Listen to the Picture
One of my favorite features of the iPad for people with reading impairments is the ability to read any selected text aloud. This one accessibility tool makes it possible for people with aphasia or dyslexia to listen to emails, websites, and e-books instead of reading them. As an added bonus, the feature can be set to highlight each word as it is read, providing extra therapeutic stimulation. What if the device could also read text from any source? Using OCR (optical character recognition) technology, the text embedded in photographs can be turned into editable text, allowing users to take photos of printed materials, extract the text, and use it just like any other digital writing.
One app that employs OCR technology to recognize text in photos is OCR Scanner by Smart Mobile Software, available on App Store and Google Play. The recognized characters are displayed in plain text that can be copied, emailed, or read aloud within the app. The app works best when the picture only contains text displayed on a plain background. Five scans per day are included in the free app; unlimited scans are available through in-app purchase or you can buy the unlimited version of the app called Mobile OCR Pro for $2.99.
While this is the most accurate OCR app I have tried, there are several other OCR apps of varying quality, and even some that will translate from other languages or read the text automatically. More important than any specific app is the idea of using the technology that I want to share. OCR is a technology that has been steadily improving over the years, and while it is still not perfect, it can save hours of typing and improve the lives of people with communication impairments.
With this technology, people who have trouble reading can take a photo of a greeting card, the instructions on the back of a food package, or a sign in the community, and hear the text read aloud. I've heard too many stories of patients receiving a letter in the mail about an important test or deadline that they missed because they couldn't read it. Perhaps stories like this will become a thing of the past.
Once you've downloaded the app, make sure you have your Text to Speech turned on: go into the Settings app, select General, scroll down to Accessibility, touch Speak Selection, set it to ON, and on turn Highlight Words. Now when you go into the OCR app, take or select a picture of the text you want to hear, and press Convert. When the converted text appears, select the portion you want to hear and press Speak. Most OCR apps require Internet connectivity to work, so be sure to use this on a 3G device or when connected to wifi.
Android users may also want to look at Mobile112, an app developed expressly to help those with dyslexia and language learning disorders to hear text read aloud through OCR. There is a free trial, an inexpensive lite version, and the full version is $30.