Using OCR – Optical Character Recognition with Vision Loss or Blindness

The Text Grabber logo - a white circle, broken atop, bottom, left and right on a bright red background with 3 short white bars in the center.
The Text Grabber logo – a white circle, broken atop, bottom, left and right on a bright red background with 3 short white bars in the center.

Introducing – Julie Atkins

Julie has a passion for assistive technology and believes it opens up a whole new world to people with vision impairment. Her favorite thing to teach is the iPhone with VoiceOver, and she makes it a point to keep up with the best apps for people with vision impairment.

Julie agreed to tell us about her favorite iPhone apps for this blog.  She begins by writing about two kinds of apps that are of tremendous benefit to people with vision impairment:  OCR and transportation.   Here is the post on OCR. Transportation will be published in a couple of weeks.

 Using OCR – Optical Character Recognition with Vision Loss or Blindness  

OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition.  OCR apps allow the user to take a photo of a document and convert from an image into real text that can then be read aloud by a screen reader (in this case, VoiceOver on the iPhone).

Text Grabber

My favorite OCR app is called TextGrabber.  It only costs $9.99, and is extremely simple to use with VoiceOver.  The user simply double taps somewhere in the center of the screen to take the photo, and the rest of the process is completely automatic.  You will, however, either need enough vision to be able to tell that your entire document is visible in the view finder, or learn how to center your phone over the document using body memory (which takes a lot of practice), or use an iPhone stand such as the Fopydo or ScanJig.


If you need audio guidance to center your document, a free app simply called Voice will announce “four corners detected” when the entire page is in view.  This app is not quite as accurate or reliable as TextGrabber and requires more steps to use.

KNFB  Reader

If you have $100 to spend, you might be interested in the K-NFB Reader app.  It is made specifically for blind users, so it has audio guidance and some other special features that visually impaired users really like.   So far, though, none of my clients have found it easy to use. It vibrates as you try to get the document centered in the screen and also tells you which way to rotate the phone.  This, however, does not seem to help people easily figure out which way to move the phone, or especially how to hold the phone so that it is parallel to the document (in other words, flat).

Reading  Reviews and AppleVis

Before forking out a bunch of money on an app like this, you can learn more about it by doing a web search for reviews of the app.  For example, do a web search for “K-NFB Reader reviews,” and you will be able to read reviews on blindness related websites, see demonstrations of it on YouTube, listen to podcasts about it, and more. Here is a link to a discussion about the K-NFB Reader app on the Apple Vis site, what I call the “Big Daddy” resource for learning about the iPhone, VoiceOver, and iPhone apps:

2 thoughts on “Using OCR – Optical Character Recognition with Vision Loss or Blindness

  1. Pfizer is economical with giving information on vaccination. Is there anyone who can write a script to convert masses of PDF-files to text files you can actually search in, while keeping the PDF and linking the PDF to the text files, one on one?
    Most PDF files are scanned on an angle to make life difficult.

    1. This is out of my league. Personally I use Adobe reader to save the pdf, then use JAWS insert O D to convert to a readable text using OCR. Then “applications” to “select all” , “Copy” and then put the whole text into a Word Document. I can then save both versions but don’t know how to link them. For your bulk task I suggest you contact an instructor in blindness technology! Hannah

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