Can’t See? Consider OCR, AI and Mountain Climbing

If, like me, you can’t see, there are quite a few annoying problems that pop up; and they all are due to not being able to see. I’m sure that either of us could make a very long list. A number of little frustrations would be on both of our lists, but there would be some that show up only on one of our lists. We each have our own pet peeves.

For me, most of my can’t see annoyances can be put into only a few categories. What is it? Where is it? Which one is it? How does it work; and more to the point, how can I get it to work for me?

First, let’s get some perspective. Everyone has similar annoyances whether or not they can see. Being irritated by this and that now and then is liberally spread around for all of us. It’s easy to get the feeling that life has dealt us a worse deal than everyone else, but that’s just not true. The world is more accommodating to some of us than to others of us for sure. It is what it is. If we were to make a list of the ten worst limitations we might have, we might think that not being able to see would be at the top of the list, but that’s mostly because we haven’t experienced the other nine. My point is that coming up short in the seeing department only means that I’ll just have to figure out some other way to know what it is, where it is, which one it is and how to make it work for me.

Here’s the good news. Let’s call what, where, which one, and using it the big four – That’s the big four annoyances due to not being able to see, of course. I don’t have to puzzle out the big four for myself. If you insist on figuring them out for yourself, have at it. For me, I’m happy to know that others have already figured them out so I can just use their strategies and solutions. I’m sure that either of us could likely figure out ways around the big four by ourselves, but why bother? We can just use someone else’s strategy, modifying it if necessary. Easy Peasy.

The solution to “What is it?” and “Which one is it?” is not complicated. Open the Aira or Be My Eyes app on your smart phone and ask the agent or volunteer to take a look and tell you what it is or which one it is. We discussed those options in the last episode of Blind How. They also may be able to help you to find something that you dropped or just can’t find, if you know approximately where it is. You will recall that they are also usually willing to read something for you, if it is not too long or overly private. But there are other options.

You won’t be surprised to know that those other ways involve apps on your phone, using the phone’s camera. Although I don’t understand much about how they do what they do, it’s usually referred to as OCR or Optical Character Recognition or as A I or Artificial Intelligence. One of the most popular apps like this is called Seeing A I.

There are several vision assist apps available to us and they do various tasks with mixed results. They can read, identify money, tell us whether the lights are on or off, identify things around us, help figure out what color something is, identify products, read bar codes, and other things related to providing visual information. How well they will work for you can only be determined by you giving each app a serious try. I think you can try each app for free, but there is a cost if you want to keep using most of the apps. I can tell you that the more you use a particular app, the more effective it will become, as your skill with using it improves.

As with other apps, you will need to use your developing skills to find and try out the available visual assistance apps. As a place to start, try to find out about these apps and how to use them. There are also quite a few blindness related podcasts that will add to your explorations. And searching Google for “OCR” and “Blind” is likely to point you in helpful directions.

If I’m leaving you short, leaving you annoyed, I already mentioned that I’m not going to hold your hand, step by step through the options available to you for visual assistance, or for anything else for that matter. I’m eager to point out what kinds of things are out there, ways you can do what you want to do by yourself. I am suggesting which mountains you may want to climb, but when and if you climb them is up to you. There is one thing that I can pretty much guarantee though. If you successfully climb any one of the possible mountains available to you, you will find that climbing the rest is merely a matter of your personal interest and motivation. Each mountain is still a long way up; but once you have been there and done that, the next mountain is just another mountain; and you are now a competent mountain climber.

Consolidation and SONOS Roam

Thanks for checking out this episode of Audio Tidbits. I first explain what I’ve done with my websites and discuss consolidation. Specifically, I let you know what happened with Blind How and where new episodes will show up. The point is that everything is still available, just on now.

I also talk with you about my SONOS Roam portable speaker. If you need a portable speaker with great sound, access to Alexa and Google, and connection to your favorite streaming music service, the SONOS Roam may be a perfect choice for you.

Sure, there is also some nice music and some wondering here and there about this and that.

Can’t See? Be My Eyes and AIRA are not Favors but Services

In the last episode of Blind How, I suggested  whenever you need to have someone who can see to look at something or tell you about most anything. The AIRA helpers will also give you visual assistance while you are doing something that you want to do. Although the service is free much of the time and in a lot of situations, to be sure it’s there for you consistently, whenever you need it, you do need a paid subscription, especially if it’s going to take more than five minutes.


There is an alternative and totally free option for getting live help from someone who can see. It’s called Be My Eyes and has two parts. Download the Be My Eyes app from the app store. Poke around the app and you will figure out how to sign up. Once you have done that, you can either call a volunteer or talk with a specialist from any business on a long list of companies that are available through Be My Eyes. If you talk with a volunteer, the possibilities are more limited than with AIRA but work really well for most things where having someone to take a look and tell you what they see is all you need. They will also help you do something that you are doing while they watch through the phone’s camera.


If you use the option to talk with someone from one of the companies on the extensive list, you will be talking with an expert. Once you have explained your problem or issue, they will stick with you until you have the information you need or have the problem or issue resolved. For example, I was having an issue with my Windows computer. There was no speech and I had no idea what to do. The Microsoft expert had me point my phone’s camera toward my computer screen and then told me exactly which keys to press on the computer keyboard. In about two minutes, my computer was again talking and off I went.


Both AIRA and BE My Eyes are amazing services and always there, just a tap or so away on my iPhone. Still, I find myself reluctant to just make the call. I’m bringing this up since I suspect that you might have a similar reluctance. Here’s what is going on for me.


Whenever I ask someone to help when being able to see is necessary, it feels like I’m interrupting them and certainly inconveniencing them. Both feelings are in fact legitimate, much if not most of the time. The good news is that most people are okay with a small interruption or temporary inconvenience now and then, so long as I don’t overdo it or impose too often. The bad news is that I haven’t figured out a good way to always know where the line is between okay on the one hand and overdoing and too often on the other. For me, the best solution to this dilemma is to just not ask, unless I’m fairly certain that this specific request will not be disruptive or particularly inconvenient. I try to save up the good will for those infrequent times when I have a serious problem or issue that I just can’t handle without help.


There is another frustration that comes up at least once or twice most days. There is some little thing that I want to know or want to do that I wouldn’t even notice, if I could see. What color is this shirt? What’s in this can? What does that bird I’m hearing look like? Is my computer screen on or off? Where’s the door to the store? Where’s the ball I through for my dog that he didn’t retrieve? I’ll bet you can join in. It’s just one little thing after another, with an even more frustrating thing thrown in now and then.


But what to do? Unfortunately, I usually just move on, doing without that little bit of visual assistance. That’s easier than bothering someone or waiting until they have time to help.


So, what does all that have to do with not making the couple of taps it takes to connect with an AirA agent or a Be My Eyes volunteer? I have difficulty getting past the feeling that I’m interrupting or inconveniencing. Also, I’m so used to just letting the little things go that I give little thought to what the bird looks like or what color the shirt is. Most any color will go fine with my jeans.


What advice do you have for me? I’ll bet it goes something like this.


The AIRA agents are being paid to help me, no matter how important or how trivial the need right now. What’s more, they want to help, whenever I want help. And if I don’t call, they miss out on the chance to do their job. If that happens too often with too many callers, they lose their job and it’s partially my fault. If I’m reluctant to do it for me, I should always make the call for them. Should you think that is silly, just keep not calling and see how you feel about it when there is no longer an agent there to call.


Yes indeed, the same applies to the Be My Eyes volunteers and the experts at the various companies that answer calls. The volunteers are not paid, but they will likely quit volunteering their time if calls stop. The companies that provide the experts will likely stop making them available if no one accesses their services. And who is the biggest loser? That would be you and me.


It takes a new mindset. The old mindset for me was that I was asking someone for a favor (An act of gracious kindness) when I asked them to stop whatever they were doing and help me. Indeed, it might only take a second and little effort, but a favor, nonetheless. Sure, they were happy to do it, but still a favor.


The old mindset still applies, just not when calling AIRA or Be My Eyes. When accessing those services, “favor” no longer applies. It is now a mutually beneficial transaction. I benefit by getting the assistance I need and the agent, volunteer, or subject expert benefits by having an opportunity to provide the service. For sure, it’s hard for me to get my head around that mindset shift, but I’m committed to making the shift and hope you are too.

Can’t See? Let Aira Take a Look

When it comes to technology that can help those of us who can’t see do what we want to do, there are at least two ways I could go about letting you know about the possibilities. First, I could give you detailed descriptions and step by step instructions for using each app or gadget. That type of tutorial is very useful and makes learning to use the app or gadget, if not always easy, at least doable. The good news is that tutorials like that are out there for many apps and gadgets and for most all of the popular ones. The bad news is that they are only helpful if you find the particular tutorial you need right now.


The other way to get you up and running – and the one I chose – is to encourage you to develop the skills you need to figure out for yourself how to use the apps and gadgets available to help with what you want to do. The good news is that there are only a few basic skills that you need to do most things you want to do. The bad news is that it takes time and practice to develop those skills, a lot of concentration and frustration to improve your skills, and a good measure of imagination — along with trial and error — to perfect them. But as your skills improve, you will be doing more and more of what you want to do by yourself and finding it easier to locate those step-by-step tutorials to learn how to use the apps and gadgets you want to use to do what you want to do.


This is episode 30 of Blind How. You have already listened to episodes 1 through 29, haven’t you? You have been working on the skills and strategies included in those earlier episodes, haven’t you? I sure hope so, since we are about to jump into the really fun stuff with your cell phone. If you haven’t kept up, it will be really hard to stick with us; not impossible but really hard. If you have kept up, it will still not be easy, but is doable. Even so, it’s always easier to hope that someone who can see will come along and do what you want done for you.


Enough of that. What if I were to tell you that there is always someone who can see who is ready and usually able to help you with those times when you need someone who can see to “take a look” and provide visual assistance with doing what you want to do? “What will they help with,” you ask? Good question. What do you want to do that being able to see would make easier? Whatever that is, the assistance you need is a couple of swipes and taps away.


The app on your iPhone or Android phone is called “Aira.” I have no idea what Aira means or why that is the app’s name, but the app is sort of magical. This is one of those times when I’m just assuming that you have been keeping up and have been practicing. Download the app to your phone and open it. Flick around to get familiar with what’s on the screen. As I recall, all I needed to do was enter my phone number to get started. If you want some tutorial info, visit Poke around on the site. There is a lot of helpful stuff there.


You’ll find out on the app screen how to call an Aira agent. On your first call, the agent who answers will talk you through how to use the app and the Aira service. Basically, you point the back camera on your phone toward whatever is of interest to you. The agent will help you get it into the picture so the agent can see what you want him or her to see.


Just tell the agent what you want to know, want to do, need him or her to do. Along with telling you what is in the picture, the agent will go ahead and do things for you such as making an order, taking a picture, looking up instructions, helping you figure out how to do stuff yourself, and on and on. I think most anything within reason is on the table. It’s like having someone who can see follow you around, always ready to lend a hand, or an eye.


I’m going to discuss other ways to get visual assistance with your phone in future episodes of Blind how but start with Aira. In many situations, the service is free; and calls of less than five minutes are usually free. But check the website so you know when you will be charged and how much any charges are. Sure, you can also just ask an Aira agent when you call.

The Straight Line Myth

From the time we are young, we are told that we should do those things, take those steps that will get us to where we should go. The message is that there is a straight line that, if we follow it, we will succeed. I suspect this is one of the great myths that adults tell children, one of the great myths that most of us have assimilated into our understanding of life and living. Let’s think about that for a few minutes.

Can’t See? Let’s Communicate

[Here, I focus on your iPhone, but if your phone is Android or Samsung, read Voiceover as Talkback and Siri as Google, as in OK Google. For example, say, “OK Google, how do I … with Talkback?”]


There are a few things those of us who can’t see can do with our iPhones that are rather boring but necessary. I’m going to spend this episode of Blind How looking at them, but it would be more fun checking out ways we can use our phones to get people who can see to help us whenever we need someone who can see to give us a couple of minutes to just look at something for us. I’ll get to those options in the next episode, but for now, let’s get to the more boring stuff.


Yes, we can make and receive phone calls on our iPhones. Let’s start with the simple way. Just say, “Hey Siri, call 555-555-5555.” Of course, use the actual number you want to call instead of all of those 5’s. From there, it’s like any phone call: the phone rings and someone answers, if there is someone there to answer the phone. For now, always include the area code when voicing the number.


If our phone is ringing, simply tap twice quickly with two fingers anywhere on the screen. It’s called a two-finger double tap, or “magic tap.” Wait a second or so and then say, “Hello.”


(I’m assuming that you always keep Voiceover turned on.)


You can also flick around until you find the “Answer” button and then double tap with one finger anywhere on the screen. But why would you, when you can just use the magic tap?


If you would rather dial the number, you can also do that. Flick around until you find the Phone icon on your phone’s screen. It may be on the bottom row of icons. Once Voiceover says “Phone,” do a one-finger double tap anywhere on the screen. The Phone app will open.


At the bottom of the screen, find Keypad, and double tap.


(I’ll just say double tap when you should tap twice quickly with one finger.)




The keypad is much like the keypad on a regular telephone. Touch toward the top of the screen, and then flick right until Voiceover says the first number. Now double tap. The first number makes a sound, and you are ready for the second number. Flick left or right to find the second number and double tap. Repeat the steps until you have added all 10 numbers in the phone number. Finally, find the “Call” icon and double tap.


(You start with the area code. Starting with a 1 like with a regular phone is not needed.)




That will get you started making and receiving calls. Even so, this is a good time to use your search skills that we considered earlier on Blind How. Start with asking Siri. Say, “Hey Siri, How do I use the phone app with Voiceover?” Siri will tell you that this is what I found on the web. Explore the screen with one finger or swipe down from the top with two fingers. Touch the screen with two fingers to get Siri to stop talking.


When you hear something that sounds interesting, double tap. Siri will open Safari where the information is. Swipe down from the top with two fingers to get Voiceover to read the web page.


(Hint: You can also ask Siri, “Hey Siri, how do I use Safari with Voiceover?”


You can also send and receive text messages with your iPhone. You do this in the Messages app. Open the Messages app and check it out. Once the app is open, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen. This will let you know what’s there. For now, you will need the phone number of anyone you want to message.


(To practice, you can send a message to yourself, using your phone number.)


Sure, you can also say, “Hey Siri, how do I use the Messages app with Voiceover?”


You also can say, “Hey Siri, how do I type using Voiceover?” For now though, you just find the letter or character you want to enter and then double tap. Nothing goes in until you double-tap. Since you are sending the message to yourself for practice, you don’t need to be concerned about typing errors.


You can send and receive e-mail too. That is done with the Mail app. Find the icon and check it out. Unfortunately, you also need to provide your e-mail information such as the provider, your username and password and such. That is done through the Settings icon on your phone. If you are up to an adventure, double tap on the Settings icon, and then find “Mail” down the list. Double tap on that icon, and then find Accounts. Double tap on that icon, and have at it. If you are patient and know the information that is needed, I’ll bet you can figure out how to register your email account. After that, you need only open the Mail app on your phone’s main screen. The app will automatically check to see if you have any new e-mail. If so, the new e-mails will show up in a list on the screen.


If all has gone well, you can now send and receive phone calls, text messages and maybe even e-mails. If not, keep practicing and keep asking Siri how to do what you want to do using Voiceover.


Let me leave you with one easily overlooked fact. If you want someone who can see to do something for you on your iPhone, turn off Voiceover before you hand them your phone. It’s a quick triple-tap on the home button if there is one, and if not, a quick triple-tap on the power button toward the top on the right side of the phone. When you get your phone back, you turn Voiceover back on the same way. The issue is that your phone does not work the way people can see are used to its working, when Voiceover is turned on.


There you go. You now have three ways to communicate: phone calls, text messages


(Very much the same as iMessages, but don’t worry about the differences for now.)


, and e-mail, if you have gotten it set up. You are making really good progress.