Hand holding a pencil while writing.

Reading handwriting with assistive technology

How to read handwriting, handwritten notes and cards using technology.

Before one of my close friends moved to another country for two years, they gave me a handwritten card that is filled with all sorts of memories and inside jokes about our friendship. Shortly after they handed me the card, my friend asked me if I can read handwriting or if they needed to take the card back and type out their message in large print instead. I reassured them that there are several options for reading handwriting with assistive technology, and that I would not have any issues with reading their message as long as they had written in pen. Here are my favorite tools and strategies for reading handwriting with assistive technology for vision loss, inclusive of low vision and blind.

Recognizing handwriting on iOS: Seeing AI

Seeing AI is a free iOS app developed by Microsoft that helps people with visual impairments get information in real-time about the world around them using artificial intelligence. Seeing AI requires an internet connection but does not require a Microsoft Account or any other subscriptions.

There are two different options for reading handwriting with Seeing AI:

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Recognizing handwriting on Android: Google Lookout/Google Lens

Google Lookout and Google Lens use artificial intelligence to provide visual descriptions and recognize text, similar to Seeing AI. Handwriting recognition features are available in both applications, and Google Lens has the additional feature of translation, so users can have handwritten text translated into their native language- this was incredibly helpful when I received a Christmas card in French.

There are two different options for reading handwriting with either Google Lookout or Google Lens:

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Another OCR handwriting application: Envision AI

Envision AI is another free application for iOS and Android that can recognize handwriting and provide other visual descriptions, and I was impressed with the app’s ability to read my own messy handwriting. When my friend asked if I could read the card when they first handed it to me, I opened Envision AI on my phone and showed them how the application could recognize the text on the front of the card, and my name on the envelope. The Envision AI app is free for all users as of 2022.

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No downloads necessary: Camera and/or magnifier

One of my favorite ways to use a video magnifier on the go is to open my phone’s Camera app and zoom in on information, whether it is a card on my desk or a sign on a bulletin board in the college dining hall several feet away. Another option is to use Apple’s Magnifier app, which has several options for adjusting color contrast and magnification.

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Using a human interpreter: Be My Eyes

I know I’ve talked a lot about using technology and AI, but there are some cases where I find it more helpful to talk to a person or hear another human’s voice. Be My Eyes is great for reading handwriting with assistive technology, as long as the handwriting in question does not include any identifying information. Be My Eyes is free and available for iOS and Android.

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Converting to another format: Microsoft Office Lens

I wanted to scan a copy of my friend’s card so I could read it more easily on my computer, so I used Microsoft Office Lens to take a picture and convert it to an OCR format so I could easily recognize the text and save it in cloud storage. My friend’s handwriting is very neat and doesn’t resemble cursive, so I had no issues with recognizing text with the application. I prefer to use this app over my ScanMarker Air when scanning cards or notes from friends, since they don’t always write in a straight line. Microsoft Office Lens is free and available for iOS and Android.

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Making everything bigger: Magnifying glass or video magnifier

Mainstream technology is great, but specialized assistive technology for low vision like a magnifying glass or video magnifier is also a great option for reading handwriting with assistive technology. If I didn’t have access to a video magnifier in my dorm, I would go to the campus library and use one of their desktop magnifiers, resting my card on a sliding table so I could move it around more easily.

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Focusing on a single line: Typoscope

Typoscopes are a piece of black plastic with a cutout opening that make it easier to focus on a single line of text while reading. This is helpful for readers that have double vision or that have trouble following along with lines of text. Another option is to use an index card as a line guide, moving the card along a line of text.

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Other tips for reading handwriting with assistive technology

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated September 2023; original post published December 2018.

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