Accessing books and materials
Though still only a small percentage of the world’s literature is accessible, there are more choices and methods for accessing literature available now than ever before. Here are some apps that will help you find and access books for your classes and personal pleasure.
This app is free, and allows you to download books from Apple’s own iBooks store and access them via Voiceover or using a braille display. Most books must be purchased, but there are many free offerings. IBooks can also access ePubs and PDF files you transfer through iCloud or iTunes.
Conceptually similar to iBooks, the Kindle app allows users to download books from Amazon's Kindle store, and listen to them to Voiceover or read them with a braille display. You can also email files via Amazon’s send to Kindle feature, and have them available for access within the app. Furthermore, many local libraries offer the ability to download Kindle books through their Overdrive programs.
With Learning Ally Link, you can access thousands of Daisy Audio Books. Learning Ally has a multitude of college textbooks in its repository, so it’s highly likely you’ll use this app at some point in your college career. To access the audio books, you must be a member.
If you’re registered with the library of congress, you can download audio books and web braille books directly to your i-Device. Membership is free, though requires certification of a print disability. You may not find college textbooks here, but you’ll be likely to find something that wets your pleasure reading appetite.
The National Federation of the Blind allows anyone who is registered with its NFB Newsline program to access newspapers and periodicals on their i-device. Simply download the app and log-in with your Newsline credentials. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up for free after submitting proof of disability. This is a great way to stay current with your favorite newspapers, whether you want to keep up on the news from home or access your college town’s newspaper.
This app is paid, but very versatile. It allows you to access files from Bookshare, Dropbox, Google Drive, the Web and ICloud, just to mention a few sources. It can read a variety of file formats such as Bookshare files, ePub, Daisy, HTML and Microsoft Word. It voices the files in high quality voices, available through the apps Voice store. It is also possible to use the built-in iOS voices to access the files. If one doesn’t mind panning around a bit, it is also possible to access the material you add via braille. Due to this app’s versatility you may find yourself opening it up nearly every day in college!
This is a paid app. If you ever wonder “did I read that book in English class already?” This app might be for you. It allows you to track books you have read or want to read, and add comments and other information to each entry. From a Voiceover perspective, it is quite accessible with just an unlabeled button here and there.
This is a paid app which Bookshare developed so that users could access their books on an i-device. If you’re looking for a more simplistic approach than Voice dream, you may wish to take a look at Read2Go. One can have the books read aloud via Voiceover or use one of the apps other available voices. Additionally, you can read them via a braille display. Membership is free for U.S. students, and even if you’re not a student and Live in Georgia or New York, membership is currently free for you, as well. Bookshare has an enormous variety of content, from college textbooks, to classics to the latest best-sellers.
Apps for scanning, object identification and daily living
If you’re living in a dorm in college, you might not want to run down the hall to ask a neighbor what color shirt you’re wearing, or what the instructions are on this box of Ramen Noodles your mom just sent you. The iPhone has a plethora of apps that can help you not just for accessing study materials and books for college, but in daily life, too. Here are a few.
This is a paid app, and generally costs around $99, but sometimes goes on sale. Place a document such as a letter you received in your college mailbox, or a hand-out that a professor gives you in class, on a flat surface. Hold the camera above the page and snap a picture. The app will read the text out loud, and you can access it from a connected braille display, too. This app is wonderful for identifying paper, reading instructions, and even accessing a computer screen when it freezes!
This free app is very useful for identifying objects. Hold the camera above something, snap a picture, and the app will tell you what it is. Great for identifying that your mom sent you your favorite serial from home, or knowing whether the Ramen is chicken or beef flavored!
This currently free (but likely paid in the future) app allows you to take a picture or several pictures of an app, and ask a question, either in text or voice, which is then sent to a sighted volunteer. You can take a picture of a package, and ask how long to cook that soup for, or ask when your carton of milk expires. You can even ask what color shirt you’re wearing, no need to run to a roommate or dorm mate.
Similar to Be Specular, this app allows you to connect with sighted volunteers and ask a question. It’s always good to have more than one way of doing things, and since this app is currently free, give them both a try and see which suits your fancy. Be My Eyes does not currently allow you to type a question in text, however. Be My Eyes allows you to have a direct video/audio conversation with the user, if you prefer that approach.
This paid app just does what it says; reads money. Hover the camera above a bill, and your iPhone will identify its denomination.
There is a free alternative, EyeNote, though its recognition is generally slower.
Apps for document back-up and writing
The iPhone allows you to have access to their documents at all times when using popular file sharing services. There are also apps to make note-taking easier and writing swifter.
Dropbox allows you to synchronize and share files among multiple locations, such as your computer and iPhone. Great for backing-up those important papers, you’ll get 2 GB when you sign-up for an account. With the iPhone app, you can have access to your Dropbox files anywhere. The app is free.
Google Drive allows for the online storage of files, documents and photos. You get 15 GB free. The app integrates with other apps, like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.
Many colleges and universities have integrated Google apps into their Learning environments. It’s likely that you’ll encounter a Google Doc along your college pathway, and you can access it with the iPhone using the free Google Docs app. Google is always working towards making the Docs experience more accessible.
Access Note allows you to create simple text files, and includes keyboard commands and braille display commands to help make note-taking and navigation of notes easier, such as a find command and the ability to search forwards/backwards for a string of text.
If Pages is not already on your iPhone, it’s worth a download. This app will allow you to access documents in common word processing formats, edit them and save them.
If you’re a braille user, and you don’t have, or always carry a braille display with you, this app will allow you to type braille using the touch screen of your phone. It can be much faster than using the virtual keyboard, and is often quicker for many users than Apple’s built-in braille keyboard. It integrates with Dropbox, so any document you type can be uploaded to that service. You can send a text or email directly from the app as well. Pricing varies, depending on which features you would like to purchase.
Exploring your Environment
If you’re starting college for the first time, or you’re returning after the summer off, you probably want to acquaint yourself with your new surroundings or check out new offerings in the area. Here are a few apps to get you started.
This paid app allows you to explore your environment and can send your start point and end point to common mapping applications to help you create a route.This app can really be helpful to get a sense of what’s around you, as well as names of cross Streets nearby.
This free app can integrate with Blind Square to give you turn by turn directions. Blind Square can announce the streets and points of interest as you pass them, and Google maps can give you the turn-by-turn directions. In addition, you can use the app to find out what’s around you.
If you would prefer an all-in-one app, you might like to try out The Seeing Eye GPS App. Intersections are described, and Points of Interest can be spoken if you point your phone in the direction about which you want to hear. This app is paid. You can choose to pay on a month-by-month basis, so you can try out the app to see if it is something you feel will benefit you.
While this list does not encompass every app that will help you in college, I hope this provides you with a flavor of the variety of apps that are available. Apps can help to level the playing field in college and beyond. Many of these apps can give you access to information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain. Remember to check with your school to see if they have any apps of their own; some schools have apps for campus transportation, and checking your student accounts. Remember to check whether your school uses Blackboard or another online Learning management system; you may want those apps in your back pocket as well. What apps do you think we should have added to the list? Let us know in the comments if you have apps that are helping you succeed in school or college!