Smartphones can be a very valuable device for people living with sight loss. There are two main types of smartphones, iPhone and Android. Both have built in screen readers and magnification software and support a range of apps that a person with sight loss may find useful.
A number of different brands use Android systems, these include Samsung, LG, Huawei, Nokia and others. Android has a lot of built-in accessibility features such as a screen reader and magnifier. To access these features, go to settings and then accessibility.
The built-in magnifier can be set to turn on by tapping the screen three times. You can then zoom by touching and holding the screen with two fingers and moving them around. You can zoom in and out by moving your fingers together and away from ach other.
The Android screen reader is called TalkBack. When you turn this on for the first time you will be sent into a tutorial which explains how it works.
These features will also work on Android tablets. There are similar features on the Amazon Fire tablets also.
All iPhones have built in accessibility features. The screen reader is called VoiceOver. You can activate this through settings or by saying “Hey Siri, turn on VoiceOver.” There is a tutorial on the phone that will show you how to use VoiceOver.
There is a built in magnifier on the iPhone which you can activate in settings. When Zoom is enabled, you can double tap with three fingers to zoom in on a part of the screen and drag with three fingers to move the zoomed area around.
There are similar accessibility features available on other Apple products such as iPads, Apple TV and the Apple Watch. More information on apple accessibility can be found here.
Be My Eyes is a free app that connects people who are visually impaired with a sighted volunteer. The sighted volunteer provides visual assistance by describing what they can see through your phone’s camera. This can be helpful with food instructions, bus stops or finding the right building. The app also connects users with Microsoft and Google accessibility support to help with tech support issues relating to accessibility.
Bluetooth Keyboards paired with an iPhone or Android device can help a person with low vision to use their phone more efficiently. It can be slow to type on the screen so having a physical keyboard may be helpful. These generally work well with phones and tablets.
You can interact with your phone or computer through Braille. Refreshable Braille displays are made up of a row of cells which change to form Braille letters. Some models allow text input through a braille keyboard.
Smartphones and tablets can be used to help you read. This includes using the camera as a magnifying glass to read text, scanning text and reading it out (which is called Optical Character Recognition OCR), reading text files or links. It is possible to change font sizes and colours and also read text aloud using text to speech (TTS), either with a screen reader or a built in TTS feature.
There are a lot of different apps that can help with this and some are listed below. Some of these apps are free, but some have paid versions. Use the free trials to make sure the app works for you.
Safari and Chrome on iPhone and Android have a reader view. For most articles, this takes away the website navigation and shows a plane text view which should make the article easier to read.
Pocket is an app that lets you save links and read them on the web or on iPhone or Android. It lets you change font size and has a built in TTS function. Pocket works on iPhone, Android and on the Chrome and Firefox browsers.