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Blind and visually impaired mobile phone buyer's guide

by Emma Tracey

6th February 2010

Nowadays, mobile phones are geared up for so much more than calls and texts. For blind or visually impaired people though, only certain devices will be usable. Without getting too technical, here are five things to think about when choosing a handset.

Can I access the phone’s basic features?

Mobile Phone
A mobile phone is totally pointless if you can’t make or receive calls or texts. There is text enlargement software available for those of you with useful vision, Zooms being the most popular choice. Otherwise, it’s about ensuring that character size is acceptable, that the device is well lit and that there is good colour contrast. This information is available online, but hands-on testing in-store is always best. While there, check the phone’s in-built accessibility features, usually found within the settings menue.

Totally blind users will need screenreading software. Talks, Mobile Speak and the iPhone 3GS’s Voiceover are your main choices. Each option will only work on certain compatible phones, so always check with the software manufacturers and your mobile service provider.

Are the phone’s buttons obvious and easy to activate?

It’s all well and good being privy to your gadget’s output, but if you can’t communicate with the device, then it’ll be a frustrating, one-sided relationship. VI folk, be sure to check the colour contrast of the phone’s buttons and how they are spaced out. Totally blind phone purchasers, consider whether the buttons are well defined, evenly spaced, and arranged in a sensible way so that you can hit the one you want without thinking about it.
Mobile Phone keyoard
Decide whether you would prefer a slider phone or one where the buttons are always on display. In a hurry, sliding the buttons out can be an extra bother. Devices with a qwerty keyboard are not as easy to operate one-handed. So not ideal if you want to use your phone on the fly. But qwertys are probably better over all for composing emails and surfing the web.

Is the phone I want a touch screen device?

Touch Screen IPhone
As when choosing any phone, VI folk should take some time to ensure that their touch screen device is big enough, easy to manipulate and includes the all important accessibility features like text enlargement, the ability to zoom in on what you want and your favourite contrast option.

Touchscreen technology is really growing legs and while handsets like the iPhone 3GS advertise their accessibility, phones with few or no pressable buttons will always require a fairly steep learning curve for a totally blind person. So don’t enter into it unless you are prepared to put in the hours. Some phones don’t call themselves touchscreen devices, but have a couple of keys which are touch sensitive. This is even more of a no-go for a blind person than an accessible touchscreen phone.

Is the battery life acceptable?

If you are VI, you probably have the phone’s brightness turned up to the max and if you are blind, it’s working flat out to run the screenreader. Plus, let’s face it, if your mobile runs out of juice, chances are you won’t be able to access anyone else’s. There are battery extenders on the market, but it is definitely worth while checking the battery life of the phone and how long it takes to charge before purchasing. Also consider taking energy saving measures like reducing the brightness, or choosing a less power-hungry screensaver.
Mobile phone charger

Can I afford it?

Unfortunately, every phone which can accommodate screen-reading and text enlarging software is going to be at the top end of the market. The iPhone 3GS is the only device so far which has a full range of accessibility features built in. All other handsets will require add on software, which has a market value over £100. Some mobile providers will foot the bill for this, but some won’t. If you are on contract, finding out which accessible mobile phone is on the cheapest plan might be the deciding factor.

Alternatively, a quick internet search will produce details of websites and email lists such as RecycleIt and TheBargainStore, where blind and visually impaired people sell their unwanted niche gadgets to each other. Used phones, usually in good condition, with the screenreading software already preloaded, are often sold on these for very sensible prices. So definitely the way to go if you are on a tight budget.

Finally, be prepared for limited accessibility knowledge and awareness from the staff you will deal with when purchasing the new phone. Take this check list with you and stick to your guns. You will almost always know what you want better than they do.

Comments

    • 1. At 4:02pm on 09 Feb 2010, Mhadaidh wrote:

      I am VI and I have found it best to get the cheapest simplest phone as there is less to learn when you can't see to learn it - fewer tears whne you lose it as well

      most phones let you enlarge text on text messages

      learn your key pad so you can send texts without trying to see the letters on it and write out a 'crib' so you know the keys to type for common words , including your name

      flip-top or sliders are fiddly , the simplest Nokia does the job

      set the ring tone to loudest so if you lose your phone at home you can dial its number on your landline and find it

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    • 2. At 6:35pm on 10 Feb 2010, Jean - jhmelea wrote:

      My latest STUDIO catalog has a mobile by Binatone which is unlocked (supplied without a sim card so you can insert your own)

      it has large buttons, an extra large display and 3 pre programmable memory buttons for emergency numbers

      so they are out there if you hunt around

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    • 3. At 2:11pm on 13 Feb 2010, myrtlemaid wrote:

      Thanks for the article , may need a new phone soon so will remember it and read it, and the comments again before i pay out a wodge of cash.

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