What is OCR?

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology that converts printed or handwritten text into machine-readable text. It scans and analyzes text from documents, images, or scanned pages, and then translates it into digital characters that can be edited, searched, and stored electronically. OCR is a powerful accessibility tool with a wide range of applications, including:

  • Digitizing Text: OCR can digitize printed text, such as converting a PDF or JPEG into a document. This could be very helpful if you need to modify a worksheet or PDF for a student or have text read aloud or translated.
  • Translation: OCR can be used to quickly translate printed text from one language to another.  
  • Alternative Formats: OCR can be used to create alternative formats like Braille or large print. 
  • Text Search and Retrieval: OCR enables the ability to search for specific words or phrases within large volumes of scanned text, which is useful for research, data mining, and information retrieval.
    • OCR is also built into your photo library. If you search for “dog,” it will pull up pictures of dogs and any text that contains the word “dog.”

Smartphone OCR

Your smartphone likely has OCR built into its platform; otherwise, there is an app for that. Leverage the built-in scanner to capture and convert text using OCR. 

Android devices have had this feature for quite a while, called Google Lens. In the iPhone with IOS 15, OCR is now built into the camera app and is known as “Live Text.” 

Using one of these technologies, highlight and grab a flat text (ex. Handwritten note, PDF, restaurant menu, a sign). Then, use OCR to turn it into digital text and manipulate the text – modify, enlarge, translate, read aloud text, etc.δ

This amazing technology is now right in our back pockets so now’s the time to leverage it to make things more accessible for all users.

SmartPhone demonstrating OCR by translating the text on a train ticket.

Google Lens

Scan and translate text instantaneously with Google Lens.
Image source: Google

Apple iPhone demonstrating Live Text feature with handwritten recipe.

Apple Live Text

Apple’s Live Text feature brings OCR to the camera app.
Image source: Apple


This is one of a series of posts from Cassie Brusch and Julie Ortlieb.  Check the MCIU Learning Network throughout this year to see more posts from this series.


Julie Ortlieb

Project Consultant

Cassie Brusch

Project Consultant