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Jan 14 2013

Avatar of Jeannie Krull

The Replacements? Apps vs. Dedicated Talking Identifiers for Vision Loss

IDMate and iPod TouchIn our IPAT Centers, we have dedicated talking identifiers for money, colors, and UPC barcodes that can help people with vision loss that, for the most part, work extremely well. However, these devices basically do one thing, cost between $140-$1300, and are definitely not “ pocket-able”, especially if you need to carry around more than one.  Tool belt anyone? Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of most of these devices, but I am also an enthusiast of having as few devices as possible to keep track of, maintain, and keep charged.

There are several stand alone talking apps for iOS mobile devices (iPad, iPod touch, iPhone) or standard apps that work with the iOS built-in VoiceOver  accessibility feature that appear, on the surface, to replace these devices, but do they really?  I have compared several apps, on the new iPod Touch 5th Generation,  to dedicated talking identifiers that we have here in our Fargo IPAT Center.  I made a video of each device/app, so you can decide for yourself.  Keep in mind with my opinions below, that I am a sighted person, and a person who is blind may have a significantly different experience.

You can see all of the videos at the IPAT Low Vision YouTube Page or click each section below.

Talking Color Identifier

The old: SpeechMaster Color Identifier 

This device works by placing it directly on the object whose color you wish to identify and completely occluding the sensor .  It is pretty consistent and accurate no matter the light situation; however,   sometimes it is hard to completely occlude the sensor especially on rounded or small objects.

The replacement? Color Identifier

When this app is set to Simple Color mode, and is set to activate with “tap” to identify, it is reasonably consistent and understandable; however, I have found that it depends on the lighting in the room as to which color names it speaks.  In my opinion, the colors names provided are still a little off from their actual hue.  As far as I can tell, there is no way for the app to identify colors within smaller patterns  due to the wide focus area .  This app has made a dramatic improvement with the addition of the “simple color” name  option compared to, in the past, only offering “Exotic”nonsense color names.

Is it a replacement?  Depends on your needs.  If you need more accuracy and consistency in all situations then a dedicated color identifier like the Speechmaster is for you-there are several.  Check out the video and you be the judge.  More information can be found at GreenGar Studios for $1.99.

Talking UPC Code Identifier/Object Identifier

The Old: ID Mate Omni

This device has now been surpassed with the ID Mate Quest, which has many new features; however,  they both are  able to scan a barcode with a huge camera recognition area and can pull from a multi-million code database .  They also can both handle new objects entered into the database very easily.  You can even add UPC codes to objects and clothing that do not have them (i.e. put one on your striped shirt and your plaid pants to differentiate).  I have not had the opportunity to try the new Quest, but the Omni and its predecessors have always worked for me and the people I work with who have vision loss. The downside is the size and weight of the device.

The replacements? Barcode Scanner for iPhone with VoiceOver and Recognizer from LookTel

There are many UPC scanner apps for iOS on the market and most require you to fit the UPC code into a window for recognition. The Barcode Reader for iPhone, however, has a large UPC code acceptance area and appears to have a nice size database.  I do not see where you can add any unrecognized codes. This app in conjunction with VoiceOver make it certainly worth a try and if you already sport an iPhone, it is free!

The Recognizer from Looktel is not cheap for an app at $10, but it does something rather unique-object recognition.  You take a picture of an object, add a voice recording to identify it, and then every time any object even gets near camera range, the app will shout out your corresponding recording.  As you can see in the video, if your items are too similar, you may have to make them a little different as I did with a marker on the medicine bottle.  This app is obviously labor intensive as you have to input every object it identifies; however,  if you already use an iPhone,  it just might help identify certain objects without UPC codes such as Medication or things too small for a UPC code.

Talking Money Identifiers

The Old: NoteTeller 2

I have never had good luck with this device as you can tell from the video-of the five bills scanned (1, 5, 10, 20, and 50),  it recognized three.  I also had to get all of them in the slot just right, similar to the dollar reader on a pop machine.  There may be other dedicated money identifiers available that are better.  The new IDMate Quest, mentioned above, states on their website that it also identifies money, but both of these devices are still pretty big.

The replacement? MoneyReader by LookTel

“Winner, Winner,  you pick the Dinner!”

This is it!  An app I can really say does replace a dedicated talking money identifier.  The money can be folded over with only a portion showing, not even a number to be found by the naked eye, and the bill will still, in most cases, be recognized by this app.  This LookTel app started out around $3 a few years ago, but at nearly $10 now, I believe it is still well worth it.  This app was designed for the way our money really is……crumpled!

Bottom line

If you or someone you know is blind and already using an iPhone or iPod Touch with VoiceOver, it may be worth it to consolidate with one or more of these apps.  Let me know your experiences with these and other similar apps and talking identifiers!

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