The Smartphone, especially the Apple IPhone, is one of the single mose useful pieces of technology for the blind in many years.
A Smartphone combines several excellent features:
- A high-quality camera
- A high-quality screen
- A built-in screen reader like Apple VoiceOver.
- A built in magnifier like Apple Zoom.
- Simple controls
- Lightweight and extremely portable
- Internet connection to high-power processing and/or other people
- Phone access to other people
- Text Messaging or other Internet Messaging
- Web Browsing
- A wide range of Apps to provide differeent functions at low cost. Many Apps are designed and built to be VoiceOver friendlly.
- GPS Location Services for navigation
- Motion tracking to sense phone orientation and navigation
And most of these features were designed and built for the gneeral market, not just people who are visually impaired.
A Smartphone can be used as:
A pocket magnifier. Take a photo, then use gestures to zoom in and magnify the image, or you can install a Magnifier app to do this in one step.
A pocket text reader – point the camera at some printed text and have the phone read it to you.
A navigation tool that actually gives you directions on how to get from where you are to where you want to be.
A pocket guide that tells you what is around you as you travel aboutl.
Access to a Bank, Supermarket, Electrical Goods store, weather station, local radio station, talking books, e-books, city guides and much more.
Here are some comments on useful features and apps.
VoiceOver and Zoom
Apple’s Screen Reader and Screen Magnifier come built into the IOS Operaing system. You can have them permanently switched on, or eastily switched on when you want them.
Most accessibility featues are easily controlled using finger gestures on the touch-screen.
Customizable Home Screen Layout
It is easy to remove idons you don’t use and move others about on the screen. You can have the functions you use most right at your fingertips.
Customizable Text Size
You can set your phone to display larger text (bigger font size)
In Iphone go to Settings>General>Keyboard>Shortcuts
If there is a piece of text you type a lot, like your e-mail address or your full name, you can save a lot of time by setting it up in the AutoCorrect list.
If your business e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org you might set up
Then every time you type in @@ followed by a space the Shortcuts function will paste in your full e-mail address!
Siri and Dictation
Different people have different views on how useful the voice recognition features are.
The best thing to do is try them and see if they work for you.
Control your smartphone with voice commands, take voice messages , dictate text and e-mails.
In earlier versions of IOS, dictation had to be sent to a central Apple service and the text wes returned to the phone. IOS 8 now does at least some speech-to-text locally on the phone itself.
Download and listen to spoken-word books from the Amazon store. Many e-books from Amazon now come with a special offer so you can buy the spoken-word Audible book as well. You can read part of the book via Kindle and part via Audible, keeping them in sync automatically.
Be My Eyes
Use your Smartphone camera to ask for sighted help! There is a netrowk of sighted volunteers who can use your smartphone camera via video chat to help you out.
This uses the Location Services feature to detect where you are. It then searches the FourSquare database to find any roads, junctions, businesses, shops, restaurants, and other points of interest nearby.
“Nearby” can be changed from very close (50 meters) to a few minutes walk (2 Km).
It uses a “clock face” system and compass bearings to tell you not just the distance, but also the direction of a point of interest.
The data is from the on-line FourSquare data input by other FourSquare users, combined with GPS and map information.
A useful point is that BlindSquare can actually tell you where you are. It doesn’t rely on you knowing where you are. That is very useful if you have become lost or disoriented.
You can set BlindSquare to tell you things about your route as you travel. This could be useful to keep track of landmarks, tell that you are passing a coffee shop, or just stop you getting bored!
BlindSquare can be very useful, but you still need to take some care and think about what you are doing.
BlindSquare might tell you that there is a branch of Starbucks 50 yeards on your right, but it is up to you to notice that the 50 yeards is actually across a busy road! That is where good mobility training, making use of hearing, smell and common sense all come into play.
Another thing that might fool you is height. If you are in a shopping mall or hotel, BlindSquare might tell you that the coffee bar is 50 years on your right, but it doesn’t tell you that it is two floors down!
It’s not perfect, but it is very clever and informative.
Use it with caution, combined with other information about your surroundings.
There are apps covering Transport for London bus routes, and a UK wide Bus Checker. Look in the App Store to see if there is a bus information app for your area.
These apps don’t just tell you which bus route numbers to catch, they can also look up live bus timetable and traffic information to tell you when the next bus is due at your stop.
You might not believe how feature-rich the Apple Camera and VoiceOver are together!
The camera not only has autofocus, it has face-detection. it tells you if there is a something that looks like a face in the picture, roughtly how big it is and where it is in the frame.
With some practise and judgement, even someone with very little sight can take a photo and send it to his / her friends!
Facebook is notoriously unfriendly to use if you are visually impaired.
You might find that a Facebook App (either the official one or one of the many others available) is much easier to use than the website interface.
A combination of a Facebook App and VoiceOver might give you the access to social media you need. Although the Apps might not give you all of the functions of the browser interface, such as managing a Group, it will probably be good enough to let you read posts, comment and upload your own.
As well as reading books on the Kindle reader, you can install a free Kindle app. You might find that this works better on an IPad rather than an IPhone because of the larger screen size.
Some Kindle books have a text-to-speech feature.
This app uses Optical Character Recognition to scan printed text using the smartphone camera and turn it into the spoken word.
LookTel Money Reader
This can use the camera to tell you what kind of paper money you have and the value (denomination) of the notes.
This is one of many apps that can turn your smartphone into a video magnifier.
It is easy to set up a smartphone to send and receive e-mail. Combined with Zoom or VoiceOver you might find that your smartphone is the easiest way to keep up with your e-mails.
There are other Sat Nav apps which do a very similar job.
As well as providing excellent directions for drivers, Tom Tom can be set to give you good turn-by-turn walking instructions.
It can also be useful if you are a passenger in a vehicle, to keep track of where you are and help the driver navigate!
As with Facebook, you might find that the official Twitter App, or one of the many other Social Media apps, gives you a simpler interface that works better with VoiceOver.
As well as putting your local taxi company numbers in the Contacts, you might find a cab hailing app like Uber useful.
These apps use your phone location to find cabs that are already close to you.
You will need to check if Uber (or any other cab hailing company ) actually provides a service in your area.
Even if you don’t use the dictation feature, you can use your Smartphone as a voice recorder.
This page was last updated August 21 2015