Fall 2016
Fall 2016

Optometrist ‘App-roved!’
Your guide to emerging applications and their revolutionary effects on patients’ lives.
Written by Heather Swink, CAE, M.A.

Technology can be intimidating. We hear about ambitious mobile apps and wonder what the implications will be for our profession. Thankfully, we can see that apps are already helping optometrists and their low-vision patients in astounding ways.

Many apps are equipped with functionality to make the hand-held devices of visually-impaired patients “eyes free.” Essentially, outbound information can be spoken and inbound information—email, social media feeds, weather, and stock prices—can be orally relayed. Numerous apps exist that serve as magnification devices to enlarge text, pictures, currency, music notes, and much more. There are apps that even mimic various eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or cataracts, so that patients and their families learn about vision loss and how the world “looks” to the person with visual impairment.

“For our field, technology is making things better, it’s making things easier. But it’s not making us go away. It just means we’re doing things a bit differently.”
Tracy Matchinski, OD ‘95

Apps, among other technology solutions, are assisting optometrists in making more precise diagnoses and delivering the best care possible to low-vision patients.

Technology and Optometry: The Long View

During the past 10 years, technology innovation has been surpassing optical solutions in patient care, according Tracy Matchinski, OD ’95.

“Technology is continuing to move forward to help our younger generations with blindness and visual impairment,” Matchinski says. “For example, in the past, optometrists used optical systems to make objects larger for low-vision patients. It was also common for visually impaired children to have bulky braille and large-print books.”

Now all these children may possess a handheld, mobile device like the 110-gram Victor Stream—part digital book reader, part music broadcaster, part provider of OCR text-to-speech—or Blaze EZ Multi-player, a device small as a deck of cards providing OCR text-to-speech and playing ebooks, DAISY books, word documents, PDF files, music, Internet radio, and more.

“They can search, highlight, take notes, enlarge when necessary. And they look just like the classmate sitting next to them with a thin tablet to access visual or auditory information,” Matchinski says.

There is still a need for optical devices, however, Matchinski says. “Optical devices can enhance the electronic technology used for patients, and be used independently, of course. Anybody who’s truly successful usually employs many tools. Technology is another tool.”

Also, technology is not yet proficient at assisting people with distance magnification or telescopes. There are a few emerging solutions, such as E-Sight, electronic eyewear equipped with a digital camera that captures everything the user sees. The live video stream is instantly processed and then sent back to the headset, displayed on screens in front of the user’s eyes to enhance near, midrange and long-range vision functions.

In addition, with electronic device use there is always the concern about eye strain—regardless of whether someone is visually impaired. However, the visually impaired greatly benefit from using technology because of the visual enlargement capabilities and auditory options, Matchinski says. “Any risks are fully outweighed by the ability to access information,” she adds.

Matchinski emphasizes that technology is not making optometrists obsolete.

“For our field, technology is making things better, it’s making things easier. But it’s not making us go away. It just means we’re doing things a bit differently,” Matchinski says.

“Optometrists are still necessary in helping explain things, train, and prescribe. Our knowledge of disease, optics and technology can make a huge difference. We help people continue to work, drive, even see their grandkids. We help people perform everyday tasks like reading a price tag or a menu.”

When asked to compare the difference among free apps, apps with a nominal cost, and optical equipment, Matchinski explains: “Some of the apps aren’t quite as steady. The light and the quality of the image may be a little shaky. They’re good for quick spot-reading, but if you want to sit down for some extended reading, optic solutions would be better.”

Regardless, Matchinski says all optometry patients should know about and benefit from these apps. “They have affected the way I teach my low-vision class. We’re missing the boat if we don’t teach our students to use them and tell patients about this technology.”

“Our goal and our philosophy is to open and show—whether the patient is age 90 or nine—both the technology and optical solutions, and see what fits them best.”

Heather Swink, CAE, M.A., is an independent writer, editor and content adviser. Follow Heather @HeatherSwink, connect on LinkedIn at heatherswink, or email heatherswink95@gmail.com.

Apps At-a-Glance

A plethora of apps is available for both optometrists and patients. The following is a comprehensive list exclusive to the online version of ICO Matters. It was created by Dr. Tracy Matchinski and derived from a combination of sources- lectures, optometric peers, and her own patients experiences.


A Special Phone
Ability to make a call without looking at the screen; adaptive eyes-free keypad.
$0.99 (iOS)

Functions as a task manager, multi-feature timer and alarm clock; fully accessible with VoiceOver.
Free (iOS)

AutoRingtone Pro
Personalize ring tones for each contact and have the ring announce the caller; text-to-speech; ability to control the speed that the voice speaks.
$4.99, $0.99 (iOS, Android)

Brighter and Bigger
Turns phone into a magnification device that makes reading material bigger, brighter, and of higher contrast.
Free (iOS, Android)

Take a picture and send it to a user who interprets it; especially helpful in identifying currency, such as the difference between a $20 or $5 bill.
Free (iOS, Android)

Point camera at any object and your device will speak the name of the color; useful for achromatopsia.
Free (iOS, Android)

Barcode-scanning app; can make your own barcode labels from Avery label sheets and record an audio or text label.
$9.99 (iOS, Android)

Dragon Dictation
Simply speak, adding punctuation as needed verbally, and Dragon Dictation will type it up in an instant and copy it to your clipboard.
Free (iOS, Android)

Glucose Buddy
One of the unfortunate risks of being diabetic is loss of vision; helps keep track of blood sugar levels.
Free (iOS, Android)

Take a pic. The app reads the print. The app helps you get a good photo! Hear it aloud, or read in Braille.
$99.99, in-app purchases (iOS, Android)

MagLight +
Transforms your iPhone into a well lit magnifying glass…
$1.99 (iOS)

Turns phone into magnifying device with a flashlight; can be used to read tiny print, show a negative image and take a picture.
Free, $0.99 (iOS, Android)

Med Helper
Tracks prescription medication, treatment and appointment schedules; provides alarm reminders and a log of past doses.
Free (iOS, Android)

Music Zoom
Designed for visually impaired musicians; move the zoom slider until your music is at desired size and scroll using a wired or wireless foot switch; able to invert colors, add text, highlight, and insert repeats into music.
$19.99 (iOS)

My Med Schedule & Med Minder
Sends text alarms as reminders for taking medications.
Free, $0.99 (iOS, Android)

Sends text alerts as reminders for taking medication; VoiceOver friendly; includes medication database; keeps track of remaining pills and when to re-order.
Free (iOS)

Quickly enlarges type and alters color contrast.
Free (iOS, Android)

Helps individuals use devices with spoken, audible and vibration functionality services.
Free (iOS, Android)

Talking Scientific Calculator
Works with VoiceOver for the fully blind, or has a high contrast option for those with low vision.
$4.99 (iOS)

Turns on the camera and filters the lens with distortion that mimics the selected eye condition; educates patients suffering from macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or cataracts.
Free (iOS, Android)

Take a picture and then record a question; send to a web worker/sighted individual who will read what the item is and send it back to the phone.
Free (iOS, Android)

Voice Brief
With the touch of a button, Voice Brief reads your email, Twitter feed, weather, stock prices, RSS, and Facebook feeds.
$2.99 (iOS)

Weather Radio
Orally provides a five-day weather report; can set up different cities and particular alerts per location such as rain, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.
$4.99 (iOS, Android)

Yellow Pages
Search via voice for a business or person nearby; add the number and information to your contacts or call directly; contains a ratings feature for businesses; offers movie times for theaters.
Free (iOS, Android)

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