Blind or Visually Impaired

The wireless industry is committed to providing accessible cell phones to the blind or persons with low vision.

A Man with Sunglasses Sings Into His Cell Phone

Blind or Visually Impaired

Overview & Tips

Generally, the accessibility features on a wireless device can be found in the “settings” menu. The settings menu is always a good place to learn about the different features and functions of a wireless device.

There are two types of wireless handsets: feature phones and smartphones. At the most basic level, feature phones and smartphones can make and receive voice telephone calls and text messages. Smartphones add the ability to connect to the Internet, use applications, listen to music, watch video and much more. The operating system of a smartphone, such as iOS for Apple iPhones, Google’s Android, Blackberry® and WindowsPhone, enables the accessibility features.

For the blind or visually impaired, the right combination of phones, operating systems and applications can make wireless work for you.

List of Suggested Features

Listed below are accessibility features that may be built-in (native) to a wireless device to make wireless products and services easier for you to use or available as downloadable software. 

Adjustable Fonts – is the option to change the size of icons and text on the phone’s display to make it more readable.  This feature varies by phone; some devices have a choice of several font sizes, and some have an adjustable slider to adjust for spacing of the text.  The feature is built-in to most smartphones and some feature phones.  Combined with the magnification feature on smartphones, a consumer has greater options.

Alternate formats – Product information and billing is available in alternate formats (Braille, large print, electronic (plain text or HTML), audiocassette etc.) upon your request. Accessible manuals should be available from the manufacturer or accessed through the manufacturer’s website.  

Audio, Visual and Vibrating Features – Assign specific audible, visual, and vibrating alerts for different functions including incoming calls or messages, calendar events, confirming keyboard inputs. You can also assign, create, purchase, and download distinctive ringtones.

Braille – some smartphones have built-in or with the use of app the capability of connecting via BlueTooth to a Braille device.  When set up it supports navigation and text input from a Braille keyboard.
Magnification – is found built-in to most smartphones, and variously called Zoom, Screen Magnify or Magnify.  The feature enables consumers to increase the size of everything displayed on the screen.

Screen Contrast – enables consumers with low vision to maximize seeing what is on the screen with high contrast display screens.  Adjustable color schemes for the display make text and symbols easier to see.  Many smartphones have built-in high contrast and color inversion features.

Screen Reader – is a screen access application that provides individuals who are blind or visually impaired the ability to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer. It is similar to a voice output feature, but with a distinct and different method for accessing the phone.  Screen readers are built- in to several smartphone operating systems and are available as apps that may be downloaded onto other feature phones and smartphones.   

Tactile or Clearly Defined Keys – Tactile keys are physical keys for both functions and alphanumeric keys.  The keys are designed for ease of feel and marking nibs are used.  Some keys are convex in shape and/or larger in size.  In many mobile devices, the keys are layed out on a QWERTY keyboard.  Some phones with keys and controls have a high contrast color scheme and large print users, helpful for persons with low vision.  More and more phones use touch screen controls and keys which can be explored by touch and have speech to identify each key and control.  It is also possible to download software with a larger touch screen key pad.  Predictive text and word completion (AutoText) features also help to quickly enter text.

Voice Output – this feature “reads” aloud function and feature information on a phone device.  This is also called text-to-speech (“TTS”). Examples of TTS include Apples’ VoiceOver, and Google’s TalkBack.   Voice output enables a blind or visually impaired person to use menus and sub-menus common on most mobile phones to access such features as entering contacts, using the phone book, setting alarms, talking caller ID, and changing ringtones.  The voice output function varies and should be checked out by consumers when selecting a device.

Voice Recognition – lets consumers interact with their phone with the power of their voice. Such tasks as dialing the phone, choosing a contact, and in some smartphones, entering calendar or contact information, surfing the web, and accessing applications are accomplished without lifting a finger. Voice Recognition is variously called VR, Voice Control or Speech Commands. Apple ® iPhone devices utilize the Siri voice commands, for example. 

If a wireless device does not offer a specific built-in accessibility feature, ask a wireless carrier representative if a wireless device can be customized by adding or downloading applications (or “apps”). Screen reader apps may be offered by a wireless carrier at discounted prices. Third party developers may also offer apps to entertain, inform and meet a consumer’s needs. 

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  • American Council of the Blind - The American Council of the Blind is the nation's leading membership organization of blind and visually impaired people. It was founded in 1961 and incorporated in the District of Columbia. The Council strives to improve the well-being of all blind and visually impaired people by: serving as a representative national organization of blind people; elevating the social, economic and cultural levels of blind people; improving educational and rehabilitation facilities and opportunities; cooperating with the public and private institutions and organizations concerned with blind services; encouraging and assisting all blind persons to develop their abilities and conducting a public education program to promote greater understanding of blindness and the capabilities of blind people. 
  • American Foundation for the Blind - The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB's work in these areas is supported by the strong presence the organization maintains in Washington, DC, ensuring the rights and interests of people with vision loss are represented in our nation's public policies.
  • National Federation for the Blind- The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is a nationwide membership organization of blind people in the United States. Founded in 1940, the NFB advocates for the civil rights and equality of blind Americans, and develops innovative education, technology, and training programs to provide the blind and those who are losing vision with the tools they need to become independent and successful. 
  • Wireless RERC - Funded since 2001, the Wireless RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center) has become a recognized leader on issues and solutions related to the accessibility and usability of mobile wireless products and services by people with disabilities. The Wireless RERC's mission is to promote equitable access to and use of wireless technologies by people with disabilities and encourage the adoption of Universal Design in future generations of wireless devices and applications. 
  • World Institute on Disability - An internationally recognized public policy center founded in 1983 by leaders of the Independent Living Movement, WID's program work focuses on issues and problems that directly affect people’s ability to live full and independent lives. The mission of the World Institute on Disability (WID) in communities and nations worldwide is to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security and health care for persons with disabilities. WID creates innovative programs and tools; conducts research, public education, training and advocacy campaigns; and provides technical assistance.