Thursday, October 8, 2015

Can I Connect? Connection Possibilities Without Smart Phones for People with Visual Impairment

For this post, I am pleased to present an article from "long time reader, first time writer," Dan Fendler. Dan is an AT Specialist in Delaware, and he knows his stuff. Of all of the people I know/read/follow in the field, Dan has to be one of the best. He has a great understanding of the field. In asking him if I could post his article, I wanted to know how I should refer to him. He said, "AT Specialist-In-Perpetual-Training." I think that's what makes him so good and ahead of the AT game. 

So I present to you his article looking at alternatives to smart phones for individuals with visual impairment. And for those of you looking to get away from a monthly cell bill, there's some great info for you in here too!


Can I Connect? Connection possibilities without smart phones for people with visual impairment 

By Dan Fendler, University of Delaware 


Look around you. Practically everyone these days uses some type of smart phone. The phones have become a staple of everyday life. Whether used for basic business functions, like keeping a calendar or email, or for social interaction through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other apps that help you stay in touch with your world, the phones are everywhere. What may be more important to some, many smartphones have remarkable features that can really benefit people with visual impairment. 

However, what if you simply cannot afford the cost of a typical monthly smartphone bill. Typical data usage carries a significant monthly cost. A young man who came into one of our Assistive Technology Resource centers put it this way: when faced with the high cost of his smart phone data plan, he had to choose between paying rent and keeping his phone. He gave up his phone. 

Apple’s Accessibility Features 

In June of 2009, Apple changed the world of smartphones forever by announcing the addition of an accessibility feature in their operating system (called iOS). The feature, called VoiceOver, was introduced in the iPhone 3GS. Apple describes VoiceOver this way: 

VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader that lets you enjoy the fun and simplicity of iOS even if you can’t see the screen. With VoiceOver enabled, just triple-click the Home button to access it wherever you are in iOS. Hear a description of everything happening on your screen, from battery level to who’s calling to which app your finger’s on. You can adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit you. 

For people with a visual impairment, there is little argument that this feature has been a real game changer. Once inaccessible to many, iPhones were now accessible to people with a visual impairment, even those who were blind. 

These features are truly amazing, but help only if you could afford the price of a monthly smartphone data plan. Most smart phones require voice, text and data plans. 

Sustainable Smart Phone Options 

Is there a way you can benefit from the accessibility features of a smartphone without incurring a costly monthly bill? There just might be. 

Lloyd Schmidt, a Delawarean who is blind, does not have a cell phone. He does carry an iPod Touch, which gives him all of the conveniences of a smart phone when he has an internet connection. 

“At home and in many other facilities, I connect to the internet through a wireless Wi-Fi,” Lloyd said. “This gives me the opportunity to make and receive telephone calls, send and receive emails, and use the various apps on the device. I can do all of this without having a monthly bill!” 

Lloyd continued, “I can make and receive calls with FaceTime, Skype and GV phone. I have all of these apps on my iPod Touch.” 

The accessibility features found in Apple’s iPhone are also available in their other tablets and music players. The iPad, the iPad Mini and al iPod Touch all run on the same operating system (iOS) and have all the same accessibility features built in, including VoiceOver. 

Wireless Hotspot Availability 

To determine if you could survive without a cell phone, you should evaluate how you use a phone today. For the iPod Touch to be a viable solution, you would need reliable access to the internet. Lloyd indicated that he has experienced some challenges contacting DART (the bus service in Delaware). 

“Since I use Paratransit, sometimes it’s hard to get Wi-Fi since there is no Wi-Fi at the connecters,” he said. He has found that “Wi-Fi is available in all libraries and most state office buildings. It is also available in many restaurants and convenience stores.” 

Consider how, when and where you use your phone today. If you simply must be connected 24/7, this option is probably not going to work for you. However, there are a growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots available today. If you are a Comcast customer, you might be aware that they are setting up wireless hotspots all over the country. In fact, if you had your Comcast equipment updated in the past year, chances are good that your home or business is now one of those hotspots. The controversial nature of these actions aside, this opens up many possibilities that did not previously exist. For more details on the controversy or to find Comcast hotspots in your area, Google “comcast xfinity hotspot” or click this link for a map of available hotspots

Useful Apps for Vision 

With widely available internet access, it is possible to use of many apps designed for those with visual impairments. Apps that run not only on the iPhone, but also on the iPad, Mini and iPod Touch as well. Location sensitive apps like GPS LookAround and BlindSquare; identification apps like TapTapSee, ColorID, and EyeNote; document converting apps like the KNFB Reader; and environmentally sensitive apps like Light Detector. It is possible to make phone calls with FaceTime, Skype or Talkatone. 

Lloyd shared some of the iPod apps he uses regularly: 

“Some other apps that I use are: audio recorder, note pad, phonebook, appointment calendar, money reader, BARD book reader, light detector, newspapers, whitepages, Smartphone Alternatives - 10/8/2015 3 music and podcast player, as well as a web browser to browse the internet, and a few accessible games. There are two cameras to take pictures of print and OCR software to read the print. 

I can type and share documents with others using an app and access them from anywhere using Dropbox, Google drive, and Evernote. I can also access them from my home computer and any other computer since they are located on the internet.” 


If you think this might be a viable solution for you but still have questions, please feel free to contact me at I would be happy to help answer any questions you may have. 

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