By Randy Pierce
A few years back, I entered the cell phone world with considerable expense and difficulty as the accessibility of cell phones was suspect at best. A few options for cell phone blind accessibility via screen readers were available for purchase at an additional $300 or more. It was frustrating to pay so much more for a phone and receive only part of the options available to the sighted.
All of that changed dramatically for the better when Apple released the iPhone with a speech option, “Voice Over”, built in standard to the operating system. Suddenly, at no additional cost, blind users would have the vast majority of options accessible to them on a high-end smartphone.
It’s been several years and access has continued to improve. The Android phones have two options which are closing in on being as accessible as the iPhone and creating competitive options for the blind users to reap the benefits of mainstream access. The power and potential continues to grow on both platforms.
As a phone, the blind-accessible functions are talking caller ID; a feature-rich address book for names, numbers, and addresses; as well as the very powerful accessibility of all forms of internet searches for phone numbers. In virtually any location, I’m a couple of finger swipes away from finding any business or residential number I wish to call!
The power of all the built-in applications includes GPS navigation, a compass, clocks, alarms, and an assortment of bells and whistles (figuratively for the most part) to empower me to greater life organization and interaction with the world.
Web browsing, email, and other accessible forms of social media enable blind users to re-integrate with a social world that was leaving them far behind before they had begun to even use the simple tools of text messaging (also fully accessible now).
To serve millions of sight-impaired users, the app stores are catching up with ever more powerful tools to augment and enhance many tasks. Ebook readers (no thanks to Amazon), podcasts, audiobooks, color identifiers, text readers, barcode scanners, dictation applications, and more fill up the screens of users who share their discoveries in places like www.applevis.com.
It is not entirely perfect by any means–some designers do not follow the app creation guidelines, which results in applications that do not work with the built-in speech software. Sometimes they end up making it more difficult by requiring the manual labeling of buttons and images that a user needs to understand for optimum interaction with the tool. Still, there are an abundance of options and methods to continually and improve the tools available and continually make life easier.
While it is often easy to focus upon the failings or shortcomings of various aspects of accessibility, it is an absolute delight to find this fantastic example of how much has been done right. Thank you to Apple and to Google for their trendsetting work and the resulting benefit to so many. Drop me a line if you care to know more about my favorite applications for making life easier.
If you are feeling brave and want to explore a bit of the means by which I interact with the smartphone world, take a tour through your phone’s accessibility settings and turn on the voiceover feature. Your phone will change dramatically and you’ll have a learning curve, but for me that has been tremendously rewarding. When you become more familiar with it, do what I learned to do and shut off the screen as unnecessary and make that battery power last… and last… and last! There are some fine advantages to this blindness on occasion!