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With These Gadgets, You’ll Never Shop (or Cook) Blindly Again

September 28 2010 | by

Tin Cans with corn and peas

As someone who is blind, I can’t tell you how many times I have reached into the freezer for a box of frozen something-or-other only to realize that I couldn’t prepare the food without first reading the directions, which I cannot see. When that happens, I have a few options: I can ask a neighbor or friend; I can take a guess (or a gamble); or I can wait for someone to come home and read the instructions to me.

The complete lack of access to printed information on packages and product inserts is troublesome for those of us who are visually impaired and still want to prepare great meals, keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy, maintain clean houses, and independently accomplish the day-to-day tasks that are simply a “part of normal life” for most people. It can be even more problematic — or downright dangerous — if the product is an over-the-counter medication I am trying to learn to or remember how to use.

I currently own an I.D. Mate, a talking bar code reader that identifies product names and relevant information. Made by Envision America, the device holds information for hundreds of thousands of products, and is incredibly useful for tasks like figuring out what’s inside a box or can, or remembering how to launder your favorite shirt. I.D. Mate scans product bar codes, identifies them with spoken output and, if the manufacturer has supplied the information, also reads the relevant packaging information. You can also record your own product information for items that aren’t listed in I.D. Mate’s database. A third and latest version, called the Summit, is supposed to be excellent, but at a cost of $1,299, I won’t be upgrading anytime soon.

Luckily, I may not have to –- as two new products are now available that will identify products out loud. A new service from non-profit organization Horizons for the Blind called directionsforme is a free online database that lets you look up package instructions and other information.

Through a licensing agreement with Gladson, a seller of product databases, directionsforme features more than 300,000 products in food, health and beauty and general merchandise categories. It provides preparation directions, nutrition facts, ingredients, allergy and drug interaction warnings and more. Users are encouraged to contact companies to add their products to the database; I predict that as people who are blind and visually impaired discover the site, their listings will grow by leaps and bounds.

Another product that’s making waves is the Digit-Eyes audio labeling system app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Made by Digital Miracles, Digit-Eyes uses the devices’ built-in camera to scan and identify bar codes, and uses the built-in text-to-speech feature to read product names and packaging information out loud.

Users can also print custom text labels or record audio labels that they make by scanning specially coded labels and speaking into their phones, which can be attached to household items. The messages are played back whenever the codes are rescanned with their iPhone or other device.

Digit-Eyes costs $29.99 through the end of September, making it a great bargain for the visually impaired shopper. A slimmed down version, Digit-Eyes Lite, is free and includes the text-labeling system.

Until I get an iPhone, I will rely on my I.D. Mate, as well as on my husband and my son, to relay relevant product information. And I’ll be using the directionsforme website on a regular basis. Between the two products, I’ll get access to more information than ever before, and enjoy more self-confidence as I accomplish the routine tasks of daily living.


  • Nancy Miracle


    I just wanted to let your readers know that we’ve decided to extend the $29.99 pricing on Digit-Eyes through the end of the year.

    One great piece of news is that you don’t have to wait to get an iPhone to use it — Digit-Eyes also runs on the new iPod Touch, which is available from Apple for a one-time charge of $229. It uses your local wi-fi network and, thus, incurs no monthly charge.

    We also have a new product that your readers may be interested in — we have labels that can be sewn into garments that you can then use to record fabric care and wearing information. These are permanent labels that can be washed and drycleaned and that are expected to last the life of the garment. You just scan them with Digit-Eyes on your iPod or iPhone, record the content and then scan again when you are sorting the laundry or picking out what to wear.

  • Charlotte Woodruff

    The directionsforme website is great, but you still have to know what product you have in your hand. It only provides part of the solution. I can’t always tell which frozen meal I’ve pulled out, or which box of Hamburger Helper, etc.
    I think I will stick with my i.d. mate. It has millions (not hundreds of thousands) of items and includes everything from grocery to my OTC drugs and even yarn for my crocheting! It includes the cooking instructions, nutritional information and everything else. It will tell which CD I have and what the song trackes are! I love En-Vision America’s payment plan, too. It makes it a lot easier to purchse the device. It is an investment, but you get what you pay for and this is worth it.

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