Some people are worried that blind and partially sighted people are being excluded by modern smartphones, with the recent domination of touchscreen devices. However, the opposite is in fact true as virtually all Android and iOS smartphones now come equipped with accessibility software, including screen readers and magnifiers, as standard. Securing and accessing your phone has also improved as many mobiles use biometric security, such as fingerprint or facial recognition.
There are lots of different smartphones available on the market. The top spec phones can cost more than £1,000. These tend to offer an optimum accessibility experience, as they come with all the latest features and technologies. However, mid-range phones costing significantly less are now also very usable.
All devices need software to run. This is called the Operating System. iPhones and iPads come with Apple iOS. Most other smartphones and tablets use a form of Google’s Android softwware, including devices produced by such manufacturers as Samsung and Amazon. Google make their own devices which they promote through their Pixel brand. Apple iOS software is made exclusively for use on Apple hardware, which delivers a tightly integrated user experience. Android is more versatile, as device manufacturers are able to make their own specialist tweaks, which can lead to subtle differences in their operation across devices.
We talk about smartphone accessibility in more detail in our Smartphone screen reader and magnifier sections.
For those who don’t like touchscreens, smartphones and tablets from all major manufacturers can be paired with and operated by Bluetooth keyboards. Bluetooth keyboards connect wirelessly with phones, tablets and computers and come in many shapes and sizes – some are small, foldable and portable while others are designed for desktop use and can therefore accommodate larger keys. While most Bluetooth keyboards can only be paired with a single device, some models can connect and operate several devices at once. Bluetooth keyboards can be bought from most electrical and mobile phone retailers.
There are also smartphones which have been especially designed for use by blind and partially sighted people:
- The BlindShell Classic is a talking smartphone with a physical keypad and customisable contrast settings. The phone includes speed dial, an emergency SOS button, voice dictation and several other features offered through preinstalled apps. This phone is relatively affordable when compared with similar devices currently available.
- The SmartVision phone, from Kapsys, has a physical keyboard as well as a touchscreen. There is also a dedicated voice command button.
- Synapptic sell specialist smartphones and tablets that come with their own software pre-installed. These touchscreen phones are packed full of accessibility features. It is also possible to get Synapptic software to run on other Android devices.
- In Your Pocket provides voice access to placing phone calls, sending and reading texts and adding contacts. It can also read content from several sources on request including the RNIB’s Talking Books and Talking Newspaper services. To operate the handset, users can Press the “talk” button at the bottom and speak their request (e.g. “call John” or “read a book”). A helpline is available during office hours.
There are some specialist mobile phone services offering tailored support for blind and partially sighted people.
- Project Ray is a series of augmented feature-phone products designed to simplify the most common phone functions, including calling, texting and elementary social media. The Project Ray service is delivered on its most basic level through an Android app and supplemented by Ray Click keys – adhesive navigation buttons which can be attached to most phones. Their product portfolio also includes a range of dedicated phones which come equipped with a 24/7 remote support service, where agents can assist with changing any phone settings as required.
Which Smartphone is for me…?
Some people like the consistency of Apple devices whilst others like the flexibility offered by Android. The choice is a personal one. We recommend adopting a “try before you buy” approach. Enquire at your local society if they have any devices to try and any available training. You can also go to an Apple or Samsung store where you can get assistance in trying out devices. Another option is to go to your local mobile phone shop to try out a range of devices although knowledge on accessibility can be limited. See Useful links to find information on smartphone accessibility for each of the main types of phones. You may wish to take this information along to your local mobile phone store.
The Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) website gives detailed listings of exactly what accessibility features specific models of mobiles have. They also allow you to compare different options against one another directly.
My Computer My Way from AbilityNet is an easy to use guide to the accessibility features built into your desktop PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Here are links to accessibility and gesture documentation for iOS, Amazon Fire Tablet and Android.