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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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AT Messenger Logo - Bringing Technology to You

Volume 20, No. 1 - Winter 2012

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Can I Connect?
Connection Possibilities without Smart Phones for people with Visual Impairment

Dan Fendler
Assistive Technology Specialist
Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware

Practically everyone these days uses some type of smart phone. The phones have become a staple of everyday life for both business and social functions. What may be even more important to some, many smart phones have remarkable features that can really benefit people with visual impairment.

However, what if you are in a positon where you simply cannot afford the cost of a typical smart phone data usage bill? A young man who came into one of our Assistive Technology Resource Centers put it this way: because of the high cost of his smart phone data plan, he had to decide between paying rent and keeping his phone.

Apple’s Accessibility Features

In June of 2009, Apple changed the world of smart phones by announcing the addition of an accessibility feature, VoiceOver, in its operating system (iOS). According to Apple: “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 are now accessible to people with a visual impairment, even those who were blind.

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

Sustainable Options

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

Lloyd Schmitz, 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! 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 the iPod Touch all run on the same operating system (iOS) and have all the same accessibility features built in, including VoiceOver.

Wireless Hotspots

To determine if you could survive without a cell phone, 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, Delaware’s public transit system. “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”.

With widely available internet access, it is possible to use many apps designed for those with visual impairments: those 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: “audio recorder, note pad, phonebook, appointment calendar, money reader, BARD book reader, light detector, newspapers, white pages, 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 one of the DATI Assistive Technology Resource Centers. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have. At a price point under $200, an iPod Touch may be an affordable alternative to a smart phone. If affordability is still and issue, talk to the folks at DATI to learn about alternative funding options.

For details about apps available for visual impairment, visit www.applevis.com.

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