Full Issue: AccessWorld May 2022

Editor's Page: Push and Pull in Accessibility

Dear AccessWorld Readers,

As I use a screen reader to interact with my technology each day, I noticed something about how my screen reader interacts with apps and software that I thought I would expand upon here. It seems that there are two distinct ways that screen readers gain information about an interface; I have come to think of these as "Pull" and "Push". In an interface that uses the "Pull" method, your screen reader is pulling information directly from the interface and interpreting it for you. A chief example is when using the web; your screen reader is pulling the information from the websites code and then presenting it to you. In the "Push" method, the screen reader can't interpret the interface itself, but is deliberately told specific information to report to you as you navigate. I find that Google's suite of applications seems to use this method, as if you do not specifically turn on screen reader mode, your screen reader will not be able to interact with a document or spreadsheet. It appears that with accessibility activated, as you interact, your screen reader is fed a stream of content to read. This is most noticeable when typing, as you might notice that the character echo built into apps such as Docs and Sheets doesn't add the higher pitch when entering capitol letters, seemingly because it is not possible to include this information when telling the screen reader what to say.

This has interesting implications for accessibility. When a screen reader is pulling information directly, it has some creative license so to speak in what it tells you. If you visit a page using NVDA, JAWS and VoiceOver, not to mention if you use different web browsers, you will find that the site is presented just slightly differently using each. This also gives you some more options in how you want content presented, for example, I find that if a website has some accessibility issues, I can go into the View menu in the Firefox web browser and turn off the style sheet to gain access to elements that are normally hidden or inaccessible. It is also true that even when a screen reader is pulling information, the site or application needs to be built with the protocols that the screen reader uses to access elements or it will either be entirely inaccessible or present confusing and or incorrect information.

When information is directly pushed to a screen reader, generally, the developer can customize exactly how their application is seen by the user with blindness or low vision. This can mean better consistency across platforms, but though I'm not a programmer myself, it seems that it would require a good deal of extra effort on behalf of a developer to specify the exact result from every interaction the user makes. It seems like following accessible design standards from the beginning would be much more efficient. In addition, when a screen reader is directly fed information, there is no room for interpretation for the user to change how the screen reader presents the information to them, as in my style sheet example previously.

Overall, I can see benefits to both methods. When a screen reader pulls information directly, this generally means that accessible design standards have been used in the creation of the app, site, or desktop software, though often this simply means the interface is only partially accessible or is interpreted strangely by the screen reader. Pushing information directly allows a more consistent interface presentation, but I would assume it would require much more work on behalf of the developer and does not provide the flexibility that is afforded when pulling information directly.

I would like to give a shout out to our awesome authors; they constantly work hard to bring you useful and interesting content each month; this publication is what it is today because of their diligent efforts. Also I would like to thank you for being an AccessWorld reader, knowing that you read and find value in our content is a valuable motivator in our work.


Aaron Preece

AccessWorld editor and Chief

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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What Assistive Technologies are Used in the Workplace? Initial research findings by NRTC on Blindness and Low Vision, Mississippi State University

Anne Steverson, M.S. Michele McDonnall, Ph.D., CRC Katerina Sergi, Ph.D. Mississippi State University

Author's Note

The contents of this manuscript were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIDILRR grant 90RTEM0007. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Health and Human Services and should not indicate endorsement by the Federal Government.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Anne Steverson, NRTC on Blindness and Low Vision, PO Box 6189, Mississippi State, MS 39762. Telephone: 662-325-2001. Email: asteverson@colled.msstate.edu


Technology has become an important part of our everyday lives, whether a smartphone for communicating with others or Amazon Alexa telling us what the weather will be today. While technology, such as computers and software applications, has been essential for most jobs, it is even more important with additional people working from home due to the recent pandemic. These technologies by themselves are not special, and almost everyone has used them at some point in their life. But for people who are blind or have low vision, additional assistive technologies may also be needed to accomplish tasks that require using these standard technologies.

Interest in learning about assistive technology (AT) use in the workplace among people who are blind or have low vision has been growing. AFB themselves just published their Workplace Technology Study findings from a study conducted in 2021. The National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) began a longitudinal study to learn about AT use on the job by employed people who are blind or have low vision in 2020. The NRTC wanted to learn about types of AT being used in the workplace, how AT use changes over time, and identify challenges experienced and gaps for which new or improved AT may be needed. The NRTC is partnering with several mainstream and assistive technology companies to share information learned from the surveys. This article focuses on some of the findings from the first of four surveys we will conduct with our employed study group.


Study participants completed the first survey online or via phone. They were asked to share information about their employment, the AT they used on the job, their perceived skill level and training needs, satisfaction with the AT used, AT self-efficacy, challenges with AT, and much more. For this article, we’ll focus on the most commonly used AT on the job, AT most frequently used by participants, and participants’ perceived skill levels and training needs.

Participant Information

Data was collected between May and September of 2021, resulting in 314 usable surveys. The average age of participants was 46 years with a range of 22 to 89 years old. Sixty-three percent of participants were female, and 36.9% were male. Most were White (82.5%), 7.0% were Asian, 6.4% were Black or African American, and 7.9% were some other race. Most participants had a college education: 3.5% had an associate’s degree, 38.5% had a bachelor’s degree, and 43.6% had a master’s degree or higher. Most participants were totally blind (55.7%) or legally blind with minimal functional vision (22.0%). A smaller portion were legally blind with some functional vision (18.5%) or low vision (3.8%). Level of visual impairment played a role in the AT used in the workplace so, our findings will be presented by level of vision (no to minimal functional vision versus some functional vision).

Almost half of the participants (44.9%) worked in blindness-related jobs, including traditional jobs (such as teacher of students with visual impairments or rehabilitation counselor), accessibility-related jobs, or for a blindness organization. The remaining participants worked in non-blindness related or other disability fields (see Table 1). Most people who are blind or have low vision worked for an employer (88.2%), but self-employment was substantial with 21.3% of our study group participating in independent work. On average, our participants worked about 38 hours per week, but that workweek routine ranged from a minimum of three hours to a maximum of 100 hours.

Table 1 Employment Information

Employment Information
Variable Overall Some Functional Vision No to Minimal Functional Vision
n % n % n %
Job Type Employer job 277 88.2 59 84.3 218 89.3
Self-employed 38 12.1 4 5.7 34 13.9
Both employer job and self-employed 29 9.2 7 10.0 22 9.0
Broad Job Field Blindness-related 141 49.9 21 30.4 120 49.0
Other disability field 41 13.1 10 24.4 31 12.6
Non-blindness related 132 42.0 38 28.8 94 38.3


Participants were asked about devices they use at work; almost everyone used a computer (98.1%) and most people used a mobile device (88.2%). Participants then selected the AT they most commonly used on the job from a list of 28 ATs divided by (1) devices and hardware/software and (2) apps used on a smartphone or tablet. Some of the AT included in the list of devices and hardware/software were built-in accessibility tools, screen reader software, screen magnification software, refreshable braille displays, and handheld electronic video magnifiers. Examples from the list of apps on a smartphone or tablet included optical character recognition (OCR) apps, remote sighted assistance apps, money identification apps, and other apps on smartphones/tablets which covered any other apps that were not specifically listed, such as email or calendar. Participants used anywhere from one to 22 AT, but on average they used seven ATs on the job. People with no to minimal functional vision most commonly used screen reader software on the job followed by other apps on a smartphone or tablet. For people with some functional vision, screen magnification software was the most commonly used AT and other apps on smartphones or tablets and built-in accessibility tools tied for the second most commonly used. Table 2 presents the six most commonly used ATs by vision level.

Table 2 Top Six Most Commonly Used AT by Level of Visual Impairment

Top Six Most Commonly Used AT by Level of Visual Impairment
Some Functional Vision No to Minimal Functional Vision
Type of AT n % Type of AT n %
Screen magnification 44 62.9 Screen reader 230 94.3
Other apps on smartphone/tablet 40 57.1 Other apps on smartphone/tablet 167 68.4
Built-in accessibility tools 40 57.1 OCR app 155 63.5
Handheld lens magnifier 34 48.6 Built-in accessibility tools 124 50.8
Electronic video magnifier 28 40.0 Remote sighted assistance app 118 48.4
Screen reader 26 37.1 Refreshable braille display 102 41.8

Participants had the opportunity to write-in the three AT they most frequently used on the job. The top three ATs most frequently used by people with some functional vision were screen magnification software (58.0%), built-in accessibility tools (36.2%), and electronic video magnifiers (33.3%). However, for people with no to minimal functional vision, the most frequently used ATs included screen reader software (95.5%), a smartphone or tablet (54.1%), and OCR technology (app or software/hardware) (29.5%).

Participants rated their skill level for their work AT on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being beginner and 10 being advanced. Most people self-reported intermediate to advanced skill levels (ratings from 7 to 10) for commonly used AT. Interestingly, people with some functional vision reported an average skill of 7 for screen magnification software, their most commonly and frequently used AT, whereas people with no to minimal functional vision reported more advanced skill levels, on average, for screen reader software, their most commonly and frequently used AT (see Table 3).

Table 3 Perceived Skill Levels by Level of Visual Impairment

Perceived Skill Levels by Level of Visual Impairment
Some Functional Vision No to Minimal Functional Vision
Type of AT M SD Range Type of AT M SD Range
Screen magnification 7.0 2.4 1-10 Screen reader 8.2 1.4 2-10
Otder apps on smartphone/tablet 7.9 1.9 2-10 Otder apps on smartphone/tablet 8.3 1.4 4-10
Built-in accessibility tools 7.6 2.1 3-10 OCR app 7.6 2.2 1-10
Handheld lens magnifier 9.0 1.7 3-10 Built-in accessibility tools 7.8 2.1 1-10
Electronic video magnifier 8.0 2.5 3-10 Remote sighted assistance app 8.3 2.0 2-10
Screen reader 6.7 2.3 2-10 Refreshable braille display 7.5 2.2 1-10

Note: M = Mean; SD = Standard deviation. 

People who rated their skill level 7 or below received a follow-up question asking if they would benefit from additional training on using that AT. A quarter or more of people with some functional vision who used the following devices indicated they would benefit from additional training on them: screen magnification software (38.6%), other apps on smartphone or tablet (25.0%), built-in accessibility tools (32.5%), and screen reader software (53.8%). A quarter or more of people with no to minimal vision who used the following devices expressed the need for additional training: built-in accessibility tools (25.8%), screen reader software (25.2%), and OCR app on a mobile device (39.4%).


AT is essential to employment for most people who are blind or have low vision. Participants in our survey used multiple ATs to complete job tasks, but the types of AT used sometimes differ by level of vision. Not surprisingly, the most commonly and frequently used AT provided computer access: for participants with some functional vision it was screen magnification software and for participants with no to minimal functional vision it was screen reader software. Apps on smartphones and tablets were also commonly used on the job, regardless of vision level.

While most of our survey participants rated their AT skill level between intermediate and advanced, more than a quarter of participants expressed a need for additional training on several commonly used ATs. This suggests that there is always room to improve on AT skills, whether you are learning a new AT or want to improve your efficiency with a current AT. For job seekers, it indicates the importance of learning as much as possible about and honing your skills with workplace AT.

Job seekers should be aware of what AT is needed for the jobs in which they are interested. Seeking out individuals in those jobs to learn how they efficiently complete their job tasks with AT may be helpful. If the job seeker lacks the AT skills needed to perform those job tasks, it would be valuable to seek additional training before obtaining a job. If a job seeker is unaware of the AT needed or is open to multiple types of jobs, our results suggest it is likely that either screen reader or screen magnification software skills and skills with using apps on a mobile device will be required. Skills with these ATs would be a minimum starting point.

People looking for work and those seeking to advance in their careers must maintain their AT skills, which can be hard with frequent updates to the AT itself and the software used on the job. For job seekers, it may be hard to maintain or advance skills with some AT without consistent, daily use of the AT, like one would get on a job. It is important to be aware of training opportunities that can be used by people who are employed. There are a variety of resources available for AT training, including AT instructors with vocational rehabilitation agencies and organizations for the blind, vendor-provided audio or video tutorials, YouTube demonstration videos, and social media groups, to name a few.

As part of this study, we will conduct two surveys with people who are not working but would like to work, our unemployed study group, and three more surveys with our employed study group. We are sharing information from this study with technology companies, both mainstream and blindness-specific, who have been very interested in the results. We will also share more results from this study in future AccessWorld articles. In the meantime, additional information about this study can be found at the NRTC’s Access Technology in the Workplace webpage.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Voxmate: A Swiss Army Knife of Easy-to-use Apps for Your Android Phone

Judy Dixon

Voxmate is an app itself that employs a simple interface to provide quick and easy access to a set of useful applications. It was created by a group of developers in Estonia, and was launched in September 2021.

The interface uses only four swipe gestures to do almost everything-up, down, left, and right. The up and down gestures are generally used to move through a menu or list. The right gesture is used to move to a submenu or activate an item, and the left gesture is generally used to go back. It was designed to be easy to learn and use for those who have never used or are uncomfortable with a smartphone.

Among other things, you can listen to radio stations, news and podcasts, play games, make phone calls, and send instant messages. At the moment, Voxmate is only available for Android but the developers are working on an iOS version.

Voxmate can be self-voicing or run with TalkBack. If used in conjunction with TalkBack, a second finger must be added to each of its simple gestures.

There is a free level which includes 20 applications and regular updates. You can also purchase a monthly or annual subscription. The paid version includes unlimited use, high-quality text-to-speech voices, and the ability to set Voxmate as a launcher, which means that Voxmate will replace the device's home screen so that each time you start your Android phone, the Voxmate main menu will appear.

Basic Requirements

Voxmate will work on any device running Android version 7.0, Nougat, or later. To use the phone features of Voxmate, you will need a data plan from a cellular provider. You will also need a Google mail account to log into Voxmate.

Installation and Setup

Voxmate is available in the Google Play store. When found there, the app is called "Voxmate: All-in-one App for the Blind." After installation, an Open button will appear allowing you to launch Voxmate.

When the app is run for the first time, the setup process is automatically initiated. You are informed that to exit, you can swipe down from the top and there is a Got It button which must be double-tapped.

The next screen asks you to accept the privacy policy. By double tapping Begin Setup. Then you are asked if you will be using Voxmate yourself or are you setting it up for someone else, with two buttons, I'll Use It and I am the Copilot.

The next screen is Setup Step 1 of 5. Here, you are told that Voxmate works best without TalkBack but that they can work side-by-side if you add an extra finger to all gestures. You are given the choice of Use Without Talkback or Use with Talkback.

In Setup Step 2 of 5, you are asked to log into a Google account. You are told that Google will share your name, e-mail address, and profile picture with Voxmate.

In Step 3, you are given an opportunity to subscribe at a monthly rate of \$3.49 or \$33.99 for an annual subscription. As of this writing, the developer is still offering an early access rate which is 75% off of the eventual price. The advantages of the paid subscription are having no time limit, the availability of high quality voices, and the ability to use Voxmate as an app launcher. Each of these subscription offerings is a radio button. At the very bottom of this screen is a Try for Free button. If you select one of the paid options, you are taken back to the Play store to complete your purchase. After completing the purchase, you can return to the Voxmate setup by double tapping the What's Next button at the bottom of the screen.

Step 4 is where you are asked to grant permissions. To do this now, you can select the "Grant Permissions" button, or, you can choose to "Skip this Step." If you choose to grant permissions, you are taken through several screens asking about each type of permission, microphone, camera, contacts, and so forth.

Even if you have elected to use Voxmate without TalkBack, it will continue to be active through the setup. At the end of the setup, you will be advised to turn Talkback off and the tutorial will automatically begin. After you are instructed in how to use the four directional gestures, you will be at Voxmate's Main Menu.

Using Voxmate

When you launch Voxmate, you will be at the top of the Main Menu. If TalkBack is running when you launch the app, you will be advised to turn it off, or set TalkBack compatibility mode in Voxmate's settings.

There are 20 apps on the main menu. Apps are organized in categories-Phone, Entertainment, Social, Games, Resources, Utilities, Early Access Feedback, and Settings.

In the phone category, there is:

  • Phone Book,

  • Dial a Phone Number, and

  • Settings.

In entertainment, you will find:

  • World News,

  • Listen to Audio Books,

  • Browse YouTube,

  • Music on my Phone,

  • Listen to Podcasts, and

  • Tune into Radio.

The social category includes:

  • Audio Forum,

  • Telegram, and

  • Reddit.

Games includes:

  • Game Club (play games with people online),

  • Play VoxVille,

  • Play Sudoku,

  • Play Mathdoku,

  • Play Quiz, and

  • Play Blackjack.

Resources includes:

  • The Knowledge Village, and

  • Coronavirus Pandemic.

Utilities includes:

  • Make Notes,

  • What's Nearby, and

  • Scan Text.

Early Access Feedback is an area where the user can record a message to send feedback to the development team.

Settings includes:

  • Manage Subscription,

  • Preferences,

  • Login to Portal,

  • Permissions,

  • Plug-ins,

  • Launcher,

  • Help, and

  • Quit Voxmate.

You can swipe up or down among the categories. When you reach a category that interest you, swipe right and then swipe up or down to move through the items in that category. When you reach the bottom of the list of items in a particular category, if you swipe down, the menu will wrap around to the beginning of that category.

Voxmate provides helpful hints as the user moves through its menus and options. The Help section in Settings includes tutorials, Frequently Asked Questions, and a Troubleshooting guide which invites the user to send a message to the developers or go to the troubleshooting page on the Voxmate website.

The Voxmate Portal

Before we take a closer look at a few apps, let's have a look at the Voxmate portal. This is a location on the Voxmate website where a user can adjust the apps and other items to suit their personal needs and interests. The huge advantage of the portal is that users who are not comfortable with smartphones or web browsers and just want to use the app can have someone else log into the portal and set Voxmate so it is specifically tailored for that user.

In the Settings category, selecting Login to Portal will bring up a message instructing you to go to my.voxmate.com and enter a 6-character code that is clearly spoken. The code is valid for ten minutes. This only needs to be done the first time you enter the portal. After that, you will be automatically logged in.

With a browser either on a phone or a computer, logging into the portal will take you to a page with three sections: General Settings, Voxmate Apps, and Plug-ins. General Settings includes most of the settings found on the device in Preferences such as speech speed, the touch keyboard, and TalkBack Compatibility mode.

There are also several settings that control the visual aspects of Voxmate. Show Spoken Text on Screen is enabled by default. Text is shown in large print. This can be disabled when not needed to save battery life. There are also four visual themes to choose from: Voxmate Default with Animations is the default. Options are Voxmate default, High Contrast, and White on Blue.

Voxmate Apps is where you can configure certain aspects of several of the apps. In Make Phone Calls, you can set the order of your contacts. In Audiobooks and Reddit, you can enter your login credentials. In Radio, you can setup your own list of stations. And there are other settings for Telegram, Mathdoku, and the Editor. Voxmate Plugins are third-party extensions to Voxmate that can enable functionality and integration with certain Voxmate apps. At the moment, Telegram is the only plug-in installed.

Voxmate Apps

Let's take a closer look at several of the apps.

Dial a Phone Number. When you swipe right into the dialpad, the focus is placed on the 5. You can swipe in any of the four directions to get to the number you need and double tap on the digit to place it in your outgoing number. Each time you add a digit, the entire number so far is spoken. Swiping right at any time will call the number entered.

When the phone receives a call when Voxmate is running, the app announces who is calling and says "Swipe right to answer." When the call is finished, you can swipe left to hang up.

World News. This app lists dozens of news sources from around the world. Swiping right takes you to a list of sections for that news source such as Headlines, All Articles, Sports, Culture, etc. Swiping right again takes you to a list of articles in that section, and swiping right again begins to read the selected article.

Sudoku. Swiping right from Play Sudoku takes you to a short menu with Solve a Sudoku and How to Play. If you have played previously and not finished a game, Continue Playing will also be on this menu. Swiping right from Solve a Sudoku brings you to a menu of five complexity levels. Swiping right on the one you want takes you to the game grid. Swiping right opens the game grid with the focus in the center. The interface for this game was a bit complex but it is definitely playable.

The Future of Voxmate

Additional functions and features are being added to Voxmate frequently. In addition, Voxmate developers plan to open Voxmate to third-party developers. This will allow users to install apps that meet their specific needs, and be able to use them in the familiar Voxmate environment. For more information about Voxmate, visit the Voxmate website.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Eschenbach Smartlux Digital

Steve Kelley

There is nothing like a good handheld or pocket magnifier to make things easier to read around the house, work, or at the store. Like many people with low vision my go-to magnifier is a small, Eschenbach magnifier that goes everywhere with me in a pocket. It’s used countless times a day with my smartphone, mail, notes, paper documents--you name it. Sometimes, the smartphone camera or app makes a quick alternative for a video magnifier, if better light or more contrast is needed. Both the smartphone and the pocket magnifier are handy and usually get the job done but leave a lot to be desired. If your passion is easy, portable access to print that can be highly customized to your reading needs, Eschenbach’s new video magnifier, the Smartlux Digital has features that may quickly convert you to a handheld video magnifier, and make you wonder how you ever got by with the other alternatives.

In the past, one of the drawbacks to many handheld video magnifiers has been the extra weight, compared to most optical handheld magnifiers. One of my first observations, out of the box, with the Smartlux is the light weight—only 8.5 ounces. In addition, the design is unique in that the video magnifier rests in the palm of your hand as you hold it. Much of the weight comes from the rechargeable Li-ion battery tucked into the end that rests in your hand. This is a very comfortable position to hold the magnifier, reduced the weight at the end of the magnifier, and provided easy access to the four tactile buttons that provide the controls. For the user who might prefer a more traditional handle, the Smartlux offers an optional handle that quickly slides on and off the curved, ergonomic end.

Press and hold the power button for about 2 seconds, to light up the 5 inch HD display, which like the new ergonomic design, is impressive. The HD display keeps images sharp and clear. More importantly, there’s almost no drag or ghosting as the Smartlux is moved back and forth. Focus adjusts instantaneous regardless of whether you’re looking at something several inches away or several feet. Two adjustable LED lights provide plenty of illumination up close. Distance viewing with the Smartlux, past 20 ft. is less optimal, and the image quality pixilates in dimmer light.

What’s in the box?

The Smartlux ships with several other extras:

  • Eschenbach includes a serious foam case for the Smartlux—sturdy and well padded.
  • A charging brick and USB cable, with several adapters for international electrical outlets.
  • A lanyard that connects to the Smartlux at the end where the battery is stored, to serve as a carrying strap or to put it around your neck.
  • User manuals in most popular languages.
  • Cleaning cloth.

Also included, but a bit less obvious at first, is a stand that folds out from beneath the Smartlux. When it’s fully opened the Smartlux can be used like a stand magnifier. In this mode, there’s no need to hold it, just set it on what you’re reading and slide it around the page as you read. The other position for the stand elevates the display enough that it can be used for some short writing tasks, like a signature or filling out a form. In addition to the optional handle, there are several other optional features that can be ordered with the Smartlux. A “bumper” that fits around the Smartlux to provide some protection if the magnifier is dropped. An HDMI cable is also available that connects the Smartlux to an external HDMI display for increased magnification or ease of viewing.

Basic operation

Overall, the Smartlux is simple to use, and has a more extensive menu to permit customization of features. The circular power button is on the end that rests in your palm. Between the power button and the display are four tactile buttons. If you are holding the Smartlux in your right hand the buttons, from top to bottom include:

  • Camera button to freeze an image or take a picture. The Smartlux comes with 8 GB of storage for pictures, and these can be transferred to a computer using the USB cable.
  • Plus (+) which will increase the magnification up to 15X.
  • Minus (-) to reduce magnification to the lowest level of 3X.   
  • Color filters, which Eschenbach refers to as False Color options. Although this button is limited to five options, there are a total of 14 different color combinations that can be preset for this button in the Settings menu. Also, pressing and holding this button will cycle through three LED light settings, from off at 0%, to 50% and 100%. 

On the edge of the display, opposite the handle, there is a menu button, positioned next to the USB input. The menu offers an extensive set of preferences that can be customized, including, but not limited to the color filters, a reading guideline, LED light brightness, etc. When the menu is opened, navigation is done using the plus or minus buttons, and selecting a choice using the camera button. Although the menu icons are large—three rows of five icons can fit on the display, there is no text-to-speech as items are selected. One of the menu options is for the Smartlux Quick Guide, available in many languages, which would also benefit from a text-to-speech option. The text can be magnified up to 8X, but doesn’t wrap on the Smartlux display when magnified. With the page magnified, pressing the Menu button allows the four main controls to be used to scroll left and right, top and bottom. It’s handy to have the user guide built in for quick reference, but navigating the pages is a bit clumsy.

One great feature included in the menu, is the ability to add a red reading guideline. This feature is not often found on video magnifiers and can make reading a bit easier for some users. This guideline can be positioned as either a horizontal or vertical line, and be repositioned in the Settings menu.

Magnification Simplified

With preferences set up, all the basic features of the Smartlux can be done easily using the four buttons near the power button. After turning the Smartlux on, adjust the light by holding down the color filters button. Select a color filter, if desired by cycling through the choices available for the best reading experience. Use the (+) or (-) buttons to increase or decrease magnification. To take a picture or freeze the image, just press the camera button once, and it will remain on the display. Press the camera button a second time and the display will return to live view and the image is stored in the Smartlux. To access saved images, or delete them, just go into the Menu and select the camera icon. The secondary camera menu offers options to cycle through stored images, magnify images, and delete unwanted ones.

Out of the box, the Smartlux is easy and intuitive to get started with. The many settings to customize user preferences through the menu, really enhance the ability to fine tune it for individual reading needs. The stand will make it much easier for some users to read longer material, like newspaper and magazine articles. The three hour battery life means the Smartlux will easily last through a trip to the library, reading the paper, or the on and off demands at work. Adding the HDMI port really increases the versatility, by connecting it to a larger monitor for greater magnification and a larger display. To get more information, watch a video of the new Smartlux Digital in action, or download a copy of the User Guide, check out the Smartlux Digital on Eschenbach’s website. The Smartlux Digital is available from retailers for $745.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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A Review of Two Sheet Music Apps: SM Music Reader and Sheet Music Scanner

Janet Ingber I recently learned about two iOS apps that can play sheet music, which is a wonderful development for people who are blind or visually impaired. The apps are SM Music Reader and Sheet Music Scanner. SM Music Reader is geared specifically for musicians with vision loss, while Sheet Music Scanner is a mainstream app.

For this article, I used an iPhone 13 Mini running iOS 15.4.1.

SM Music Reader

The SM Music Reader app is available for iOS and can be downloaded free. This app is also available for Android. There are some differences between how the app works with iOS and with Android. The developer of this app is developed by the Sao Mai Center for the Blind

Author’s note: Between April 7th and April 28th, I sent five different emails to the developer asking for assistance. One was answered. I replied to the developer with an additional question, but have not received a response as of May 8th.

The SM Music Reader allows a user to read the music from a Music XML file with a screen reader like VoiceOver. In addition, the app is connected with Sao Mai online music library, containing thousands of music pieces. "XML" is a generic term for "Extensible Markup Language.” Music XML makes it possible for different music notation programs to open and read the same music file. Learn more about this topic on this website

The Home Screen

There are five options on SM Music Reader’s home screen. They are Score List, SM Music Library, Settings, User’s Guide, and About. The About section contains the standard information. On the bottom of the screen is a Reset to Default button. I will go over Settings and User’s Guide. Then I will discuss the other options.


This is a good place to start. The first option is Speaking Mode. Here is where you choose whether VoiceOver speaks note by note or bar by bar. Note-by-note is the default setting.

Next is Speaking Order. Your options are by voice or by time stamp. Below this setting is a long list of features that are all on by default. They include Harmony, Octave, and Technical. The final settings are number of lines and magnification.

User’s Guide

The User’s guide gives basic information including how to contact the developer, a list of what the app can do, and some instructions on how to use the app. Screen reader instructions also are given.

Score List

This section contains some demo songs including Ave Maria and Mozart Piano Sonata. There is a search box at the top of the page and a toolbar at the bottom of the page. The Search box is used to search for files already in your Score List. Toolbar options are Downloads, Files, Favorites, and Reload. The Files section has all the scores including the demo songs. The Downloads tab has all the files you download and the Favorites tab has all songs you have added to Favorites. The Reload button is used to refresh the screen. There will be more information about the Toolbar later in this article.

If you double tap and hold on a title, you can put it in your Favorites list, remove it, or get more information about the music file. Once a song is selected, a new screen will load. If there is more than one part, you can choose which part you want to hear. By default, all parts are selected. For example, Ave Maria has a voice part and a piano part. Both parts were selected. I only wanted the piano part, so I unselected the voice part. Next were a Cancel button and a Done button. At the bottom of the screen are a series of buttons including Options, Loop, and Play. The Options button offers choices including which staff, which instrument, which key, and what tempo you want to use. You can also play a song by flicking right. VoiceOver will say the notes or chord. VoiceOver will also speak the bar number.

SM Music Library

The SM Music Library has an extensive list of scores available for free download. I was able to download most scores but there were many that I could not. Instead of downloading, VoiceOver just told me that the item was selected. Double tap on the title you want to download. It should open in the Score List. If you double tap and hold on a score, it shows additional information such as reporting an error and a button labeled Sheet Info. Selecting the button gives more information about the score.

At the top of the screen is a search form. It contains an Edit box and gives the option whether to search by title or composer. I entered Bach in the search box and selected Composer. My first result was Can Can Dance by Jacques Offenbach. After seven pages of results, I finally reached Johann Sebastian Bach. Results were sorted alphabetically by first name. If you perform a search and do not get results, switch the category from Composer to Title or vice versa.

At the bottom of the screen is a Home button that will bring you back to the main library screen. Next is a button labeled Left. It will bring you back to the previous screen of results. Next is the page number of your results. Next is a button labeled Right, which will bring you to the next page of results. The final button is Search. This does not bring you to the Search form. It brings you back to the first page of search results.

There is no order of results for a specific composer. For example, Beethoven’s symphonies are mixed with his sonatas, sonatinas, etc. I went looking for a specific sonatina. I put Beethoven Sonatina in the search box and only got one result. When I just put Beethoven in the search form, I had to manually scroll through all results. I finally found what I wanted on page 20 but I couldn’t download it. I rebooted my phone and took SM Music out of the app switcher but that did not correct the issue.

The Score List Revisited

Unfortunately, the toolbar on the Score List is very inconsistent. The Downloads section usually showed one or two scores that I had downloaded rather than the 10 I really downloaded. The scores section sometimes showed all my scores, but usually only some were listed. Frequently, the scores I favorited were not listed. Taking the app out of the app switcher sometimes displayed all the files, but when I went to Downloads or Favorites, not all the scores were listed. Also, when I went back to the Files tab, not all scores were listed. 


Although the app offers a lot of features, there are some bugs. It is possible to contact the developers, though tech support requests are slow to receive a response. Since the app is free, you might want to give it a try.

Sheet Music Scanner

Sheet Music Scanner is available for $4.99 and developed by David Zemsky. Support for the app can be found here. This app is also available for Android.

This app allows you to scan printed sheet music and then hear it in an audio format using different instruments and formats. I contacted the developer and asked if someone without sight could independently photograph the sheet music. He responded very quickly:

There are some visually impaired musicians who do use the app and there is some VoiceOver support (labels on buttons, etc.). However, I think you might find it difficult to use as you can't compare the result with the original score and see if the app has recognized it correctly, if that makes sense. It relies on optical recognition and there are some technical limitations. There will be some cases where it will make mistakes; without seeing it you won't be able to tell. That is why I don't advertise it as suitable for visually impaired people although it might be helpful.

The Home Screen

There are five buttons on the app’s home screen. They are Help, Scan From Camera, Import, Sheet Music List, Share, and About.


There is a scroll bar on the right that can help you move through this section. The first item in the Help section is a Feedback button.

Next is a heading labeled Support and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions.) This section contains information about photographing the music. Next is a list of music types that are not supported. They include handwritten notation and shape notes.

The next section gives hints on how to optimize recognition and fix some problems. There are in-page links for how to solve various issues. Links include: the app says that the song cannot be recognized, creating a song with multiple pages, and how to play each voice individually. When a link is selected, you will need to scroll down the page to find the answer.

Scan From Camera

When this option is selected, your devices camera will open. There will be buttons to take the picture and add additional pages, but there is no feedback from VoiceOver about whether you got the entire page correctly. I used sighted assistance from a musician to scan my music.


Selecting this button brings you to your photos. There are two options, Browse and Cancel. Select the photo you want and it will immediately be in the app.

Sheet Music List

Here is where all your music is located. There is an edit button in the upper right corner and a section index on the right side of the screen. Near the top of the screen are options to scan or import. At the bottom of the screen is a tool bar with options for help, giving feedback and sharing.

Once you select a song, there is a tool bar at the bottom of the page. It contains options including Play, Instruments, and Settings. In the Settings menu are options to reset pitch to 440HZ, change tempo, and play multiple voices or a single voice. For example, the bass clef and treble clef parts of piano music can be played separately. Unfortunately, this does not work with VoiceOver. The different parts are on the screen, but VoiceOver does not speak their names. Therefore, you cannot make a selection.

In the upper right corner is an Edit/Done button. Next is a button called “Background-tap to pause play”. Next is a control for inserting a page.

Next is a series of buttons all labeled, “Play from this Measure.” Measure numbers are not given. Visually, the music is on the screen so a sighted user can see the measures and choose which one they want. There are four of these buttons. Next is an option to delete a page. This is followed by five more of the “Play from this measure” buttons. Then you return to the Pause play button. As the song plays, each button refers to different measures. For example, if you select the first button and the music starts, that same button may later correspond to a different measure. Flick right and eventually you should hear VoiceOver say, “Selected, play from this measure.”

I contacted the developer about unlabeled measures and the inability to select an individual voice. He is very interested in making this app more accessible.


If you have some vision you may be able to use this app. At this time, it is impossible for someone without vision to scan music and you would need to deal with unlabeled controls. The developer was very responsive to my questions and is working to improve accessibility.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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