ($0.99) which calls out the time at specified intervals and can either count up or down. This is also useful for exercising and timing tests. Chime (free) provides an audible notification every hour or half hour. It can be set to use tones for roman numerals of each hour. Another time app is Temper Timer (free) which is good for time-outs. Additionally you can customize reminders with iVoice Reminder ($1.99). You simply record what you want the reminder to say and then set the time. When the reminder time arrives the alert sounds and then you touch “listen” to hear the reminder. You can set multiple reminders and this app can be good for keeping any kind of schedule including medications.
Short lists are easy to do with the iPhone and there are many accessible apps for this. Check at the AppleVis site. Blind folks can either enter text the conventional iPhone way or by touch typing–removing your finger from the screen when you are on the right letter. Writing on the iPhone is tedious if one uses the on-screen keyboard but can be very easy with a Bluetooth keyboard, (I believe the Apple one is about $69). Students often use free apps such as Draftpad since it auto backs-up and then put their files in Dropbox or e-mail them to their computers. There are accessible apps for reading but not editing MS Word files.
Dragon Dictation is a free app that allows you to dictate and have your words turned into text. Once done you can send it in a text message or e-mail. It is easy to use and quite accurate.
Clear Record Lite (free) reduces ambient noise during recording and allows for speed change during playback.
Speaking Spelling Bee is a free app that allows you to use spelling lists on the app or create your own—very accessible.
Two apps provide specialized keyboard approaches and allow export of the written text as copied words, emails, texts etc. Braille Touch allows one to “type” in grade I Braille on your Apple device. Fleksy allows one to type without finding each specific letter key as the app does word prediction based on keyboard layout. Each of these apps allow for faster writing on Apple devices.
Accessible free apps like Fandango, Netflicks, and TV Guide allow you to find movies and TV shows. With the TV Guide app you must get to the enter field for e-mail and leave your finger on it, turn off VoiceOver, double tap the enter field, turn VoiceOver back on and enter the info. This is a work-around that solves issues of not being able to enter data.
Captionfish is a free app that displays a list of local movies with captions. Their web version also includes audio described movies–maybe they will add this to the iPhone version.
iPhone Radio apps allow you to play certain radio stations via Wi-Fi. One accessible radio/recording app is ooTunes ($4.99). iBlink Radio is a free app that links directly too many podcasts and radio broadcasts of particular interest to folks who are blind. Pandora Radio (free) allows you to build “stations” of the types of music you enjoy. Beware that you must create an account online and this requires sighted assistance as their regular internet site is impossible for screen reader users. [Editor’s note: Yvonne and I use iHeart Radio to listen to one of our favorite local FM stations, but I don’t know about its accessibility. Also, many popular radio stations have their own app.]
Two bird-listening apps are Chirp USA Lite (free) and iBird Explorer South ($4.99). Both are very accessible and fun to use. Naturespace (free) is a beautiful app that provides nature sounds in four environments that surround you–it even sounds like you hear noises above your head.
There are many music apps for the iPhone; I have an Autoharp ($0.99) and a Xylophone (free) app. There are instrument identification, drum, metronome, auto tuners, and many more. Check with the www.applevis.com site re: accessibility.
Many people use their iPhones to play games. Several are accessible. Some games require that VoiceOver be turned off once the game loads–if you have trouble with any game this is a good trouble-shooting strategy. I’ll provide just a sample of some of my favorites. People with some usable vision will be able to play a much wider variety of games.
Stem Stumper ($1.99) was developed by some staff at the Massachusetts School for the Blind especially for blind and sighted gamers. It’s very engaging; you help a plant grow by finding hidden fertilizer and avoiding problem elements.
Aurifi ($1.99) is an audio only game and is very relaxing–navigate via various musical elements. No real theme but fun. VoiceOver must be turned off once the game loads.
BlindSide ($2.99) is a 5-star rated audio-only game for the iPhone4s and iPad2+ only.
Papa Sangre ($4.99) is an audio game developed especially for blind gamers. It’s interesting but I would hesitate to encourage younger children to play as it is set in a graveyard.
Zaney Touch (free) is a simple game that asks you to react to commands like shake, swipe, etc. Sometimes it helps to just touch the screen so it refreshes. Fun for all ages as it speeds up to make responding harder.
Music Guess Pro (free at this time) builds a multiple choice music game using your iPod music library. You can choose to guess either by artist or title.
Hangman (free) by Jamsoft is accessible and a fun word game that can be played solo.
The old text adventure games have re-surged in popularity with iPhone use. They are usable with what is called the Frotz compiler, free from the app store. ‘Hours of fun, as the compiler comes with several games. It’s faster to enter the commands via a Bluetooth keyboard. The only drawback is the “hints” portion does not work so blind people have been using the game hints at www.gamesfaqs.com.
Moxie (free) and Moxie 2 ($1.99) are word games that are both very engaging. Moxie is free and a good way to determine if you like the game. Both are very accessible once you get accustomed to it. A podcast explaining Moxie with VoiceOver is at http://media.libsyn.com/media/bct/bct1495SomeiPhoneGames.mp3
Seven Little Words (free) is made by the same developer as Moxie and is very accessible and engaging.
Tap the Mole ($0.99) is a game that provides grid coordinates and you have to tap the mole at that position before time runs out. The grid gets more complex the longer you play.
CardsAlone ($0.99) is a solitaire app that includes two different solitaire games, Napolian’s Grave and Hexagon. Instructions are somewhat limited but accessibility is good.
Blind Memory ($0.99) is a game that instructs you to swipe up, down, left or right and then has you repeat the sequence with an additional swipe each turn–similar to Simon.
Kings Corner ($0.99) is a card game that is very accessible. The rules are clearly explained and you simply play against the computer. It is very well designed.
Accessible Minesweeper ($0.99) is an accessible version of this popular game.
Chess-wise is a free and accessible game enjoyed by many blind chess players.
iYacht ($0.99) is a fairly accessible Yahtzee-style game.
Adaptive Trivia (free) is very accessible although somewhat fast paced.
Sudoku4All is a very accessible free Sudoku game.
De Steno games is an accessible collection of 6 cassino, text and word games.
Other apps of interest include:
StarWalk ($2.99) presents the night sky and might be useful for some students with low vision.
iASL Lite is a free English to ASL translation that provides short video clips for the signs.
Zoom Reader ($19.99) is a scanning/enlarging app for folks with low vision—does not scan well enough to use as a reader/scanner.
VizWiz (free) is an app that allows you to take a picture and then record a question; workers receive the info and send back the answer. Can be used to identify canned goods, determine colors of clothing, etc.
TapTapSee allows one to take a picture and then tells you what it sees like “black cat” “striped shirt” or “chili mix”.
Flashcards++ is an app that allows you to create your own flashcards for drills. It uses several languages.
LaDiDa ($2.99) is an app where you sing a song and it composes music to match your singing.
Learn Braille Alphabet ($1.99) and Learn Braille Number are apps that could be used by non-blind folks to learn Braille.
BigNames ($1.99) provides your contacts in a large font.
Vision Sim (free) simulates four leading causes of blindness and allows for adjusting the severity of each.
Many new apps are introduced every day for iPhones and other i-devices. The landscape is changing very rapidly so it is beneficial to watch listserves where folks interested in accessible apps discuss issues as most new apps that are accessible will be mentioned. I have found several apps my searching through sites like www.appexplorer.com when I have a specific need. I often find various approaches and can then determine if I want to try them out. Be aware however that Apple does not readily allow one to return an app because it is not accessible. Prices are often very inexpensive and allow you to try out an app without great expenditure. The Applevis site mentioned above indicates which Apple devices an app supports. It appears that DARS is now purchasing the iPod Touch for note taking and other blindness related tasks. Also some folks are using iPads as note takers and find that the larger screen is more useful for certain apps.
We are fortunate that Apple has set the bar for product accessibility. Since a new Federal law requires more product accessibility, it’s wonderful to be able to show first-rate accessibility in devices such as Apple has produced. Next year by this time there will be a whole new round of apps and opportunities for us all to discover!
I appreciate Wayne Caswell for initially hosting this post on his Modern Health Talk blog. He made my original material more readable and user friendly. Thanks Wayne!