“Smart Phones – Getting Better”

Joe Fontenot MD
Patti Hacker Equipment Specialist
Community Services for Vision Rehabilitation

Smart phones are used by a majority, possibly more than 75 %, of the US population. There are literally thousands of “Apps” or Applications for the blind and visually impaired. More and more are multifunctional and many are free. For the blind and visually impaired, the smart phone is the best thing since Louis Braille’s tactile alphabet. It allows them to communicate effortlessly, do research and have a hand-held computer. More apps are being developed every day, and thousands are now available. Many are useful for the visually impaired, and some are specifically for them.

Image of IPhone

There are many different makes and varieties of smart phones, and some are simplified and advertised as designed for easy use by the visually impaired. At this time in 2021, the iPhone is the most popular in the US, including in the blind/visually impaired population. In some other countries, the Android may be more popular. Phone costs vary , and at this time in the US, the I Phone is usually a few hundred dollars more expensive than the Android models.

The iPhone
Since being introduced in 2007, the IPhone by Apple has been regarded by many as the best smart phone for the visually impaired. This is primarily because it has many built-in accessibility features, which simply need to be turned on in Settings such as “Voiceover” which will read the screen display, and “Zoom” and other magnification options.

Apps for the Visually Impaired
In addition to the inherent accessibility options in the IPhone and the Android, there are now a myriad of apps. These will magnify, contact help from a sighted volunteer, count money, recognize faces, etc. The variety and usefulness of apps has steadily and progressively improved, and there does not seem to be an end in sight.

As an example, we can look at apps for reading text. In 2007 a text reader app, the Kurzweil NFB reader app was introduced at a cost of $99. Subsequently the A few years later, another text reader app, Envision reader was available at $20. In 2020 the Apple Seeing A1, which in addition to reading text will count money, has a bar code scanner and identifies images was released and it is free for iPhone users.

This sort of increasing function and decreasing cost is typical of app development for the visually impaired, and we hope will continue.

All with vision loss should use smart phones to their maximum and will become more independent, functional and happy because they do so.

Summary
The smart phone is a communication and computing device of great help to all, especially for the visually impaired. It is rapidly improving, and more apps that are specifically for the visually impaired are becoming available almost weekly.

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