These days smartphones are smart enough to take over the processor-intensive task of turning images of text into text that can be voiced (for more on optical character recognition, see the Using Technology for Reading Guide). Smartphones also include a hardware camera, which means they have everything they need to become all-in-one “Reading Machines.”
We mentioned earlier in this guide that Google Goggles and Talking Goggles for Android and iOS can identify and recognize some text. Other apps, such as TextGrabber and Prizmo have been optimized to perform these tasks exclusively. These apps tend to be more than a little finicky, however. You have to have the text lined up perfectly square, and hold your phone absolutely still and at just the right distance from the page. Needless to say, these are not skills many individuals with visual impairments excel at.
Several years back, K-NFB Reading Technology Inc released a product called the KNFB Reader. This software package enabled users of certain Nokia feature phones running the Symbian operating system to snap a photo of a printed page, have it turned into text, and then have that text read aloud. The Symbian operating system has subsequently languished, but in the early fall of 2014 and to much fanfare, the company released a new version of the KNFB Reader for iOS
KNFB works on a range of Android devices, depending on processing speed and camera quality. KNFB works on iPhone 4s through 6s Plus, iPod touch 5 and 6, and on the iPadAir2. Technology changes quickly—check with the developer to make sure the app works with your specific device.
Read a review of the KNFB reader for iOS in the November 2014 issue of AccessWorld to learn more. To pique your interest, below are a few of the KNFB Reader’s blindness-aware features:
- The app uses the latest and most advanced text recognition, and it includes this software within the app. You do not have to wait while an image is uploaded to a company server and recognized there.
- KNFB Reader is extremely forgiving about target position. It will automatically straighten and/or rotate the target page for optimal recognition.
- The app’s interface is clean and simple, and it was designed from the ground up to work with the VoiceOver screen reader.
- The app offers an easy-to-access control to facilitate better positioning, with status messages such as: “Right bottom edges are visible; rotated 10 degrees counterclockwise.” Or, ideally, “All four edges are visible; rotated zero degrees clockwise.” You can also switch on Tilt Guidance which provides haptic (vibrating) feedback to help you position your device over the target text.
To read a piece of mail using the KNFB Reader, you would perform the following steps:
- Start the KNFB Reader app
- Place the first page of the letter, bill, or circular on a flat, well-lighted surface. The app will only read printed (not handwritten) text.
- Lay the iOS device (visit the KNFB Reader website for a current list of compatible devices) on top of the page’s center, then slowly raise it 9 to 12 inches.
- Perform a one finger double tap anywhere on the left side of the iPhone screen. You will hear a camera shutter sound, then, a few seconds later, the text will begin to speak.
- Change pages and repeat.
The KNFB Reader does a near perfect job recognizing a standard printed page. It also does a good job reading box and can labels. Many users even report success using the app to read Chinese fortune cookie fortunes.