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Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired

I have worked with individuals with special needs for over 20 years and acted as my mother's caregiver as well.

What Are the Cell Phone Options for the Blind and Those With Low Vision?

Cell phones are great tools for maximizing productivity, providing security, and enhancing lives with better communication. However, these same devices can be a little more problematic for those with significant visual impairment or blindness. For these individuals, there are really two options:

  • Find a good smartphone that comes with the features and the software that makes them accessible.
  • Find a basic phone which is easier to feel and navigate if you don't want to delve into the world of touchscreens, text to speech apps, and so forth.

Read further to learn about some of the features, phones, and software available for you to consider.

Features to Consider for Those With Low Vision or Blindness

Individuals with low vision or blindness have a number of features to consider either in the phone or the available software.

  • Screen magnifiers
  • Adjustable or large font
  • Adjustable screen contrast and brightness
  • Screen reader
  • Voice to text capabilities
  • Braille entry

Smartphones With the Right Software

The accessibility features of smartphones have increased drastically in recent years. Major makers now offer software that more fully supports accessibility, and there is no extra cost associated with it.

Screen reading software can be very useful, of course, in eliminating the barrier of having to read text on the screen in order to navigate on a cell phone. It's also handy for reading websites, emails, and other information brought up when using the browser.

  • The iPhone offers VoiceOver, which reads what you touch on the screen and even describes everything happening on the screen, such as low battery alerts and informing you of the identity of callers. It's easy to access by simply triple-clicking on the home button.

It will describe images, read email, web pages, and so forth to you.

To assist with composing text messages, it will read not only as you touch letters but also as you enter them, it can correct misspellings, and will support other modes of entry such as handwriting and dictation. There is even a Braille keyboard feature.

For those with low vision, VoiceOver also includes a number of handy display adjustments. These include a zoom, magnifier, font, and color adjustment.

  • Android phones have TalkBack. This service also offers a screen reader, voice commands and allows you to connect a refreshable Braille display. Users can adjust the display and font size, contrast, and color. They can also use a zoom or magnifier function. It adds spoken, audible, and vibration feedback to the device so that viewing the screen is not required.
  • Windows phones allow users to adjust contrast, font/text size They also provide a screen reader called Narrator and offer a screen magnifier. Users can also set speech caller ID, turn on captions for video, and can be set up with TTY/TDD service. Setting up these features is done through "Settings"/Ease of Access.
  • Blackberry phones offer Google's TalkBack as described above.

Help With Using Your Phone

Finding the right phone is critical but often getting information and assistance in using it is also critical. There is an overview of TalkBack and VoiceOver below, but there is a wealth of information available online, on YouTube, and accessibility training available around the country.

A visit to sites like the American Foundation for the Blind, the Carroll Center, and similar sites can often point you in the right direction.

An Overview of TalkBack

Scroll to Continue

An Overview of VoiceOver

Some of the Right Smartphones

If you're hoping to find a smartphone with some of the right features built in, you certainly want to take a look at the LG phones (For instance, the V30, G5, Stylo, etc.)

LG phones often have:

  • Audible cues
  • Braille display support
  • Screen magnification
  • A screen reader
  • High contrast mode
  • Color, contrast, brightness, font, and ringtone adjustment
  • Voice output of messages
  • Caller ID
  • Voice menus
  • Audible key identification
  • Audible/tactile key feedback

All in all, not too bad right out of the box for a user with low vision and a more limited budget.

Of course, you'll want to compare all of the features of the phone before making a choice, and there are websites that will help you compare all of the features, not just accessibility. Gari.info is one of those sites which can help select the right phone, tablet, or other devices with no hidden agenda of selling you anything.

You'll want to be sure any phone you choose has as much RAM as possible to support all you need it to do.

Finding the Right Basic Phone

Full-featured smartphones are certainly the prevalent force in the market. Flip phones, however, are making a bit of a comeback with a cult following and certainly, there are a few simplified phones designed specifically for an older population in mind.

There are both simple, large font smartphones and basic flip phones available, which might be the right choice for users who have low vision or blindness. Here are a few other options to consider:

  1. Snapfon, in particular, is basic with big buttons, easy-to-read font, and 8-speed dial functions.
  2. Jitterbug's FLIP phone has a big, bright screen, simple menus, big buttons, and it can even act as a reading magnifier and flashlight. It might be right for older people or those with a milder vision loss. Their smartphone also offers the simple menus, larger font, voice typing, and a bright screen for those who want something a little more sophisticated.
  3. In addition, phones like the Kyocera Verve offer QWERTY keyboards and a decent screen reader. But options like this are limited.
  4. If basics and true accessibility are what you need then Odin VI might be worth learning more about. The phone is a basic slider design and offers:
  • A good screen reader
  • Announcing caller ID
  • Audible text messages and phone status
  • An easy-to-read display that can easily be adjusted

However, potential users need to realize texting is done on the numerical keypad so composing a lengthy text message can be time-consuming.

The plans for the Odin VI can be economical too. If a user needs no data, then plans start as low as $10/month for unlimited texting with 150 minutes of voice and go up to $40/month for unlimited texting and voice minutes. There are plans that add in data that range from $35/month to $55/month.

A Few Resources

As you may notice in your search for a phone, some phones allow connection to Braille displays. You can find more information and specific products list on the AFB website (American Foundation for the Blind). These devices can make content on a webpage accessible for Braille readers.

Phones for the blind and those with low vision have changed a lot in recent years, and accessibility has been required in recent years. However, getting help in finding one that really works is often needed. Another useful resource is GARI (Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative), which can help users select a device with the features they need.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 Ruth Coffee

Leave your comments or suggestions below

John Age:37 on March 02, 2020:

Thank you whoever made these.

P.S. I’m blind

anonymous on September 16, 2013:

@anonymous: Well Spoken. Thanks for your input. My mom at 84 has gone blind and I am looking for a way to help her adjust. I currently provide her a cell phone that she is can no longer operate because she can not see the contacts to dial. I will keep searching to find the right phone with out breaking the bank.

Ruth Coffee (author) from Zionsville, Indiana on August 11, 2013:

@anonymous: I searched a little for you. I found a Just5 J509 on Amazon which is very simple, white with large black keys. Might be right for your mom.

Ruth Coffee (author) from Zionsville, Indiana on August 11, 2013:

@anonymous: Of course, but unfortunately, for anyone wanting a more sophisticated phone it's more about the apps than the phone at this point. There are no built in braille keyboards or a phone with built in voice control etc. I'm hoping the phones themselves will become more accessible, but for now this is what it is about.

anonymous on July 15, 2013:

I am legally blind and hard of hearing. Yes, assistive technology and the data plans are outrageous for accessible cell phones, however, you guys seem to forget one thing. You know how they say, "Batteries Not Included," on packaging in the stores. Well, when we were all born by our creator, guess what, whether blind or not, "Eyes are included," whether or not they see is up to nature, as mine came from birth due to my mother having the German measles during the epidemic. Thus, you guys need to get your heads out of the sand and learn a little bit about your legal rights here. An accessible cell phone is a reasonable accommodations and having cell phone carriers requiring an additional expense for an accessible phone, as to that who can see and just pick out any phone is not equal at all. That does and should include basic cell phones. When getting a cell phone what is it more important to do with them? Contact your loved ones while away or coming home on a bus or a train and even being able to text them and also being able to reach them in the event of an emergency, like for example, a bus accident or even a bomb scare on a train. Is it more important to contact them in emergency situations for yours and their safety or is entertainment and browsing the web more important, with the exception of being able to read prescription labels and over-the counter labeling. Also, you guys, as well as the cell phone carriers need to recognize that like all other people, most of the blind are not employed and are on fixed incomes. Come on folks, get your head out of the sand. This is 2013. Not the days of Institutionalization and the Walter E. Fernald School for the Developmentally disabled. Yhea, while at it why don't you go to google, search the name of that school I just mentioned, and when you study a little bit of Western Civilization, you will know the history of what they were involved in, why there was this movement for de-institutionalization and mandated reporting requirements for child abuse.

Thus, if a service of public accommodation is not supposed to charge a sur-charge for reasonable accommodations, as it is deemed part of doing business, then the same should apply to cell phone carriers. You guys should had fought this battle a long time ago, because, you know, cell phones become discontinued and so do the parts too. What if your battery no longer holds a charge for example or your phone is no longer working strong enough to be able to work while traveling, then what happens. Use your heads and the education you got. Oh yhea, and by the way I welcome a call from AFB at 978 702-9403 regarding the best basic or pre-paid accessible phone for the time being.

Yours Truly,

Brian J. Coppola

Brian J. Coppola

anonymous on July 05, 2013:

@anonymous: My wife is totally blind and uses the Motorola VE240 quite effectively. She's even quite profficient at texting. We have the MetroPCS service which no longer sells the VE240, but it is still supported if you can find a new/used one online configured for your chosen carrier.

The phone reads the name of the caller (if available) or the phone number, which is then followed by the ringtone - customizable for each contact if desired. The phone responds to voice commands for dialing, time, status, and others. The traditional tactile numbered keypad is easy to center on and the phone itself is quite durable.

anonymous on May 27, 2013:

I bought the Snapfon for my 91 year old mother because the ring is loud and it seemed well suited for visual impairment. New problems have surfaced including: its failure to hold a charge more than an hour or so; the odd situation that when she's talking on the phone someone who is calling her makes the phone ring loudly instead of going to voicemail; and dropped calls which is probably the phone rather than the service.

anonymous on May 13, 2013:

@anonymous: just5.com

anonymous on May 13, 2013:

@anonymous: I was unable to use your link. would love to assist as my mom is blind and can not feel much with her fingers. Her current phone is a flip and she must press 2 buttons to get to voice dial which she can not feel and never gets to make calls. she waits for me to call and I 3way her with others.- I marked this to notify me when new comments are added so if you want to communicate, post a reply. What we are looking for is a phone that you flip open and the voice dial automatically comes on like the old phones and ends call when flip is closed. Would be great to have a feature that tells when you have a call waiting and can have voice options to switch to other call.

moonlitta on April 22, 2013:

You've done a terrific job here gathering information which to lots of people is vital. I never knew there were so many options to choose from and so many helpful appliances to help blind people or those with poor eyesight, and I know many who could benefit.

anonymous on April 15, 2013:

this was all very helpfull. thank you!!

anonymous on April 12, 2013:

@anonymous: when you are driving with your knees you don't wan to spill your milk shake or drop your sandwich.

anonymous on April 09, 2013:

This is very helpful information. I am visually impaired and use a Samsung Siii. I was directed to it because I was told it had good accessibility features. The problem is -- setting up and learning how to use te features. I am trying to find a good bar code application that will scan the bar code and then turn the information into speech.

anonymous on March 09, 2013:

My friend is totally blind. Every app I have looked at to help her with her cell phone still requires she push a button/buttons - not easy to do when you can't see the screen! What is out there that she can use? She currently has a phone she can speak to but there are still issues with having to push a button.

spencerharry80 lm on February 16, 2013:

quite impressive and informative lens, It is lovely piece of work... Thanks dear.

anonymous on January 17, 2013:

@anonymous: Did you find anything for your mother? I need a totally voice activated phone as well. Dad is 94, almost completely blind from macular, and resides in an assisted living. Even acts like turning the heating thermostat up and down are a challenge and he gets frustrated and just won't mess with it. If you found something that works for your mom I would appreciate hearing from you. Thank you. Nancy

anonymous on January 13, 2013:

The cell phone industry does tend to see visual impairment as a problem for senior citizens only. So products for people with visual problems of any type are not taken seriously. Currently I use a doro phone easy 410 through consumer cellular. While visually accessible the over all quality of the phone is lacking. I'm frequently told over it, I can hardly hear you. plus text messages have a habit of going MIA on their network in my area.