One Gadget to Rule Them All: Why an iPhone Makes Sense as an Assistive Tool for the Blind

I was a late adopter of the iPhone technology. I thought I didn't need ANOTHER gadget to keep track of. It wasn't until I heard some friends discussing their iPhones that I realized that an iPhone could replace many of the gadgets I used. Not only did the iPhone cut down on the number of gadgets I needed to carry, but it saved me money too!

The Comparison

I was curious to see exactly how much money the iPhone could save me, so I went window shopping. I looked for the lowest priced gadgets that would provide the same functionality I have on my iPhone. I looked primarily at sites with products geared specifically for the blind and low vision community. While I am aware that other products do exist, the products mentioned in this article are the closest in functionality that I could find. Also, the apps listed are the ones I use. This is not an extensive look at the products available to the blind and visually impaired community, just a look at some gadgets and apps I use on a regular basis.

The iPhone

Currently, I use an iPhone 5s, which can no longer be purchased directly from Apple. As of this writing, Apple carries model lines from the SE to the X. iPhones range in price from $349 to $999. Prices depend on several factors including size and cell phone carrier. Apple has an accessible comparison tool on their website. My personal recommendation is to get at least 32 GB capacity. Some apps can be very large. While the prices may seem high for a cell phone, iPhones can do much more than calling and texting.

Movin' On Up

Have you ever been out walking by yourself and gotten lost? Perhaps you miscounted streets or houses and weren't sure how to get back on track? With the advent of talking GPS, this type of mishap can be behind you. Currently, the only new talking GPS you can buy is a pre-order for a victor Reader Trek from Humanware. Humanware anticipates shipping of the Victor Reader Trek to begin in the 4th quarter of 2017. With the Victor Reader Trek, you can switch between Talking GPS and a book you're reading with the press of one button. Finding out exactly where you are is equally simple with a button press. You can add voice tagged landmarks and the Victor Reader Trek will not only remember those landmarks, but also provide turn by turn directions to that location. If you want to go to a location that you haven't voice tagged, you can enter an address with the num pad on the front of the Trek. While traveling, you have the option of pedestrian or driving directions. The pedestrian directions will keep you safely off major highways. Additionally, the Victor Reader Trek has added blue tooth functionality.

If you have an iPhone, the built in maps app is a pretty good solution. If you'd rather be able to tag landmarks, you'll need an app like Blind Square($39.99). With Blind Square, you can find what interesting places and street crossings are near you. When paired with the maps app, you can get turn by turn directions to any of the places listed. In addition, you can get contact information, including phone number for the places listed. When combined with the Bard Mobile app (discussed later), you have all the functionality of the Victor Reader Trek.

Time keeps on slipping...

From appointments to timing a cake, keeping track of time is an essential every day task. The iPhone's native clock app allows for multiple alarms, one count down timer, time around the world, one count up stopwatch and a unique feature to remind you to go to bed if you tend to lose track of time. All the features are accessible via voice over. You can even set and turn on or off alarms with voice commands through Siri.

There are many talking watches and timers on the market. None I have found come close to all of the iPhone's capabilities. Even if you take away the voice control through Siri, you would still need to purchase multiple gadgets. A simple talking clock with one alarm costs $9.99 from Future Aids. You would also have to get a talking kitchen timer ($14.95 from multiple retailers) and still have no count up capability. Don't forget that the iPhone is portable and can be used anywhere, while most gadgets aren't. For a portable solution, a 4 Alarm Talking Stop Watch can be purchased from LS&S Products for $21.95, and you would still need the kitchen timer.

Bigger is Better

Magnification can give the ability to read small text to those with low vision. The iPhone comes with a built in magnifier that uses the back facing camera. It allows for changing magnification levels, color filters, additional lighting, locking the focus on an object, and saving the magnified image. To get similar options, along with the portability of an iPhone, you would have to spend $295 on the Pebble-Mini Portable Electronic Magnifier from Independent Living Aids

Read 'Em and Weep

The victor Reader Stream is a must for any bookaholic. It allows the reading of multiple formats, including NLS, Audible and mp3. With the built in text to speech engine, the Victor Reader Stream can read Daisy books from Bookshare as well. In addition to reading, the Victor Reader can connect listeners with their own mp3 music or any internet radio station. Taking voice memos is easy with the Victor Reader Stream's built in microphone or line in and its recording capability. Currently, the Victor Reader Stream 2nd generation sells for $369 from Humanware.

The NLS has provided users with a free iPhone app called Bard Mobile. The app provides all the same functionality as the bigger players the NLS provides. Likewise, Audible books can be read on its free app. There are 2 main apps for reading Daisy books on the iPhone. Bookshare's own Read2Go($19.99), which reads only Daisy books, and Voice Dream Reader($14.99), which reads many formats. Internet radio is at your fingertips with either (or both) free app IHeartRadio or Tune-in Radio. While you can subscribe to Tune-in's premium content, a lot of the radio stations, both internet and not, are free. One of the nice premium features is access to some audiobooks at no additional charge. Recording voice memos is likewise easy on the iPhone with the built in Voice Recorder app.

I Love This Bar

A bar code reader can mean the difference between putting stewed tomatoes in your fruit salad and pineapple in your soup. Envision America sells the popular i.d. mate models of bar code reader. The i.d. mate Galaxy is the current model and sells for $1299. In addition to identifying a product by its bar code or UPC, the i.d. mate allows users to add voice recorded information to existing products or their own barcodes.

If you are using an iPhone older than the iPhone 6, Digit Eyes, a $9.99 app, provides the same functionality as the i.d. mate. And, the iPhone is smaller and lighter than the i.d. mate. You can use Digit Eyes to make lists of items you have scanned. You can find out more about Digit Eyes on its app directory page. If you have an iPhone 6 or newer, the free Seeing AI app by Microsoft has a bar code reader, however, you cannot use it to record any additional information or bar codes. It is also only currently available in a limited number of countries.

True Colors

Knowing that one sock is black and the other is blue is priceless. One way to easily identify which sock is which is with a color identifier. To buy a stand alone color identifier will cost $115.95 for the Rainbow Color Reader II from Independent Living Aids. And all it does is identify colors! Or you could add a free tool, like Seeing Assistant Home Light to your iPhone arsenal and have so much more.

Turn Off The Lights

To keep your electric bill down, you have to know which lights are on and which aren't. If you need assistance with that, you need a light detector. A light detector is a small unit that makes a noise with the intensity of the light it detects. A Separate unit will cost $45.95 for the Light On Light Detector from MaxiAids. Or you could use the already mentioned Seeing Assistant Home Light and get a light detector with your color identifier.

OCR On The Go

Do you find it frustrating to be at a restaurant and have to rely on someone else to tell you what's on the menu? Portable optical character recognition (OCR) is possible, but at a price. The Snow S HD 4.7" Portable Magnifier with Speech is $539 from LS&S Products. In addition to magnifying images up to 17X, it can also scan and speak snapshots of text. You can also freeze an image or project an image to your TV.

The iPhone, again, comes to the rescue with a cheaper alternative. Seeing AI has 2 different text reading modes. With short texts, text is read as soon as it is put in front of the camera. If you need a longer piece read, the documents mode assists the user in taking a picture of the document. Then the OCR magic happens, leaving the information readable by voice over while preserving much of the original formatting. Once again, the price of this priceless app is free.

Add It Up

One final gadget before we look at the savings of an iPhone, though. Ever need a calculator away from your computer? A talking large display desk calculator costs $4.99. If you need more advanced functions, you would have to get a scientific talking calculator for $249. Both calculators are available from Independent Living Aids.

Again, a native iPhone app comes to the rescue! If you open the calculator app on your iPhone with the phone in portrait mode (that is, the shorter edges are at the top and bottom)of the device, you have a standard 9-digit calculator. If you turn the iPhone so the phone is in landscape mode (the shorter edges being to the left and right), you now have an accessible scientific calculator.

enjoy The Savings

One of my favorite sayings is "I have an app for that". For every day tasks, my iPhone is indispensable. I have access to the functionality of many gadgets I couldn't afford as stand alone items. Below is the price breakdown of exactly how much you could save purchasing an iPhone over individual gadgets.


  • Talking GPS navigation $599
  • Talking Clock $9.99
  • 4 alarm talking stopwatch $21.95
  • Talking kitchen timer $14.95
  • electronic magnification $295
  • book reading $369
  • Bar Code reader $1299
  • color identifier $115.95
  • light detector $45.95
  • Portable OCR $539
  • Talking calculator - basic $4.99
  • Talking calculator - scientific $249

Grand total: $3194.78*

*Note: This price reflects only the purchase of the Victor Reader Trek as it has more functionality than the Victor Reader Stream.

The iPhone

  • initial device (iPhone SE 32 GB) $349
  • Talking GPS navigation $39.99
  • Talking Clock included
  • talking stopwatch included
  • Talking kitchen timer included
  • electronic magnification included
  • book reading $14.99
  • Bar Code reader $9.99
  • color identifier $0.00
  • light detector $0.00
  • OCR $0
  • Talking calculator - basic included
  • Talking calculator - scientific included

Grand total: $413.97

Even if you were to go with the brand new iPhone X with 256 GB memory, the grand total would be $1113.97, or less than half of the cost to buy the gadgets separately.

What other gadgets does your iPhone replace? What apps do you find most useful for every day tasks? Is there a gadget you use that doesn't have a corresponding iPhone app? Let us know in the comments!



Submitted by Amir on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thanks, Melinda, for this awesome post.
If I want to add another category to your article, I can name audio recording. While it's true that iPhone isn't capable of stereo recording via its built-in mics (a pity in late 2017), one can always fall back on external stereo mics to achieve that. And with the likes of Zoom H6 ($349.99), my favorite Sony PCM-D100 ($774.99) and the more or less accessible Olympus LS-100 ($358.51), external stereo mics for iOS such as my favorite Shure MV88 ($149), Zoom iQ7 ($99.99) and IK Multimedia iRig Mic ($79.99) provide a lot of bang for one's buck.

Submitted by Brian Giles on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

This is quite interesting. I do think there is still a place for stand alone devices, I don't have any that have been mentioned right now. One reason for some people to still use stand alone devices is that it doesn't impact your iPhone's battery. That's why I kind of want the victor trek, because GPS kills your phone's battery.

Hi Arir,
Thanks for your comment. I don't usually use my phone for recording, so it never occurred to me. A great addition.

Hi Brian,
I agree about battery life. Hopefully, iPhones in the future will find ways to extend battery life. Until then, you're right that battery life is an issue.
Thanks for your comment.

Submitted by DPinWI on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I would add money identification to your list of replaced gadgets. In the past, bill recognizers were hundreds of dollars, although some governments have either made currency identifiable, or made gadgets available for free. Still, I prefer to use a bill identifier on my phone as a matter of convenience.

Another category of gadgets treads into the Science Fiction and Fantasy realm. In the past, no amount of gadget budget would accommodate the purchase of remote assistance. Now, there are subscription gadget-based versions of remote assistance that promise high quality, well trained assistance using a pair of Google Glass. For my occasional use, Be My Eyes, an app on my phone, has a good track record.

Submitted by Hala Cooper on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I love your post and agree with all that you have mentioned. Besides, I am so grateful for the fact that I do not have to walk armed with all sorts of devices plus my cane! Before I got my IPhone, I wished I had 8 hands. Oh, and for us ladies, it is even harder since you already have your cane and your purse to contend with plus all these other gadgets!

Submitted by Remy on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It was enough to see the title. I agree with all of this. I did actually read the post and it was nicely broken down. There's also an apple music/spotify subscription to cut down on all that music storage or piracy. Plus the ability to use email, Skype, instant messaging etc. Plus the bevy of note-taking and full-on writing apps, though I've never quite gotten the hang of full text editing on my phone/ipad. Plus it's a gaming platform for those who enjoy gaming. And an instant recipe assistant with something like Yes Chef.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hello Melinda:
Thanks for the post. You laid it out very nicely. I, for one, seem to always be raving about the capabilities of my iPhone to someone.

Recently, since the iOS11 update, I began looking for a grocery list app to replace an old 32 bit app. I used to recreate my grocery list and then E-Mail it to my friend/shopping partner. I just got my hands on the Anylist app and thought that I would mention it here. I no longer have to use the computer to recreate the list for every shopping trip or use the old school method and use a pen and paper to write the list down. The AnyList should be on every iPhone. The makers of the app demonstrate a deep knowledge of the iOS operating system by their in depth use of its functions. AnyList is highly recommended and has replaced some much out dated methods to doing something that is so simple, creating the grocery list or any other list, for that matter.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hi Melinda. Thanks for this great post, which I have already shared with my local ACB office.

Many of my blind friends use the PenFriend, and I wanted to mention that its functionality is largely supplanted by Seeing Assistant Home, which lets you print out bar codes you can tape to things, then assign your own notes for each bar code. Cost for PenFriend is about $135.

Submitted by Orko on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

One gadget to rule them all? How very appropriate it is that you paraphrased part of the writing on Sauron's one rings to describe the iPhone. As I view Apple and the way they do business as being on par with being Sauron himself. Pure evil.

That being said you might wonder who is Gandalf? I can say it isn't Microsoft or Google, perhaps there is no Gandalf yet to counter Apple.

So why am I here? Because, as much as I don't like Apple, I do recognize that at present their phones are the most accessible. So I'm just biding my time waiting for someone to throw their one gadget to rule them all into the fires of Mount Doom and replace them as having the most accessible phones.

Besides, somebody has to remind you people that Apple is just another greedy company that doesn't give a hoot about accessibility except as a marketing strategy. All they care about is what they can do to take more of your hard earned money out of your pockets to line their pockets with.

They're certainly not kind hearted gods as you would have us believe.

Submitted by Amir on Thursday, October 5, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Orko

It's very difficult to digest your comments in this day and age. Do you expect the likes of Google, Microsoft -- or whatever company which your mind can model -- to ignore the rudiments of the market and deliver a more accessible smartphone which wouldn't hurt your pocket as much as the iPhone apparently has done? Calling Apple "greedy" and ignoring what other big names are doing in this field is, IMO, quite absurd. Yes, the more accessible phone you want might be delivered one day, but rest assured a greedier company will offer it as matching our perception of perfect accessibility with usability and comprehensiveness costs a lot, and no one does business for a loss just to make you appreciate their efforts.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Thursday, October 5, 2017

Yes. the apple iPhone is an wonderful creation. This is why those of us who have iPhone need to report bugs ASAP. When the iPhone does not work well, we wishwe got all the above.

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hi! I loved this post! I never thought I could use a touchscreen device. Not until I was shown voiceover. I hope to get a display soon, because I'm a hardcore braille person.

I think you could add menu apps such as AllAccess and Almenus to this list.

I know that everyone uses thier devices differently. I love my ipad and the freedom I have! I'm always looking to try new apps for different things! Right now, I'm on the look-out for an app that I can use to read things on my OTC. medications I take. It'd be nice to have that kind of capability of an app that's spicifically designed for that. I could write down here all the apps I use for different things, but that'd take too long. Maybe I'll do that in a guide or another post on here at some point. But, let's just say that I have many of the apps you talked about, and I love them! And just because I have an ipad, doesn't mean that I've gotten rid of my other things. I may be a tech lover, but I still have some of the gadgets like a boom box and I still listen to 'CD.'S and jhe radio on it. I'm a hybrid because I'm a techie, but I'm also old-school still in some ways. Like you, I find the free plans are enough for me. Thank you for a wonderful post!

Submitted by Darrell Bowles on Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hello everyone!
I absolutely loved this post. I have used android phones, ande even the best android phone that I have used, just can't quite get it done. Yes, Iphones are expensive, but I promise you there is no other phone that can do everything that you have described, and then some. As far as the post that Orco wrote,
1. What phone has Microsoft produced than the Lumia series of phones, which pretty much got laughed out of existence.
2. Google has it's own line of hpones, but due to androids fragmentation, and the way that talkback is developed, is still has some catching up to do.
3. While I can say that Microsoft is making strides to make there operating system more accessible, there is still no touching the IPhone.
4. Everyone wants to say that apple doesn't make there products accessible, just look at the NFB resolutions over the past couple of years.
Every one of apple's devices are accessible out of the box. You can't say that about, Microsoft, or google, or amazon. Yet, here is a pitch, and I hope someone can hit this out of the ballpark, because I'm throwing a curveball here. Apple will not donate to sponcier the NFB at there national convension. Guess who does? Google, Microsoft, Ebay, and others. Notice any resolutions being aimed at them? No, I don't think so.
TO finish off this post, I totally agree with you Melinda, there is no device like the IPhone, despite it's pitfalls. I love it, and I can't quite seem to adjust to a new device, despite how much I have tried.

Submitted by sockhopsinger on Thursday, October 5, 2017

So when I was growing up many, many years ago, I remember receiving a catalog from the American Foundation for the Blind. I always used to love receiving that braille literature and just flicking through it to see not only what was available but how much things cost. One item that always stuck in my mind was the Talking Paper Money Identifier. I want to say that it sold for about $425.00, U.S.

Today, I did a search and found the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier. The price has come way down from the stone age days of the mid-1980s. I found it today for $129.95, again U.S. It will only read U.S. currency. Then you see the Nantworks Money Reader on the iPhone, either free or only a couple of dollars, that reads 21 different currencies. Yeah, the times they are a'changin.

Submitted by Ken Metz on Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hello Melinda.

I was wondering if you would be willing and could be a guest presenter on Tek Talk in the Pat Price Tek Talk Training Room of to discuss the iPhone replacing many other devices per your article in Apple Viz? I had a cancellation and am hopeful that you might do this Monday evening from 5-6 Pacific time, and if you have that time slot available. Please let me know by email at or phone at (323) 793-1805, and I will go over the general format of the program.

Much thanks for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,

Ken Metz
Co-Chair, Tek Talk

Robert (Bob) Acosta

Submitted by Melinda on Thursday, October 5, 2017

In reply to by Hala Cooper

Hi Hala,
Not just less gadgets, but the iPhone weighs less than all of them too!

Submitted by Melinda on Thursday, October 5, 2017

In reply to by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯

Hi Dawn, Have you checked out Digit Eyes? After scanning the bar code, sometimes instructions for things like OTC medication dosages come up, as long as they're not generic. I've found that Digit Eyes does have some trouble with generic or off-brand items. HTH, Melinda

Submitted by Russ Kiehne on Saturday, October 7, 2017

I took a lot of time thinking about if I should buy a second generation
victor reader stream. I ended up buying a ipad mini. Here's why:
It has more volume and better sound than my ipod touch, victor reader stream
booksense and plextalk pocket. It does everything I would do with a
specialized player. With being able to lock the screen while
playing audio content, I get much more play time than with my specialized

With the bard mobile app, I can read nls books on it. Books can be directly
downloaded to the ipad mini. This can't be done on my specialized players
I currently own.

With the audible app, I can read books from audible. Books can be directly
downloaded to the ipad mini. I can't do this with my specialized players I
currently own.

With the Kindle app, I can read Kindle books from Amazon. I can't do this
with my specialized playrs.

With the voice dream reader app I can read books from bookshare, unprotected
epub, listen to old time radio shows.
Supported File Formats PDF, EPUB (DRM free), DAISY 3.0 text-based eBooks,
DAISY 2.02 audiobooks, Zipped MP3 files, such as LibriVox, Plain Text, Rich
Text Format (RTF), Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Pages, Apple
Keynote, HTML.
What's nice about voice dream reader, you can download books from both
bookshare and Project Gutenberg directly to the ipad mini.
I bought the optional neospeech voice to make it sound just like a booksense
when reading any text based file. I can switch between Acapela and
neospeech. I can't see buying a second generation victor reader stream
inorder to download books from bookshare to it. With the specialized players
I currently own, I can't download books from bookshare to them.

With the downcast app, I can download podcasts directly to the ipad mini. I
can subscribe and unsubscribe to podcasts on it. With my plextalk pocket, I
can't subscribe and unsubscribe to podcasts on it. With the other two
specialized players i currently own, I can't download podcasts to them.

My ipad mini is now my favorite device for reading books, downloading and
listening to podcasts and old time radio shows.

Submitted by Ekaj on Saturday, October 7, 2017

I don't yet own an iPhone but I aim to change that this Christmas. Or perhaps for my birthday next year. I've always heard and read how great they are though, and I cannot wait to get my very own. I love my Mac and the accessories that I have. My brother-in-law gave me an Apple SuperDrive for Christmas a few years ago, and last year I ordered an external hard drive. Then just a few weeks ago a downstairs neighbor gave me a pair of Samsung earbuds which work well. But one thing I'm gonna do is install at least one of the GPS apps on my iPhone to help with independent travel. In addition, another thing I'm excited to try out is the built-in camera with VoiceOver.

Submitted by Matt on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hello. I found this post to be very informative, and I agree with everything that was mentioned. I use my iPhone every single day, all day, and I don't know how I managed without it. LOL I also agree that the victor trek sounds like a great machine, but for those who might not be able to afford it, I suggest purchasing a battery case, or battery pack. The battery cases are more expensive from what I understand, but there are also a number of external battery packs on the market that are relatively inexpensive. I myself use one from pocket juice, which cost about $60, but I can charge my phone about three or four times before The pack needs to be recharged. It also can be recharged via USB cable, or by plugging it into a standard wall outlet. I also use the Seeing AI app, which was just updated today. It now features color recognition, light detection, currency recognition, and hand writing recognition. Bard Mobile and Audible are among two apps that I use on a daily basis. As the original poster said, the iPhone is an indispensable tool for everyone, that just keeps getting better and better. May Apple have many more long and productive years ahead.

Submitted by Matt on Wednesday, September 25, 2019

With the release of iOs 13, I devices keep improving. My favorite feature is the safari download manager. It allows one to download files from the web very much like a computer. I personally download movies from blind mice mart and thoroughly enjoy them. Despite some bugs, I devices are slowly becoming more like pocket computers.

Submitted by Ekaj on Friday, September 27, 2019

Hi. Just saw this while perusing the site for something else, so thought I'd come back and give an update. As most of you know, I got my first iPhone a little over a year ago. I seriously don't know what I'd do without it. As you might expect it has taken me a little while to master it. But it is truly a great device and it's only getting better.