Smartphones have become nearly indispensable productivity tools. Businesses issue them to employees, and people use them constantly to keep up with their personal lives. But what do you if you are blind or visually impaired? Tiny keyboards and 3-4 inch screens aren’t always great if your eyesight is wonderful, let alone if you have vision issues. Luckily, the American Foundation for the Blind puts out an online magazine called AccessWorld, and several articles this month covered smartphones and visual impairment.
For the corporate-types, they looked at an app called Oratio for Blackberries. This is what’s called a “screen reader”, or essentially a device that reads what’s onscreen for the benefit of someone with a visual impairment. Their review is incredibly thorough, covering hardware and software concerns, along with various tips and tricks to make Blackberries more accessible on the whole.
Then they looked at Android phones. It never occurred to me before I browsed their article that it was even possible to effectively use a capacitive touchscreen device if you are visually impaired, but apparently, it can be done. Some of the utilities are built into Android, and some are 3rd party options. Still, the idea that you could pick up a Droid and configure it for use with limited sight is huge!
Finally, they spent some time going over how the iPad works from a visually impaired/blind perspective. There’s a very thorough discussion of Apple’s VoiceOver, the trials of activating the iPad, and the text to speech capabilities of iBooks. While the writer explains he only had 24 hours with the iPad, he is very thorough, and they’ll have more in future issues.
If you or anyone you know has visual impairment issues, I strongly recommend reading through the AFB AccessWorld site. It’s incredible how much technology can adapt and support people no matter what their disabilities. Even if you don’t know anyone who might benefit, reading through all these different features is educational and makes you look at your smartphone in a whole new light.
Check out May’s issue of Access World, then share your thoughts on smartphones and accessibility in the comments!