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Accessible Mobile Phones


An accessible mobile phone is especially useful to those with a visual impairment. It is a good security measure as you can always phone for help if you are ever lost or otherwise in trouble. If you are visiting someone and are not exactly sure where they live you can phone them when you think you are nearby and ask them to look out for you. You can avoid having to find a phone if you need to call a taxi or ask for help at a station. The more expensive Smart Phones have a built-in global positioning system (GPS) receiver which can tell you where you are to within a few meters when out traveling on foot or otherwise. These Smart Phones also have one or more built-in camera, a built-in compass, a built-in accelerometer so the phone can act as a pedometer, and built-in wifi and bluetooth connectivity. They are really portable computers which you can use to surf the Internet, send and receive Email, use as a video magnifier, convert printed material to speech using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), listen to music and audio books, listen to text books, listen to TV and radio programs you have missed, and play numerous games. Using a Smart Phone you can download applications to do all sorts of useful and entertaining things from an online store of several hundred thousand of such applications. YOU can also synchronise your contacts, calendar, and media between your Smart Phone and your computer.

The following types of mobile phone are accessible:-

  • the Apple iPhone 3GS (not the 8 GB model) and later (the latest model is the iPhone 5). These are all accessible out of the box using the VoiceOver screen reader via gestures on the phone's touch screen, or using Zoom screen magnification. These phones support EMail, Internet access, storing and playing music, audio books, photographs, and videos. YOu can use dictation to input text and to ask about weather, news, stock prices, and nearby locations. You can download an accessible GPS application, and a basic OCR application. You can also download thousands of other accessible applications for getting the latest news and weather and stock prices, playing games, keeping fit, recording and organising voice notes, interfacing with social networks, and lots more. The iPhone can connect to the Internet at no cost using wifi (via your domestic broadband wireless network) or at some cost using the mobile phone network. You can synchronise your contacts, calendar, and Emails between your iPhone and your Windows or Macintosh or iPad computer so that you can add or modify data on any device and have all other devices almost immediately updated. The iPhone is wonderful but it is expensive. A new iPhone 5 with 16GB of memory costs about £600 and an as-new used one about £500. The prior model iPhone 4S costs about £450 new and about £300 as-new used.

  • The Android smart phone. The Android operating system is managed by Google and is available on a wide range of mobile phones from several manufacturers. Some of these phones have touch screens like the iPhone while others have a physical keypad and a joystick or tracker ball pointing device. Recent versions of Android (4.1 or later) include the talkBack screen reader which enables blind users to access the phone. As Android 4.1 was only released in July 2012 only a few phones currently come with 4.1 pre-installed. One such phone is the Google Nexus 4 which comes with Android 4.2 pre-installed and costs £280 for the 16GB version.The Android phone provides similar functions to the Apple iPhone but at a lower cost. YOu can download a large number of Apps for your Android phone from Google Play which is similar to the Apple iTunes App store. You can synchronise contacts, calendar, and Email between your Android phone and your Google mail account From where you can in turn synchronise these items with your Windows or Macintosh or iPad computer. At present it is easier to acquire and use a fully accessible iPhone than a fully accessible Android phone.The Android is more of a "do it yourself" proposition than the iPhone.

  • The Georgie suite of applications on an Android smart phone. This is a suite of talking applications developed for the visually impaired. The core pack covers basic phone functions, contact management, texting, dictation for text input, and assistance. The travel pack uses GPS to tell you where you are and to direct you to say the nearest bus stop. The life style pack covers information including a book reader, audio player, podcasts, talking newspapers and voice blogs. The Communication pack includes Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which will read aloud printed material which you photograph. A suitable Android phone costs about £200. the basic pack costs about £150 while additional packs cost about £30 each. YOu can buy an Android phone with Georgie pre-installed or you can install it on your own Android phone but you will probably need sighted help to do that.

  • A nokia phone with the free Nokia screen reader which runs on about 45 Nokia phones which use the Simbian operating system. Some of these phones have a touch screen like the iPhone while others have a physical keypad and a joystick pointing device. A suitable Nokia phone costs about £120 new or about £70 used. the royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)will sell you a Nokia C5 phone with Nokia Screen reader pre-installed for about £195.

  • Phones specially made for the visually impaired. The Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) offers an easy to see mobile phone for those with useful residual vision for about £75 , and a talking mobile phone for the blind for about £120. These work out of the box but lack the power and extensibility of mainstream mobile phones.

The Apple iPhone

All models of the Apple iPhone from the iPhone 3GS (16GB or higher) support built-in accessibility using the VoiceOver screen reader and/or the Zoom screen magnifier. The iPhone 3GS was released in June 2009, the iPhone 4 in June 2010, the iPhone 4S in October 2011, and the iPhone 5 in September 2012.

You can set up and activate your new iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 using VoiceOver and the mobile phone network without sighted help and without a computer.

Look at Apple iPhone for more information on the Apple iPhone. Look at Using Voice Over on the iPhone for more information on how to use Voice Over on the iPhone. Amazon will sell you a new Apple iPhone 5 16GB for about £600, a new iPhone 4S for about £450, and a used iPhone 4S in as-new condition for about £300.

YOu can download thousands of applications (Apps) for your iPhone from the Apple iTunes App store. Look at Applevis reviews of IOS App accessibility for detailed accessibility reviews of many of the Apps on the iTunes App store. Below are details of some iPhone Apps of special interest to the visually impaired:-

  • Sendero GPS look around.
    This app uses the GPS receiver in your phone to provide location information. The "nearest cross street" button will tell you the city name and street name of the street you are on and the name of the nearest cross street. The "look around" button will Tel you the house number of the nearest house to your current location. The "compass" button will tell you which direction you are facing, and the "points of interest" button will tell you the nearest 5 points of interest of the requested type. The App works by sending your GPS coordinates to the Sendero server which then returns the requested information. YOu thus need a mobile phone plan which gives you internet data at reasonable cost. In the UK the self help giffgaff network is an excellent choice offering internet data at £0.20 per day for each day requiring less than 20 MB of data. The Sendero GPS app is a great help for walking around a well known area. With it you will never be lost! It costs about £3.

  • Navigon British Isles.
    This App uses the GPS in your phone to tell you were you are and to provide turn by turn instructions to reach a desired location. It uses maps stored on your phone and thus does not require mobile network or wifi connectivity. The British Isles version costs about £40 and you can buy additional maps for other geographic areas. It is fully accessible using VoiceOver. Its "direct help" function will tell you where you are such as "Queens Road Southampton SO11 Fifty five yards North East of Queens Road and Romsey Avenue latitude xxxx longitude yyyy". It will provide spoken directions to navigate to a target address such as "In fifty yards turn left at the T junction into Queens Road" and you can use it to locate a wide range of points of interest such as banks, shops, hotels, restaurants, churches, and so on.

  • Tomtom UK and Ireland.
    this App costs about £35 and provides similar function to the Navigon App. It also works well with VoiceOver and you can buy it for a wide range of geographies.

Look at the sections on "reading Print" for an App which turns your iPhone into a video magnifier and an Ap which enables your iPhone to read aloud printed text by using Optical Character Recognition. Look at the section on "Miscellaneous' for an iPhone App which will tell you the denomination of bank notes of various currencies. Look in the section on "TV and radio" for information on an iPhone App to download and replay TV or radio programs you have missed from the BBC and an App to turn your iPhone into an Internet radio to provide access to thousands of radio stations world wide. Look at the section "Audio books" for information on how you can download and read audio books on your iPhone.

The Android Smart Phone

the Android operating system for mobile phones is developed by Google and is available on a wide range of phones from several manufactures at prices ranging from about £100 to £400. Some of these phones have a touch screen like the iPhone while others have a physical keypad and a joystick or tracker ball pointing device. Recent versions of the Android operating system (4.1 and later) include the TalkBack screen reader which works somewhat like VoiceOver on the Apple iPhone. Android 4.1 was released in July 2012 and is currently available pre-installed on only a few mobile phones, but this should improve in the next few months. One suitable phone is the Google Nexus 4 which comes with Android 4.2 pre-installed and costs about £280. Yu may be able to upgrade an older Android phone to Android 4.1 or later but that will need sighted help. Look at using talkBack with Android 4.1 and 4.2 for more detail on the talkBack screen reader. If you have Android 4.1 or later installed on your phone then you can set up TalkBack without sighted help when you first turn on your phone. However if you fail to do this then you will need sighted help to modify the phone settings to enable talkBack.

You can download thousands of applications (Apps) for your Android phone from the Google App Store. There you will find Android versions of most the Apps mentioned elsewhere for the Apple iPhone.

the Georgie suite of applications

the Georgie suite of applications for the Android phone was specially developed for visually impaired users. the suite is managed by the charity Communication for Blind and Disabled People and is marketed by Sight and Sound Technology. the suite comprises a core application which costs about £150 and several add-on extensions which cost about £30 each. these all talk to you using synthetic speech. You can install the core pack on your own Android phone from the Android App Store for a 14 day free trial or you can buy a packaged offering of a suitable Android phone with Georgie pre-installed. Although the recommended Android phone is robust and waterproof it is rather old and you may never be able to upgrade it to the fully accessible Android 4.1 or later. that may hinder you moving outside of the Georgie suite to the wider Android environment.

The core pack covers speech output and basic phone functions, contact management, texting, and assistance. All features have clear menu buttons that announce their function. When you need to input text, speech recognition works really well. The assistance application lets you call a designated contact and provides details of where you are and if necessary what the phone's camera is looking at. The Travel pack gets you around telling you where you are, what points of interest (including personal points you have previously saved) are nearby with turn by turn instructions on how to get to them, where the nearest bus stop is and when the bus will arrive. When on the bus you can set Georgie to announce bus stops as you pass them so you know where to get off. The taxi application will find and call local taxis.The Communications pack includes an Optical Character Recognition application, an easy to use speech driven camera, Twitter, and a speech driven question facility somewhat like Sirit on the iPhone. The Life Style pack covers information including a book reader, audio player, podcasts, talking newspapers and voice blogs. These packs will doubtless be extended and new packs introduced in the future.

Georgie has won the European diversity award for Outstanding use of technology.

The Nokia screen reader

Look at the free Nokia Screen Reader. Nokia Screen Reader is a free screen reader available for people with visual disabilities and also for general users who would like additional voice assistance on their smartphone. The screen reader is an easy-to-use and simple application designed to meet the accessibility needs of Nokia smartphone users.

Nokia Screen Reader is a simplified version of the powerful Mobile Speak screen reader. The application speaks the text content of the currently focused item on the screen, following focus as the user moves around the different applications on the phone. It uses a simple command structure to let users get the important information quickly such as date and time, signal strength, connection status, etc.

Nokia Screen Reader can be installed on a long list of about 45 Nokia phones which all run the Symbian operating system. Some of these phones have a touch screen like the iPhone while others have a physical keypad and a joystick pointing device. An example of a Nokia phone which will run the Nokia Screen reader is the Nokia 500. This is a touch screen phone with a 5 MP camera, 3G (mobile phone) and wifi (wireless modem connectivity), bluetooth connectivity, and the Global Positioning System. In addition to the normal phone functions it offers Internet, Email, music and audio books, camera, and navigation via Nokia maps. It costs about £120. You can get used models of this and other suitable Nokia phones for around £70.

The RNIB offers an unlocked Nokia C5 mobile phone with the Nokia Screen Reader pre-installed and with a T-moble pay as you go SIM card. This phone uses a traditional keypad (rather than a touch screen) and has a 5 MP: camera, FM radio, and built-in GPS with Nokia maps. See Nokia C5-5MP, Nokia Screen Reader and training bundle for full details. the bundle costs £195.

Phones designed for the visually impaired

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) offers the Alto 2 talking mobile phone for £120. Let the Alto 2 mobile read to you with its built-in talking features. On-screen information is spoken and you'll also hear key presses. Scroll through your contact list and hear names read out, open a text message and Alto 2 will read it to you. Writing text messages is just as easy as each letter is read aloud. Hit the right button every time with the well designed colour coded buttons, large, well spaced number keypad and simple menus.
Look at Alto 2 talking mobile phone from the RNIB.

The RNIB also offers the Doro PhoneEasy 410easy to see mobile phone for those with adequate residual vision. It is currently on special offer for £75. The Doro PhoneEasy 410 mobile phone has a clamshell design which gives it a compact size when not in use and also helps to protect the screen. Flip the phone open to reveal the large, full colour screen and when dialling it displays numbers in 24 point font (6mm) and when text messaging in 16 point font (4mm). You can customise this mobile phone to make it even easier to use by disabling any features you do not require. It has a black case and black buttons printed with bold, white text. Look at Doro PhoneEasy 410 from the RNIB.
Page last modified: November 2012

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