Post date: 
Friday, 6 May 2016
App icons

Sarah Holton, from RNIB's Children and young people team, provides an overview of useful iPad apps to engage your learners with vision impairment.


  • iBooks are the easiest way to get text books on an iPad via the in-app purchase.
  • Kindle have the largest collection of e-books. If you buy from the Amazon site, books appear in the Kindle app.
  • Audio books are available from Amazon for a monthly subscription from £7.99.
  • OverDrive allows you to borrow text and audio titles from libraries including RNIB. 
  • Voice Dream Reader is the most accessible reading app. Word and line highlighting is synchronised with speech and it remembers your place on the page. You can choose from dozens of voices. It will speak when the device is locked. It also has Bookshare and Dropbox support. (£7.99)

Reading from hardcopy print 

  • KNFB Reader is the most accurate, fast and user-friendly access to hardcopy text using the built-in camera. It works well for beginners, offers guidance for 
    positioning your iDevice and even reads text scanned from screens or signs. (£79.99)
  • Prizmo scans from the camera, photos or PDF. Voice guidance assists positioning the camera, the voiceover reader allows you to adjust the speaking rate and it highlights words as being spoken. There is also extensive export options and it works with older iOS devices. Suitable for the slightly more confident student. (£7.99)
  • Text Detective is free and has a useful tutorial describing how to position the device relative to the sheet of paper, however text recognition is not as accurate as KNFB Reader. Plus, the scanned text is not read automatically. Worth a try for people on a budget.
Scanning text from a mobile device requires patience and practice. Stands to hold the device in the correct position over a page include Standscan and Giraffe Reader. These are suitable for spot reading.

Object recognition 

  • Camera and Photos apps built-in to iOS describe the number and position of faces. They report focus quality and if people are blinking or smiling.
  • A Compass (which also acts as a spirit-level) is built-in to iPhone. It can gauge direction and angles of surfaces. This can be used to perform basic orientation, DIY or crafts.
  • Color ID or AIPoly Vision can be used for matching, dressing and learning which colours go together and colour association.
  • Light Detector reports how much light is being received by built-in camera. (£1.49) 
  • TapTapSee uses algorithm and crowdsourcing to recognise objects.
  • Be My Eyes video-connects blind users with (unknown) sighted helpers. Supervise student usage. 


  • Maps is built-in to iOS. It announces headings and directions.
It's important to remind students to only share their location with trusted contacts.
  • BlindSquare announces nearby points of interest and junctions. Control with physical buttons on earphones or speakers. (Bone conduction headphones recommended) (£22.99) 
  • RNIB Navigator provides simple turn by turn directions. It announces when you are approaching a turn and can describe direction as a clock face. (Subscription from £6 per month)
  • TravelLine GB announces bus times, nearest stop and route planning options.
GPS accuracy varies substantially. Good mobility skills and support from a habilitation specialist are essential.


  • Podcasts: Directory of programs including age-appropriate educational content. 
  • YouTube: Popular video sharing site.
  • BBC iPlayer: Information and entertainment including audio description facilities. 
  • iTunes U: Free educational content from colleges and universities.
  • TED: Short talks from experts about ideas worth spreading.


  • Facebook: Feel included with sighted friends. Must be 13 plus.
  • Twitter: Real-time, text-based topical conversation. Works well for screen readers.
  • FaceTime and Skype: Live audio or video communication via the internet. Remote learning possibilities.
Students must know how to stay safe online before using social media. 

Other app features 

If you find a third-party app to be inaccessible, you can request a refund at [email protected]

Additional disabilities

  • Motor difficulties: Switch Control and Assisted Touch. 
  • Deaf: Hearing aid support, Flash A Alerts and Mono Audio. 
  • Attention Deficit: Speak Screen and Guided Access (which locks the screen in a particular app).
All of these features can be accessed in Settings > General > Accessibility. 

So, is an iPad worthwhile? What are the pros and cons?

iPad is a versatile companion for students with vision impairment accessing learning materials in a mainstream setting. It is important to choose the appropriate screen size, accessories, apps and receive training to get the best from iPad. Additional accessibility features for many disabilities come as standard.
Some students find iPad is a steeper learning curve than specialised assistive technology, such as a Braille Notetaker. Some braille back-translation quirks and no speech pronunciation exceptions dictionary may be problematic for some students. Access to STEM subjects depends on the content publisher.
Out-of-the-box accessibility improves with each iteration of the iOS operating system demonstrating Apple’s on-going commitment to blind and partially sighted customers.
This is the second piece of a two part series following from a workshop given by Dave Williams at the 2016 VIEW conference. Dave is an Independent Access Consultant and also a blind parent, braillist and strong advocate for accessibility. For more information please visit or email [email protected]

Further information

  • Making the most of iPads: Part One - if you are considering getting an iPad for a child with vision impairment, or already have one, do you know how to make the most of all of the accessibility features?
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