Jonathan Abro

Let’s talk about tech

Over the last 20+ years of my sight loss I have been on this same journey. I am delighted at how much is available to us. Ten years ago I would not have believed such progress would have been made and that some sight loss solutions would become mainstream in the way they have.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever had from another VI person is: learn to touch-type now and learn to use assistive tech before you need it.

Being a few-fingered typist I took this advice seriously and tried various tutors. I found Azabat to be the one for me and within three weeks of tuition I was a touch-typist. It was definitely worth the effort as we use keyboards every day whether on smartphones, tablets or computers. Try these typing tutors to find the one that suits you:

Smartphones are a good place to start and, although I use an iPhone, the accessibility features and equivalent apps are available on Android phones too which means that the choice has become much wider as to which smartphone to buy.

When it comes to apps, remember to always try free apps first. If you think the paid-for apps have better features for your needs, give the free trial a go first to ‘try-before-you-buy’.

Seeing AI, a free Microsoft app, is one of my favourite apps and one I use frequently. Using artificial intelligence, each channel has a different function allowing us to:

  • Read the post as it arrives rather than waiting for help,
  • Scan a document to read or save for later use,
  • Recognise supermarket products by scanning barcodes,
  • Check on the colour of something,
  • Sort out currency in your wallet before going out,
  • Determine how light or dark the room you are in is, and,
  • Still being developed, read handwriting, scenery description and identify or describe a person with some hilarious results so to be taken with a pinch of salt!

Apps and mobility

Thanks to tech boffins, our amazing smartphones allow us to get assistance from other people and, via our cameras, they can help us with a myriad of tasks.

Welcome to the next in my series on amazing apps that make my life that much easier. This time I’ll finish up on assistance apps and move onto mobility as there is crossover between them.

With financial and banking help, most banks offer accessible services so contact them first.

Be My Eyes

an incredible free app that brings another way of keeping our independence and getting tasks done without bothering anyone while probably making someone’s day by giving them the opportunity to help. There are currently over 5.2 million volunteers ready to help 341,389 of us blind and visually impaired users! Via live video calls I’ve used this for something as simple as checking the colour of my socks to having the error message on my television read when it went on the blink. Specialized Help has companies from technical support to personal health and beyond, well worth exploring.


Another assistance app that I’ve started using. AIRA employs people to help so a very different offering. There’s some free usage alongside various subscription plans.


Take care when out on the streets, don’t stand on the edge of the pavement when using your phone. Using gestures and voice commands while your phone is in your pocket is safest.

I’m fiercely independent and a keen walker so it is vital that I am able to find my way around London. Depending on where and how I am going, I use one or more of these apps:

Apple or Google Maps

On iPhone just by saying to Siri, “start walking directions to” address / postcode / landmark gets me on my way;

Soundscape and Lazarillo

Announces everything around me from shop names to recycle bins, bus stops and street intersections. Integrated
with maps and using Aftershockz bone-conducting earphones to hear ambient sounds makes for great walking;

Bus Times

I can choose the correct bus stop, have all bus numbers at that stop, number of minutes until they arrive and all stops along each route. This takes away the need to stop every bus and ask the driver their number making bus travel so much easier;

TfL Go

Just downloaded this app and it’s an excellent journey planner for the Tube. I know my way around the Underground pretty well but wanted a backup. TfL staff are fantastic with assistance on journeys so I’m always confident on getting to wherever I need to go;

Blue Badge

Just learnt about this app which shows where Disabled parking spaces are located. Will try when next out in a car.

There is a myriad of other mobility apps available and coupled with Be My Eyes or AIRA getting around has become a whole lot easier.

With all of these apps I still rely on one other method – I ask someone. People love to help so ask someone if you are lost or uncertain. I have had people get their maps up on their phones and walk with me resulting in a conversation and a fun encounter. I learnt about my now favourite coffee shop in The City in this way.