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They’re cheap, easily downloaded, and hugely useful. Apps have made a world of difference for people who are blind or have low vision.

Simple technology like smartphones with a camera give people their independence back, and in some cases, act as a second pair of eyes.

As Vision Australia’s national assistive technology adviser David Woodbridge said apps are like the tools in a toolbox for a blind user.

"I treat my iPhone like a good old fashion Swiss pocket knife with all the other gadgets on it,” he said.

There are apps that read the text of documents out loud, apps to identify people’s facial expressions, apps that tell you what colour your shirt is.

Our Assistive Technology team members who have lived experience with vision loss have narrowed down their favourite and most used apps

If you are new to vision loss or want to trial new apps, try these 10 apps:

Seeing AI
Cost: free
Description: Talking camera specifically designed for blind/low vision users
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: Speaks text as soon as it appears in front of the camera;scans barcodes, using audio beeps to guide you; describes an overall scene; identifies colours, reads handwritten text like in greeting cards; saves people’s faces so you can recognise them.

Be My Eyes
Description: Connects you to a group of volunteers who you can ask for assistance in identifying things like currency or labels.
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: It’s a global, multi-lingual initiative and is operational 24/7. The volunteer on the other end of the call will be able to see using the user’s smartphone camera. Just use with discretion.

Cash Reader
free (offers in app purchases)
Description: Camera identifies bank notes and vocalises the denomination
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: Other apps like Seeing AI do this too, but this specific app has Australian currency loaded onto it. It’s regularly updated to include new banknotes.

Vision Connect (VA library)
Description: Vision Australia’s online Library service
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: The app is completely accessible, and allows you to search, select and read a vast range of books and other publications. It is updated daily with the latest Australian newspapers and magazines so you can keep up to date with the news.

GoodMaps Outdoor
Description: Blind specific GPS
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: It's a fully accessible turn-by-turn GPS app for smartphones. It's made in collaboration with Guide Dogs VIC/NSW/ACT, it's designed specifically for Australian locations. It also gives you the altitude and speed, and lets you know about upcoming turns and critical intersection information via audio and/or vibrations.

Sound Scape
Description: 3D sound map that calls out points of interest, roads etc
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: Great for walking. Soundscape is designed to live in the background and provide you with ambient awareness. It calls out the key points of interest, roads and intersections that you pass. These can be adjusted and turned on and off. “My Location" describes your current location and the direction you are facing.

Super Lidar (note: only available on iPhone 12 Pro)
Cost: free
Description: Scans and maps the 3D layout of your environment to determine the distances of your surroundings and gives sound feedback to avoid obstacles.
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: Great for maintaining social distancing. Through the phone’s camera, it will vocalise distances of people and tell you if they’re wearing masks or not. Most features work without an internet connection so that users can use it in any situation.

Smart Magnifier
Description: Turns your device into a magnifying glass via its camera
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: Zoom in and magnify objects by using your smartphone’s camera. The flash can be turned on to light up the object, you can adjust filters to help you differentiate colours or use a freeze‑frame to get a static close‑up.

Voice Dream Reader
Description: Text-to-speech reader that turns any document into audio.
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: Built in scanner to recognise text. It works offline and plays in the background even with the screen locked.Available in 27+ languages. Supports DAISY text-based books and audiobook, PDFs and web articles.

VIP Code Reader
Description: QR code finder
Why it’s good for blind/low vision users: The app plays sound as you get close to a QR code and then reads it out. Perfect for visiting a café and signing yourself in.

Other useful apps

Woolworths and Coles apps allow you to search for a product and it will tell you what isle it’s in, as well as the price. The Bunnings Find Me app also allows you to for a product and it will tell you what aisle it’s in, the price and it’s in stock.

Tune in to Talking Tech

Listen to more tech tips and product demos from a blind and low vision perspective every week on Vision Australia Radio’s Talking Tech.

Tune in to Vision Australia Radio every Tuesday at 4.30pm AEST or catch up with the podcast here.

For more tech tips, read our series: