Yesterday, a close friend of mine gave me a handwritten card. They were worried at first that I would have trouble reading it, as they weren't sure if there was a way to read handwritten cards using assistive technology. Luckily, there are quite a few options available for people with vision impairments looking to read handwritten cards, so I was able to read their note with ease. Today, I will be sharing eight ways to read handwriting and handwritten cards with assistive technology. Almost all of the methods listed here are free, which is an added bonus as well.
Seeing AI is a free app developed by Microsoft that helps people with vision impairments get information in real time about the world around them using artificial intelligence (which is the “AI” in Seeing AI). One of the features I use the most is the "Handwriting" feature that allows handwritten items to be read out loud in a natural way. Since Seeing AI is only available for iOS devices, I have to hold my iPad over the card or note, which can be difficult at times. However, iPhone users will have no problem using their phone with Seeing AI. Download Seeing AI on the App Store here, and read my post about Seeing AI here.
Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free app that allows blind and vision impaired users to be connected with a volunteer sighted guide for completing simple tasks. The volunteers I have worked with have been very helpful and willing to read information or help me identify images, which is great for describing the front of a card. It's worth noting that the volunteers are not formally trained in helping the vision impaired, but I haven't had any issues with volunteers in my experience. Download Be My Eyes on the App Store here and for Android on Google Play here. Read more about using Be My Eyes for technical support here.
Google Assistant Camera
Android users that have the Google Assistant app can use the camera function to take a picture of handwritten text. After processing the photo, the text can then be read out loud or displayed with the system font on screen. The captured image is not stored on your phone, but the text on screen can be copied onto the clipboard if needed. Read more about using the Google Assistant Camera and how it helps me identify objects here.
Aira is a service that allows for blind and low vision users to be connected with a trained sighted guide 24/7 for completing a variety of tasks (while Be My Eyes uses volunteers). Agents are able to see information through the user's phone camera or through a pair of smart glasses with a camera in the center. Aira agents are great about reading text and handwriting and have helped me many times with reading information in the classroom. Aira is a paid service, so users would need to have a plan in order to use it. Read more about Aira here.
Using a video magnifier
Many people with low vision use video magnifiers, sometimes referred to as a portable CCTV, for magnifying text and other small objects. This is perfect for people who don't want to mess with a smartphone or who spend lots of time magnifying items. I have the Eschenbach SmartLux video magnifier and highly recommend it- read more about the Eschenbach SmartLux here.
Did you know that you can use your phone camera as a makeshift magnifier? If you don't want to mess with a bunch of apps, simply hold your phone above the card and zoom in. iOS users can also use the Magnifier feature, which can be enabled in accessibility settings- read more about iOS accessibility settings here.
Microsoft Office Lens
Microsoft Office Lens is a free scanner app that works with your iOS or Android device. Users can take a photo of the card and have it scanned into the Office Lens app and then exported to another app so it can be magnified or read out loud with Immersive Reader. I prefer to use Office Lens to scan in the card or note as an image so I can magnify it, though some people may find the handwriting detection feature useful. Download Microsoft Office Lens for iOS on the App Store here and for Android on Google Play here. Read more about Microsoft Office Lens here.
I started using Envision AI as an alternative to Seeing AI on my Android phone, as both apps have a lot of similar functions. The handwriting feature was able to read a variety of different handwritings that I tested, including my own messy handwriting- read more about how I used the HP Sprout to improve my dysgraphia here. Another function I found interesting was the ability to "teach" Envision AI to recognize the faces of your friends and family- this would be great for identifying people in a Christmas card photo! Download Envision AI for iOS on the App Store here and for Android on Google Play here.
While I prefer to read notes that have been typed out, there's just something exciting about reading a handwritten note from a dear friend. I hope that these tips help you to read wonderful handwritten notes and cards with assistive technology this holiday season and beyond!