Photo of Iphone showing various apps

by Shannon Carollo

I recently interviewed a veteran who is blind working for the Environmental Protection Agency to ask what prepared him for career success after losing his vision. He spoke of the emotional support of his family, friends, and counselors, as well as the physical support of utilizing Assistive Technology (AT) to efficiently complete job tasks. Naturally, I wanted to ask him about the AT he finds most valuable in everyday use. His response? The iPhone.

The iPhone has built-in Vision Accessibility as well as an assortment of apps which increase accessibility when reading printed text, orienting to surroundings, listening to audiobooks, and navigating routes. While there are many app options, the following are well-known and may be worth exploring with your child. To reduce frustration, I recommend using them in natural contexts and for short intervals of time.

  1. I’d start with exploring Apple’s integrated, pre-installed screen reader, VoiceOver. Your child will be able to access digital text by audio and navigate phone use without use of vision. To learn how to use VoiceOver read American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)’s Working with Text and VoiceOver on a Mac and Apple iOS for iPhone and iPad: Considerations for Users with Visual Impairments and Blindness. To begin using the tool in a natural context, perhaps you can familiarize yourself with VoiceOver and invite your child to listen to an email or text from a family member.
  2. Discover the KNFB Reader app which utilizes a photograph/ scan of printed text and converts it to speech—no cell service or WiFi needed. To learn more, read The KNFB Reader App Is a Print Reader I Can Easily Carry on the Go – VisionAware. To begin using the app in a natural context, perhaps your child will ask for a letter, document, or menu to be read to them and you can encourage your child to use the KNFB Reader alongside you.
  3. The versatile and free app, Seeing AI, reads text (much like the KNFB reader, though it does require cell service), identifies products by scanning barcodes, and recognizes photographed objects in the environment such as money, seating, or people. To learn more, read Seeing AI: Artificial Intelligence for Blind and Visually Impaired Users – VisionAware. To begin using the app in a natural context, consider making a snack with your child and using the app to identify food options by barcode or consider helping your child become aware of their surroundings in an unfamiliar environment.
  4. While not specific to individuals who are blind, the Overdrive app enables folks to listen to audiobooks for free when connected to your library card. To learn more, read Getting started with OverDrive eBooks, Audiobooks using OverDrive app. To begin using the app in a natural context, and if your library utilizes Overdrive, I highly recommend listening to audiobooks together during an afternoon or evening rest time or while your child plays with a quiet activity.
  5. An accessible GPS such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, Blind Square, or Seeing Eye GPS will provide your child a method for learning and navigating new routes, as well as orienting to new areas. I recommend trying a few different apps with your child and allowing them to decide which they prefer. To learn more, read Smartphone GPS Navigation for People with Visual Impairments. To begin using the app in a natural context, plan a family walk to get dessert!

There are certainly a plethora of accessible iPhone tools and apps; it can be difficult to know where to begin! Start exploring one or two apps that would be useful in your child’s day-to-day life, or one or two that will prepare your child for a confident, interdependent adult life. As the veteran I interviewed stated, “Nowadays so much is electronic.”, and what an asset this is to individuals who are blind or visually impaired! A smartphone, which many American families already own, can open wide the doors to accessibility.

Additional Assistive Technology Resources

Assistive Technology for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Accessible iPhone Apps That Help Me Manage Work, Life, and Travel As a Blind Professional

Note-Taking Skills for Blind and Visually Impaired 

Reading, Writing, and Connecting: A Blind College Student’s Use of Technology