Blind iPhone User Shares His Experience

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How I Taught Myself to Use a Touch-Screen iPhone

Image of Lou Fioritto, Vice President of Braille Works

Lou Fioritto, Founder and Co-Owner of Braille Works tells how he taught himself to use touch-screen iPhones.

I am totally blind and I’d like to take a few moments of your time to tell you about my personal experience using the Apple iPhone. Hopefully it’ll bring you some insight on how you can better utilize all the accessibility options the iPhone has to offer.

I’ll humbly admit I’m a pretty smart guy but far from being the most tech savvy person around. A couple years back when I first heard blind people were using flat screen devices I thought it was crazy. “How is this even possible?” I asked myself.

I began researching online and talking to other blind people who were already using iPhones and thought I might give it a try. If they can do it; why not me?

One evening when my daughter was visiting from out of town, she offered to switch her iPhone 3GS to VoiceOver mode so I could play around on it for a while. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long before I was asking for her help. I was completely lost and didn’t want to mess up anything on her phone so she started assisting me and things got easier ever since then. I still felt a bit of hesitation but at the same time I was more determined than ever that I was going to win this battle. So I held my breath & took the plunge.

I bought my iPhone back in December of 2011. During the first month I was so frustrated with it that I wanted to go back to my old touch-button phone badly and simply forget these touch-screens devices. Instead I chose to carry on with the iPhone and stick with it no matter what. That’s the only way I’ll ever learn to use today’s latest technologies.

Today I am so happy I did; I love my iPhone now!

Apple has done a tremendous job of making the iPhone accessible for blind people like me. The gestures are not the same for us as they are for people who are sighted but that’s okay with me as long as it still gives me access to my apps. As I navigate the touch-screen, the phone speaks to me audibly and tells me everything I touch as my finger slides across the device. The voice sounds similar to “Siri” and the accessibility settings allowed me to speed-up the speech to my preferred level. That’s a great feature if you ask me; this way users can adjust the speed to whatever level fits them best.

To access any given app I simply listen as I navigate and double-tap when I hear what I’m looking for. You can also search for apps by typing on the screen or by connecting your braille display via Bluetooth and read what is on the screen in braille.

Image showing an iPhone and the Focus 14 braille display by Freedom Scientific

iPhones support more than 30 Bluetooth wireless braille displays like the Focus 14 Blue by Freedom Scientific shown here.

I’m not going to lie; it does take time to learn the VoiceOver feature on Apple products. I’m still teaching myself today! However, I wouldn’t change a thing because the process has allowed me to learn so much and has given me the independence I wanted so badly when dealing with modern mobile devices.

My advice to anyone who is considering whether or not to purchase an iPhone because of its accessibility features or the perceived lack thereof would be “Go for it”. What have you got to lose? As technology continues to move forward we’re all going to have to learn to use touch-screens eventually anyhow so why not get started now? At least that’s the way I see it.

If you’re blind or have low vision and already own an iPhone, go into settings, general, accessibility and turn on the VoiceOver feature. You will also want to make sure that you have “Triple Click” turned on. Triple-click allows you to toggle back-and-forth from VoiceOver mode back to standard use. Simply click the home button three times rapidly and your device will switch modes. This can come in handy during certain situations.

Remember that gestures are different depending on what mode your iPhone is set to so if you chose to switch back to standard mode you will no longer have voice assistance. If you happen to turn off accessibility mode on accident, you can switch it back easily so don’t worry about a thing.

For those of you who are still sitting on the fence when it comes to touch-screen accessibility, I hope my experience will help encourage you. Was transitioning from an older style cell phone to an iPhone easy? Absolutely not! Was it worthwhile? You bet!

Image showing Zack Morris from the popular 90's TV show "Saved By The Bell" talking on a oversized early model cell phone.

You don’t want to be stuck in the past using a Dinosaur phone like this one do you?

I’d never go back now that I’m familiar with working on touch-screens. I’d also recommend you start with an Apple device. As far as I know they have the most accessible mobile devices on the market today and an amazing support community.

If you know of any other device that is better for users who are blind or have a visual impairment, feel free to bring it to my attention so I can check it out. Thank You!

Here are a few great resource & support sites for blind iPhone users:

AppleVis – Empowering blind and low-vision users of Apple products and related applications

Sixth Mode Solutions – iPhone Accessibility

VisionAwareBlog – What’s New in Accessibility with Apple’s iOS 6

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This post was written by Jeff Frcho

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