Cell Phones and the Visually Impaired

Last Friday, the Florida Council for the Blind presented a seminar on cell phone accessibility for visually impaired individuals.  We took a lot of notes, and we hope that this information is helpful to you.

Odin Mobile

Odin Mobile is the only wireless provider completely dedicated to the blind and visually impaired. Odin Mobile uses the same network as T-Mobile.  They provide both the service and the device to the customer.

If you prefer a basic phone over a smartphone, the Odin V.I. is a good choice.  It has large buttons, and everything on the phone is accessible.  All of the functions, including call log (ex. missed calls), contacts, text messaging, and alarms, are spoken by the phone.  For instance, if you access your missed calls, the phone will speak the name of the person that called (if in your contacts) or the phone number (if not in contacts) and the time called of each missed call.  When entering anything on the phone, the phone speaks what you wrote.  The phone also reads text messages.  If you write a text, a button on the side of the phone allows the user to hear what he/she has typed before sending it; however, this phone does not have the option of predictive text.  The speech function can be customized (i.e. faster/slower, male/female voice, and some language options).  The phone comes with a SIM card.  It speaks the time when powered on, and it can also speak the signal and battery strength.  This phone does not have a camera.

Android Nexus 5

This smartphone also works with Odin Mobile’s network, but the SIM card can be switched out if the user needs to switch to another service, such as AT&T.  The Nexus 5 is fully functional right out of the box – no setup required.  There is a slight vibration to indicate that the phone is powering up, and the phone speaks upon start-up.  From here (and anytime the user turns the screen on), the user can slide left to use the camera, and right to unlock.  Once on the home screen, the user can navigate in a circle on the touchscreen, and each option will be spoken.  When a desired option is reached, lifting the finger will take the user there.  You can also double-tap to activate an item.  The phone will announce each home screen when the user swipes between home screens.  This phone speaks all commands and options, and can be programmed to recognize commands and gestures.  There are already several gestures programmed that are very helpful; for example, making an up-to-left gesture (like a right angle) will take the user to the home screen.  The options of Back, Home, and Recent Apps are available whenever using the touchscreen.  Like most smartphones, the Nexus 5 supports Bluetooth and has a camera.  The option of one-on-one training with the phone is available upon purchase.

We learned about a few really useful apps for the Nexus.  The first was Google Search, which is Android’s version of iPhone’s Siri (minus some of the “cuter” functions).  Like Siri, you can speak in to the phone and ask Google Search things such as the time, weather, or how to say something in Spanish.  You can also ask it to do other tasks like open another app or set a timer.  The phone can be programmed to link a specific gesture with Google Search so it’s easy to access.  Another useful app we learned about is Tap Tap See.  With Tap Tap See, the user can take a photo of something with the phone and receive a written description of what it is (which the phone will, of course, speak to the user).  The phone also comes with an e-mail client, K9 Mail.


Many people in the audience already had an iPhone or at least seemed familiar with the product, so there weren’t as many details as there were for the Nexus 5.  Like the other phones, the iPhone speaks all commands and options when navigating the touchscreen.  The rotor gesture (imagine turning a knob on an old radio) can be programmed for different functions.  For instance, it can control the speech function (ex. speed).  The iPhone can sync contacts from your computer and is Bluetooth-enabled.  Apple has an accessibility hotline, where your first 90 days of tech support are free (unless you purchase an Apple Care package).  The iPhone can be programmed to control household items, such as security alarms, lights, and thermostats.

The primary app that we learned about was BARD, which allows users to download and listen to books on the iPhone.  BARD can be controlled by designated gestures.  For example, double-tapping with two fingers pauses the book.  Users can fast forward, rewind, add bookmarks, and search by word or phrase in a book.  To get new books, users can search the collection by title, author, or type of book, by using the keyboard (phone speaks back letters) or via voice dictation (speaking into the phone).  When a book is selected, the phone will read the description of the book.  To get a book, a user must add it to the wishlist.  From the wishlist, the user can double-tap the book to download it, which the phone will confirm.  It is important to remember that books take up memory on your phone, and that the app’s “bookshelf” has a  limit of 100 books.

Thanks for checking out our blog. Stay tuned for more updates!

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