How can a phone with no buttons help someone who is blind/partially sighted? The answer is simple: buttons have been replaced by gestures and iPhones can now talk to their owners much like something out of a science fiction movie. The advance of VoiceOver, which reads the screens of cell phones, allows blind/partially sighted people to experience a whole new world of technology that can entertain, assist and connect you with the rest of the world like never before. As with my other articles I have categorized and used a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) style to present the content.
What is an App? And why do I keep hearing about it?
An app is just an icon on your iPhone that lets you do certain functions. For example, the Phone app is a phone icon on your phone that allows you to make phone calls, keep a contact list and check your voicemail. The Calendar app is an icon on your phone that is a calendar you can add events to and use to keep track of your schedule. You can add or delete apps as you wish.
How do I get more apps?
There are many apps that you can get that are not automatically on your phone. The App Store icon on your phone allows you to download apps, which can be free or cost money. Apps serve a wide variety of purposes, which is why the App Store is organized by category. For example, there are apps that can tell you how much you walked today and apps that tell you when the bus is coming. There is an app for everyone and almost everything.
What are the Voice Over Gestures?
VoiceOver is a feature on your iPhone that essentially acts as a screen reader for your phone. It can be turned on from the Settings menu and activated by touching the screen. To make things easier, there is an item in the Settings menu that you can activate that makes tapping the Home button (the round one) turn VoiceOver on and off. When VoiceOver is off, tapping on something will activate it. With VoiceOver on, this requires a double tap. You can find where to double tap by gliding your finger left to right – the phone will read top to bottom, left to right just like a screen reader.
Similar to a computer, many functions are available through a Context menu. On a computer this is usually accomplished through a right click. With VoiceOver this is typically accomplished by tapping and then holding the item until an audible beep is heard. You can test this by performing the gesture on an icon on your phone; you will notice VoiceOver giving you different options. The iPhone also has a test area for practicing all of these gestures.
Several tutorials are available online, as well as books and even groups that may meet in your area. Check with your local CNIB office to see if there is a group in session in your area. You can also check out the CCB's Get Together Technology Group to see if there is one near you.
Once you have mastered the basics, you'll be ready for some new apps. Watch for my next article in the coming months on apps that can assist blind/partially sighted people.