People with vision loss say the development of smart phone apps over the last five years have dramatically contributed to their independence, and one expert in Halifax is encouraging more people to test out the technology.

"The different technology that's come out in the past number of years is endless," said Chris Judge, the assistive technology specialist at the CNIB in Halifax. "There's no way to do it justice in a short period of time."

Judge's job is to test new apps and teach them to people with vision loss. He's blind, so he knows first hand how important the programs can be on a day to day basis.

He says the iPhone in particular is an equalizer for people with vision loss. Unlike old, specialized equipment, they can buy phones in any store and use them right out of the box without having to spend money to adapt it to their needs.

He points to Siri, the iPhone program that answers questions, gives directions and sends messages with the push of a button.

"I can find the information that everybody else has access to, whereas before assistive technology and before the advancements in assistive technology, a person with vision loss was pretty much dependent on somebody else –somebody with vision to read to them, to find the information they required, and now we're able to do this independently."

Hesitant clients

That was the case for 67–year–old Margie Clark, who has vision loss. Three years ago, she never imagined she'd use a computer, let alone a phone with no keys.

"I was scared to death," she said. "I was afraid I was going to make a mistake and mess everything up."

She depended on others to help her navigate the city.

"I struggled. I just used the bus system and I would always have to ask the bus driver where to get off. When I'm walking I use my cane, but I don't know the names of the streets."

Judge convinced Clark to try a phone. She now uses a GPS program called BlindSquare on a daily basis. It announces street numbers and store names as she walks down the street.

Judge says it's encouraging to see how confident people become when they use the new tools. Most of his clients have lost or are losing their vision.

"Once they've started using the technology and they become comfortable with it and what's out there, they gain a lot of that independence back."

Helpful at home

The apps are also proving useful at home.

Judge has been experimenting with TapTapSee. He takes a picture of the food on his shelf, the app examines the phone and moments later, the products are identified out loud.

Judge is constantly demonstrating how the programs work to his clients.

"They think if they can do it, I can do it too."