Some people are naturally curious about how visually impaired and blind people can use smartphones, given that modern devices rely heavily on touch screens instead of having many buttons. So I thought I’d write about how I’ve set mine up, to make it easier for me to use. I’ve also made a video on the accessibility features I use as well, which you may like to watch.
Until recently, Nokia phones had served me very well for 15 years. Searching my old diary files, I note that I had a 3210 model for 7 years, the 6300 for 2 years, and then the 6303 Classic for 6 years. All wonderful pieces of kit they were too. But when the 6303 started dying on me last year, it was time to change and bring myself properly up to date. I was going to get myself a smartphone for the first time, which I was rather looking forward to.
2 years beforehand, I had also been forced to upgrade my desktop computer when the hard drive failed, at which point I took the opportunity to switch from Windows to Mac. It’s a decision I’ve not regretted, as it works very well and is very easy for me to use. The only issue I’ve had was when Apple did a hard drive recall, meaning I had to send it to a certified repair centre for a new drive. But that was sorted out nice and quickly, thankfully.
So, perhaps inevitably, I ended up getting an iPhone 6 to accompany it. I did have a play with a Samsung Android phone as well, and an Android phone that a friend of mine has. And they seemed like good phones, so I was tempted. But I found the iPhone’s interface to be very simple to get the hang of, and being able to link it to my iMac was obviously a big draw as well. It’s not a cheap device but, like the iMac, I feel it’s been worth it, because I use it a lot. I’m also glad I waited as long as I did, without getting the first iPhone models, because it would have taken a little while for the technology to evolve and improve.
One of the things I love most is being able to customise the display so things are as easy for me to read as possible, as there are a lot of accessibility options available. In fact, the various settings are worth exploring by non-disabled people as well, as you never know what might make the experience just a little bit easier for yourself.
The preferences I’m going to focus on are under Settings > General > Accessibility…
I mainly use the Vision section of this area, unsurprisingly, so I’ll go through all the options available there:
- Voiceover = Off. This would describe everything on screen, including menus, but I can see well enough that I don’t need it. If I want to hear text in apps (e.g. on web pages), I can do that without this feature being on. I’ll get to that below.
- Zoom = On. I don’t need to use this a lot, as the other settings for enlarging text, inverting colours, etc are often sufficient to help me. But it comes in handy every so often, being able to tap the screen with 3 fingers to get a closer view, especially for apps whose text doesn’t enlarge.
- Invert Colours = On. This is the most significantly helpful one for me. White backgrounds on screens glare a lot for me, so focusing on them is very tiring on my eyes. Therefore, having a black background with white text is significantly easier for me to read. Although, when other apps use different colours for their backgrounds or text, they will also be inverted – and that’s sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I can also switch back and forth to the normal view (e.g. for looking at pictures or videos) by triple-clicking the Home button.
- Greyscale = Off. I don’t use this, as I prefer having some colours there, even if they are inverted. It keeps the screen looking interesting, and apps often use colours to help differentiate buttons and sections, which helps them stand out better.
- Speech. I have the Speak Selection setting turned on, meaning that when I select text in an app, a Speak option will appear. Clicking it will read out the text to me. I don’t use it a lot, and it doesn’t work in all apps, but it does come in handy sometimes. I also have Highlight Content enabled, so it highlights words as they’re spoken – not essential for me, but a nice touch. And the voice I use is Daniel (Enhanced), if you’re curious.
- Larger Text = On. This causes apps that use Dynamic Text to use a larger font size that I specify. Many apps don’t use this, using their own font settings instead, but it’s useful in those that do.
- Bold Text = On. Having everything bolder helps it to stand out a little bit more.
- Button Shapes = Off. This doesn’t really help me, as I can see clearly enough where buttons are.
- Increase Contrast. Under here I have Reduce Transparency turned on, because backgrounds that show through can make things a little harder to read. I also have Darken Colours turned on – which actually has the opposite effect, because I have the screen colours inverted. In other words, it actually makes the text lighter, so it shows up even better on darker backgrounds. I have Reduce White Point turned off though, as that darkens the screen slightly for me.
- Reduce Motion = Off. This would stop icons and menus moving about so much if I turned it on, but I happen to like those effects.
- On/Off Labels = Off. This adds small symbols to on/off switches, so you know which way is which. I can’t see those easily, and the buttons are already highlighted clearly for me when they’re on, so I can tell the difference easily.
Beyond that, there are other settings for people who have other difficulties operating the device, most of which I don’t use. But I do allow the keyboard to show Lowercase Keys, I have Shake To Undo enabled, and I have Vibrations switched on, all of which are useful. Plus I have the Accessibility Shortcut (triple-clicking the Home button) set to Invert Colors as mentioned earlier, so I can switch in and out of that mode very quickly.
I also like the Phone Noise Cancellation feature in this section, because it seems to work really well. I’ve made calls from railway stations when travelling to visit friends, for instance, and the background noise that used to be very noticeable on my old Nokia phones is no longer there with the iPhone, so I can be heard a lot more clearly by whoever’s on the other end.
Elsewhere in the menus, I have Siri enabled as well, with a British Female voice. If you really don’t know what Siri is, then it’s a voice assistant – you talk to the phone to give it a command or a question, and it will respond accordingly. I don’t need to use it a lot, but it is one of those features that comes in very handy sometimes, when you want to quickly check something without pressing lots of buttons yourself. It also has a good sense of humour if you want to ask Siri some funny things. And I’ve been seeing a number of articles lately about the possibility of Siri coming to the desktop version of the operating system, which could be rather useful.
All of those settings make the phone a lot easier for me to use, compared to the default settings it comes with. I also use inverted colours and zooming on my iMac desktop machine as well. Other mobile phone operating systems have similar features as well, but I have no experience with them, so I can’t say if they’re any better or worse than the iPhone. I’m just happy with what I’ve got. It works well for me, which is what matters.And I’ll write about some of the apps I use soon.