Vision Loss – Technologies to Help Seniors Live Independently

Vision Loss – Technologies to Help Seniors Live Independently

Nearly 7 million Americans age 65+ have severe visual impairment. According to the CDC, a visually impaired senior is at increased risk for falls and fractures, and more likely to require hospitalization and long-term care than those with good vision. Vision impaired seniors are at greater risk for depression, and more likely to make errors in doses of medication.


There are now a wide variety of options, from low tech to high tech (apps), to help seniors live a more independent and enjoyable life.  If a senior needs training and/or education for products can be obtained through non-profits like Lighthouse.


Low to High Tech Options

Signature Guides: 

There are plastic signature guides with a cutout for the signature area so that a person who is vision impaired can feel the area where they need to sign.  There are check writing guides that have cutouts for all of the places on the check that need custom information.

Magnifying Machines 

There are many options for desktop and portable magnifying machines that enable a vision impaired person to enlarge text, bills, receipts, recipes, pictures and other documents so they can see and read them.  Non-profit places such as Lighthouse often sell used models which are less expensive than new ones.

Computer Screen Magnifier and Reader

There are programs that magnify the computer screen and also read the screen.  They provide instructions to navigate through emails, accessing the internet, preparing documents and more.  I have a client who uses products from Freedom Scientific – MAGic and JAWS.

U.S. Currency Reader

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing has a free Currency Reader Program called iBill.  There were already a lot of apps that do this, but now a senior can have a plastic item about the size of a large cigarette lighter.  It uses one AAA battery, has two buttons and a speaker.  Place the bill inside the unit and it will tell you the face amount.

“Magic” Opener

These products open plastic and metal twist off caps in a fast, easy, painless manner.

Voice Labeling System

This product can be used to label things that can’t be distinguished by touch such as files, things in cabinets, etc.  The product consists of a wand which is an optical scanner and labels that have sensors with bar codes.  The owner records the name of each label, places the label on the item, then when the wand is passed over the item, the voice states the name.  Labels can be re-recorded as needed.  Two are Pen Friend and VoiLa.

Talking Thermostats

A number of companies now offer sophisticated talking thermostats.  They provide the inside, outside temperature, allow the owner to change the temperature by voice command.

Talking Blood Pressure Monitor

This product enables a vision impaired person to now take their own blood pressure.

Books and Reading Materials

Audio books and ebooks are provided by many services including Kindle, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel to name a few.  Public libraries have programs where vision impaired library card holders can order audio books, have them delivered and returned by mail.

A service of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress – The BARD Mobile app provides access to braille and talking books directly from the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD). BARD contains nearly 50,000 books, magazines, and music scores in audio and braille formats, with new selections added daily.  Their website is: or telephone is 1-800-NLS-READ to apply for service. Through its national network of cooperating libraries, NLS mails digital audio players and books and magazines in audio and in braille directly to enrollees at no cost. Music instructional materials are available in large-print, braille, and recorded formats. Select materials are also available online for download.

Voice Over’ Messages:  iPhone

Cell phones are becoming more ‘vision-impaired’ friendly every day.  Below are some of the current options.

  • iOS devises now offer Alex as an option for Voice Over. Many people prefer his natural speaking voice to that of Siri.  Alex is available on most iPhones and iPads.
  • VoiceOver is a feature that narrates all of one’s actions of the iPhone. And in the new update, VoiceOver can now let one know when things happen on their phone.  For example, when the screen goes black, Alex will say, “Screen dimmed.”   Also Alex’s pitch and speed of navigation can be adjusted.
  • Speak Selection is a toned-down form of VoiceOver. On the iPhone it is available through “accessibility then speech.”
  • Zoom enables the ‘keyboard’ to be larger.


There are many apps for visually impaired people, and more every day.  iPhones have  a new AppList:  Entertainment Apps For The Visually Impaired.  Below are some of interesting general apps.

  • Ariadne GPA – This app takes away the challenge of taking a solo walk. Its talking maps allow one to explore.  Crossing a street is signaled by vibration. It has a favorites feature and works anywhere that has Google Maps ($4.99).
  • LookTel Money Reader – If one prefers to use an app rather than the plastic box, this iPhone app uses the camera to announce the denomination of paper money ($9.99)
  • Medicine Reminder and Pill Tracker – This app send the user an alert when it’s time to take medication, will track how many pills they have left and when to re-order. It has a medication database included and is VoiceOver friendly.  This app is free.
  • Glucose Buddy – This app is a diabetes logbook manager that syncs blood pressure and tracks weight. Users enter their numbers, exercise and food consumption into a log that is uploaded to a private account.  This app is free.
  • Color ID Free – When you point the iPhone camera at any item it will announce the color for you. The basic setting works well ($0).
  • Voice Brief – This provides a text to speech voice assistant for news, email, weather, stock prices, Facebook and more. There is a free lite version.  ($1.99)
  • VM Alert – Video Motion Detector – This app detects motion and warns with either a tone or an alarm when someone approaches. It can also snap a photo when motion is detected ($1.99).
  • List Recorder – Allows users to records and organize using audio or text. The lite version is $.99 and the full version is $1.99.
  • VizWiz – This app allows the user to take a picture of any object and record a question to clarify what the object is. Then the photo and question are sent to Web worker and a human volunteer who reviews and answers the questions.  This app is free.
  • Evernote – This app, which has been around a long time, stores voice notes, photographs and text so they can be accessed from multiple devices. Photographs are scanned for text which can then be searched.  Evernote has VoiceOver support.
  • Urbanspoon – Assists in finding a restaurant. Cans search by type of food, rating or distance ($0).
  • Dragon Dictation – Dictation Dragon works on non-iPhones. Speak, adding punctuation as needed verbally and Dragon Dictation will type it instantly and coy it to your clipboard.  This app is free.
  • Awareness! The Headphone – This app allows the user to listen to their headphones while also hearing the sounds around them. It uses a microphone to feed in noises as the user listens to music or use another app.  The user can hear the doorbell or a car approaching.
  • Alarmed – Reminders + Timers Alarm Clock – This app is several important apps in one. It has a robust notes area with a “nag me” reminder mode that repeats until the user turns it off.  If has a multi-feature timer, alarm clock with snooze option and a sleep alarm.  The standard unit is free, advanced unit is $1.99.
  • WeatherBug – Provides weather forecast, warning for severe weather and more ($0).
  • Chime – This app has a chime option for the quarter, half and full hour ($0).