Try using your iPhone with your eyes closed

iPhone image courtesy of AppleA lot of devices have to be adapted before I can use them. I had to add Braille labels to our microwave, oven and washer/dryer at home so I’d know which button does what. I buy specially-made watches and clocks that say the time out loud for me. And we had to equip my laptop computer at home and my PC at work with a computer program called JAWS to read the text on my screen out loud. That’s how I’m able to read your comments here and write and edit blog posts.

Assistive technology is wonderful, but it gets tiresome — and expensive — to special order it and then wait to have it delivered and installed. So I was pretty excited when iPhone 3GS came out — it was the first touch-screen device that blind people like me could take out of the box and use right away. Turns out a lot of Apple products include assistive technology as standard features at no additional cost to users. From Apple’s Accessibility page:

For example, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and OS X include screen magnification and VoiceOver for the blind and visually impaired. To assist those with cognitive and learning disabilities, every Mac includes an alternative, simplified user interface that rewards exploration and learning. And, for those who find it difficult to use a mouse, every Mac computer includes Mouse Keys, Slow Keys, and Sticky Keys, which adapt the computer to the user’s needs and capabilities.

The Apple store on Michigan Avenue here in Chicago has a full-time associate (they don’t like to call them salespeople) who is blind. Ryan served as a role model when it came to learning how to use a touch-screen without being able to see.

The simplest way for you sighted iPhone users to understand how VoiceOver works is to give it a try yourself. Here’s how you turn VoiceOver on :

  • Go to Settings.
  • Choose General.
  • Choose Accessibility.
  • Choose VoiceOver.
  • Turn it on.

Still with me? Okay. Now press the home key. Slide your finger around the screen, and Voice Over will call out the icon you’ve touched. Don’t worry, it won’t select that icon, it will just call it out so you’ll know where you are on the screen. Hold the iPhone so that the earpiece is facing up, toward the ceiling. If you touch the left edge of the screen about an inch below the earpiece, you’re likely to land on the top left icon. VoiceOver will call out what that is. Flick one finger right to select the next one. If you flick your finger four times to the right, you’ll get to the first app on the second row of apps. If you come across an app you want to open, tap the screen twice, and … voila! Note: If you open an app BY MISTAKE, just press the Home button and you’ll return to the home screen.

Is your head spinning? Then you can imagine what a dither I was in when I first started working with VoiceOver to listen to voice mail, Google, send and receive email using my iPhone. I can get into all that in a future blog post if you are really interested, but I’m guessing that all you sighted blog readers out there want to do right now is learn how to turn the #)@%! VoiceOver off. If you follow the bulleted directions above, below the heading at the top of the VoiceOver screen you’ll hear a button labeled “VoiceOver on.” Notice that VoiceOver gives you a hint out loud by saying, “double-tap to toggle setting.” When you hear that, go ahead and double-tap to turn VoiceOver off.

I use my iPhone pretty regularly now to check what time it is, and I’m starting to get more comfortable sending and reading text messages. Who knows, maybe soon I’ll publish a blog post here using my iPhone. I know I still have a ways to go, but it’s good to know I’m OMW. TTYL!


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  4. Beth Finke Says:

    Patricia — Good idea to ask Ryan to do a guest post, but to be honest, my guess is he’d be too busy. He is an *extremely* popular salesman at the Apple store.

  5. Patricia Wright Says:

    Karen – there are some excellent resources to support individuals with disabilites to gain/maintain employment and find housing. You can use the site and enter your zipcode to learn about Easter Seals’ services near you. You can also contact our Contact Us site. We have excellent Resource and Information Specialists who can provide information about resources available in your geographic region.

    Easter Seals’ knows that employment and housing are HUGE issues for many individuals living with disabilities. We strive to meet those needs but know that there are stil a lot to do to address these issues for all who need support.

  6. Karen Says:

    I was born with a hearing/ Speech Impairment then when I turned 27 I was diagnosed with MS (Mutilple Sclerosis. I have living with my boyfriend for 3 years now and still paying rent of 500.00. I received SSDI every month but I still cannot afford this. I feel that I should lived in a home for Disability. Which now I cannot walk to well, my medicine does not work for me, I am always tired. I miss working but I am unable to get a job that is right for me.Can someone help me out thanks.

  7. Patricia Wright Says:

    Hey Beth – ask Ryan to do a guest blog post about the “best/funniest/most entertaining” questions he has been asked during his work. He must be full of stories and not just about accessibilty!

    And as a new iphone user myself I know I too have a long way to go in figuring out all the features. Maybe I should go visit Ryan and his colleauges!

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