Microsoft Office Lens review: An accessible way to read printed documents

People working with paper and iPads

How can you read printed documents if you can’t see them? Our Assistive Technology Officer Alex, reviews Office Lens Reader, a free scanning app, that can help you access printed documents.

As vision impaired people we will often come across inaccessible print documents. This is very common in classrooms where the teacher will provide the class with hand-outs but often in the wrong format. It is either too small, or for those who have no sight it is completely inaccessible.

There are scanners and other devices which have Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which extract the writing from an image and convert it into plain text so a reader can understand it, but often these devices are expensive and not very portable.

Thankfully, app developers are stepping up to change that. Scanning apps are easier and cheaper to create, and being on your phone, extremely portable.

The most popular OCR scanning app is KNFBReader. Until recently it was the only option if you wanted good results, but with a hefty price tag of £99.99, it is still not an affordable option for many people.

Introducing Microsoft Office Lens

This changed when Microsoft came out with their free Office Lens app, which is a scanner that uses your camera to create digital copies of printed documents such as business cards and receipts. Once you take a picture of a document you can trim , crop and edit the image. What a lot of other people might not know is that it acts very well as an OCR scanner as well.
Just take a picture of some writing on a sign or paper, and have it read back to you using their Immersive Reader.

How to use Office Lens

Although Android has Office Lens, it doesn’t have Immersive Reader (which is needed for documents to be read out loud) unfortunately, so this tutorial will be on the iPhone and other iOS devices only.

  • Once downloaded, open up the app and go through the welcome screen.
  • Allow access to the camera.
  • Point the back of the phone towards some text.
  • If you are using VoiceOver, Frame Guide will help you capture the best shot, it will tell you to move back if you’re too close or go left/right or up/down to get the whole document in the frame.
  • Double tap the red capture button at the center bottom of the screen, to take a picture.
  • When it finishes processing, it will give you the option to edit it, or add another picture, useful if you’re scanning multiple documents such as a book.
  • You don’t need to edit anything, just tap on the done button to export the picture you’ve just taken.
  • From the list of apps where you can export, select Immersive Reader.
  • It will then ask you to log into your Microsoft account, if you have an Outlook.com, Live or Hotmail email you can sign in, if not go and create one.
  • Then it will scan the image for text.
  • Once scanned, the written text from the document will now be on your screen, you can read it using VoiceOver by placing a finger on the screen, or there is a play button to use one of their voices to read the whole document.
  • Once you are done listening you can tap close, which will give you the option to save it by exporting to another Microsoft app such as Word or OneDrive. If you don’t want to save it, just tap close again, and it will take you back to the capture screen so you can scan a new document.

And there you have it, a free alternative to KNFBReader. Carry this app in your pocket and whenever you are presented with print text, take a picture and get it read back to you.

Get job ready by learning to use Assistive Technology

Technology is levelling the playing field at work, so in order to boost your chances of getting a job, you need to know how to use the latest Assistive technology. By joining our Employability programme, you’ll get access to one-to-one sessions from Alex which will teach you to use the latest products so you can get tasks completed in the workplace. Register below to book your induction.

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