Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired
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. These same devices, however, 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.
A Few Features To Consider
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 in 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.
An Overview of TalkBack
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 a 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:
- Snapfon, in particular, is basic with big buttons, easy to read font and 8-speed dial functions.
- 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.
- In addition, phones like the Kyocera Verve offer QWERTY keyboards and a decent screen reader. But options like this are limited.
- 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 which 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.
Has Android TalkBack and Apple's VoiceOver solved most of your accessibility needs?
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