Skip to main content
Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Is There an App for That?

November 30, 2018 | 4 Comments

by David Flament

Tags: , ,

Hand holding an iPhone using an app

I often work with clients on finding apps to help them with everyday life. I wanted to share a couple of the ones I use and recommend to students. The apps below are for the iPhone. Some are also available for Android.


Is There an App to Help Me Get Where I Need to Go?

If you want more options for travel than public transportation or paratransit, check out ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. They allow you to share a ride with others. These ride sharing apps are great ways to get around and are almost like having your own chauffer. It is as easy as opening the app, telling it where you are and where you want to go. A car will pick you up in minutes. Best of all, it is a shorter wait than calling a cab and the cost is usually less.


How Can I Tell What Color My Clothes Are?

There are a ton of apps that identify color, and for the most part, all of them do a terrible job. The Color ID channel in the Seeing AI app is okay, but I prefer to use the Be My Eyes app for this task. Be My Eyes connects you with a volunteer who can see with the rear camera on your phone. Not only can they see me and tell me that my colors match, but they can also spot if I have a stain on my shirt.


How do I Read Print Like My Mail or a Restaurant Menu?

Many apps are able to work with the camera on your phone to read print materials. The one I use the most is Seeing AI by Microsoft. Seeing AI is free and has a ton of features. The Short Text channel reads any text in view of the camera without having to press any buttons or tap on the screen.  The Documents channel will read an entire document after you snap a photo of the page.


How Can I Tell the Denominations of My Paper Money?

Among the many currency id apps out there, the two best are the Currency channel in the Seeing AI app and Money Reader by NantMobile. I use the Money Reader app. It is free, fast and very easy to use. Just open the app and wave a bill in front of the rear camera.


How Can I Find Out Where I Am and Get Where I Want to Go?

There are more GPS apps out there than grains of sand on the beach. I find the easiest way is to use SIRI and Apple Maps. Just ask SIRI, “Where am I?” or say, “Get walking directions to the nearest Starbucks.” If you turn on Tracking with Headings in Apple Maps, it will announce Points of Interest (POIs) and intersections as you walk.

Another GPS app that has really taken the community by storm since its release in the spring of 2018 is Microsoft Soundscape. Soundscape builds a 3D sound environment around you. When you ask the app to tell you what is around you, you will be able to tell where things are by where the sound is coming from. For example, if the Chase bank is to your left and McDonald’s is behind you, you hear something like, “Chase Bank 75 yards” in your left ear and “McDonalds 300 feet” coming from behind you. The menu makes it very simple to use. You do need headphones to take advantage of this 3D soundscape. I recommend purchasing bone conduction headphones if you plan on using a GPS app like this outdoors.


What about Shopping?

I have really come to dislike getting help from customer service at the grocery store. At least half the time I end up with someone who just can’t help very much. I tend to do most of my shopping with the Peapod or InstaCart apps. They both charge delivery fees and InstaCart also charges a service fee. Peapod delivers your groceries from their own warehouses and they also have their own line of generic products. InstaCart shops at your local stores and then brings the products to you.

I also do a lot of shopping on the Amazon web site or with my Amazon Echo smart speaker. I do occasionally use the Amazon app, but do not really care for it. Amazon has most everything I need and their customer service for people with disabilities is amazing. A customer service representative can do almost everything for you including finding, describing and placing products in your cart. They cannot, however, checkout or pay for your purchases. The phone number for the customer service for people with disabilities is 888-283-1678.


Is This Soup or Nuts?

One task that becomes difficult as our vision changes is identifying products like cans in the cupboard or boxes in the freezer. I use the Seeing AI app from Microsoft for this task. The Products channel will identify products by their bar code and even give you the label information like nutrition and directions. If you are like me and cannot see enough to find the bar code, Microsoft already thought of this and developed an ingenious solution. As you move the product around in view of the rear camera, Seeing AI will start to beep as the bar code comes into view. The faster the beeps, the closer it is to seeing the entire bar code. Before you know it, you will hear the app say “processing” and then it will identify the product.


Need a Real Person?

Sometimes you just want a pair of eyes to look at something. I mentioned the Be My Eyes app earlier for color id, but this app is so much more. I have used it to find my hotel room in an unfamiliar hotel, check the temperature on my air conditioner and set my microwave clock. This app is free and very easy to use. When you tap on the “connect to a volunteer” button, you will be connected to a volunteer who will be able to see out the rear camera of your phone. Keep in mind, they are volunteers, not paid professionals. I would not ask them to read my bank statement or credit card number. Also, remember they can see everything the rear camera on your phone catches including that week-old moldy pizza on your coffee table!


Need More Help?

If you want to learn more about the apps in this article, Second Sense can help. Our open lab is staffed with a tutor to help you weekday mornings from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. The open lab is first-come first-serve.  We also have individual, one-on-one sessions with our tutors by appointment.  Just drop by for the open lab or call our front desk at 312-236-8569 to schedule your one-on-one appointment.


David is the Manager of Assistive Technology at Second Sense.

4 comments on “Is There an App for That?”

  1. Jake says:

    Thanks David. I’m loving my iPhone and use some of these apps plus more I found on AppleVis. I’ve been meaning to come back down there but have had a rather busy social life. But these phones are awesome.

  2. Pshon Barrett says:

    Hi, This is a very helpful article and I plan to check out some of the recommended apps. What do you recommend for an accessible calendar app? Thank you

  3. Mike Cole says:

    The helpful apps article is quite good; I agree with your selections. One thing I would say is that the description of the ride sharing (UBER and LYFT) process using the phone is misleading; it’s actually not all that simple and at times I have struggled with both apps: once UBER and I got way out of sync when I accidentally requested a very expensive car; a sighted person had to get me out of the problem; I have got stuck, unable to advance to the next screen; that is, it takes some work and learning, we mustn’t over emphasize the easiness of apps, better to tell it straight I think.

  4. Thanks Jake. Do not forget our Apple Exchange group meets the first Thursday of every month from 1:30 to 3:30. Oh, that is today, I have to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.