There’s an appp for that…
I remember when the iPhone first came out and smart phones started taking off. I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was trying to explain to me what “apps” were. I was having such a hard time wrapping my brain around why these would be useful to me. Well, boy was I wrong. Like most people, I can’t imagine living without a smart phone and the use of apps. How did we ever manage before? J
This month at our local NFB chapter meeting, we had some member presentations on some of the top apps they use as a blind person. Some of the ones shared were blindness specific, but others were just apps that were useful in some way as a blind person in that they helped provide greater access to something or a useful service. So with that, I’d like to share just a couple of my favorite “blind-friendly” appps that I use on a regular basis.
- Uber and Lift: Most people are familiar with these services. Basically, they are public ride share services that work like a cab service except the drivers are just independent members within the community who sign up to provide rides and work for Uber or Lift as contractors. It’s probably pretty obvious why I love using these services…since I can’t drive. I still use public transportation in tandem, but these are definitely more convenient and reliable. I love knowing when the ride will come, who my driver will be, and the ability to leave comments and rate the drivers. I use Uber the most as it works the best in our area. I may have to write a post sometime just dedicated to how much I love uber and how we use it on a regular basis since both my husband and I don’t drive.
- Order Up: I think this is a new service that is mainly based in our area, but I know it’s growing and that there are a lot of copycat services. I also heard a rumor that Amazon offers a similar feature in certain areas. Basically, this is an appp that allows you to order food from a number of restaurants in your area, many of which do not provide their own delivery service already. New places are always being added. You can browse the menu, order, give instructions to the restaurant and/or driver, and pay through the app. There is a $5 fee per order, but for us, this is totally worth it, especially if it’s a place that isn’t exactly within walking distance, or easy to get to via transit. It’s so great to be able to have something delivered that is not just pizza or Chinese food. We also like that it offers us options which most people would just drive to and pick up, which isn’t always as easy for us…like those night-time ice cream cravings. They even deliver to our neighborhood pool. Some of our Faves to order from are Dunkin Doughnuts, Cold Stone, Chick-Fil-Et, and Chipotle. We’ve also ordered from some local places that are great. I highly recommend using it. It’s pretty easy and fast.
- Honeywell Thermostat: This was a device that we bought which is a wireless thermostat you install on your furnace. It was a pretty easy installation too. It’s great to be able to access our heating and air conditioning systems via our phones. Otherwise, the screen on the wall in our home is a flat touch screen which my husband can’t see, and I have to get really close to read (I can’t really read more than the temp either, so programming is not an option.) Through the app, we can program our system to be on or off and it’s also great to regulate it while we are on vacation. The app works great with the voiceover built in on the iphone. I am looking forward to finding and using more appliance-based apps in the future for things like programming our stove, or monitoring home security.
- Big Magnify: This is a great tool for the low vision user. Basically, it turns your phone into a small hand-held magnifier (like a portable CCTV for those of you who are familiar with those). . It can provide a pretty strong magnification too. I use this for spot reading like product labels at the store, mail, etc. Just small things that I want to read quickly and when I don’t really need to read the whole thing. ON another note, I have found that I can use this sometimes at venues to see a bit better. For example, Jesse and I went bowling once and couldn’t’ read the score screen. At first, we just figured we would play and then ask the attendant at the end to tell us the score and who won, but then I figured out that I could aim my phone at the screen above the lane (kind of like looking through binoculars) and make out the scores. This is a bit subjective and will depend on a user’s level of vision, but it was exciting. I also watched parts of my daughter’s dance recital this way. I don’t do it all the time because it probably looks a little weird, and sometimes there are just better, more effective techniques that also don’t strain my eyes as much either, but on the other hand, to most, it probably just looks like I’m taking a picture or using my phone to film something.
- KNFB Reader: This is a great program for scanning and reading large amounts of text. Basically, you take a picture of something you want to read, i.e. a package label, piece of mail, flyer, etc. And the app converts the text to speech. It’s also really useful for reading pdf’s that you open in a message or download from a website. I used to use the parent product in college (Kurzweil 1000) for scanning textbooks and handouts on a flatbed scanner connected with my computer. The new version with a smart phone is so much faster and easier! I use this now mostly to read long pieces of mail or handouts at meetings. It also has a “continuous scan” mode which I’ve used before to scan a book or manual that I couldn’t get electronically.
- National Library Service BARD app: For those of you who are a BARD subscriber, and who enjoy reading like me, this is a great way to browse the catalog easier and it’s nice to be able to download books for free and listen to them on your phone rather than having to download it to another device, especially since I use my phone so often anyway. Voiceover will work with apps like the Kindle and ibooks, but these are human-voice narrated and free to BARD patrons.
- Workouts: I don’t know the official name of this app, but this is what it looks like. This is an app we stumbled onto when trying to find some new exercise programs. It’s a mainstream app designed with a variety of videos to serve as your personal trainer through a variety of exercises. You select the kind of exercise you want to do, (i.e. yoga, cardio, spin, weights, etc.) and then it gives you several videos ranging in fitness level or time. The reason I’m listing this one here though is because the videos are really descriptive—that is, there is a narrator describing how to perform the exercise, as well as a written description at the bottom of the page below the video. It’s a great way to use a workout video, especially when you may not be able to see what the person is doing or be familiar with the exercise. Additionally, this is great because the app works fully with voiceover whereas other similar apps have unlabeled buttons or text that voiceover cannot read.
- NFB Newsline: This is a service that gives you access to over 200 newspapers and publications. It began as a phone service, but the app is great to organize your favorites and read the paper or various magazines via Wi-Fi rather than using minutes on your phone. You can also email or share items through the app. I like using this service as it is designed for blind people and free. It’s nice to be able to access news via the associated press or some of my favorite papers or magazines without having to pay a subscription fee or try to read them online and navigate through all the online ads and headers. Some of my favorites are the Target weekly circulator, USA Today, the Economist, and Parents. I also like to check in with hometown papers once in a while.
So there you have it. These are just some of my favorite “blind-friendly apps.” There are a lot of other “blind specific” apps out there like bar code scanners, color identifiers, money readers, etc. There are also a lot of apps that make accessing sites easier than doing it online such as the Facebook app, Tweetlist (for Twitter), , and bus/rail tracker apps. I’m also a big fan of apps that provide services like Amazon Prime (which speaks for itself and is very popular), or store delivery apps. I’m not a tech expert, but I just thought I’d share some of my favorites that make life a little easier for me. I’d love to hear what yours are. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.