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Cell Phone Accessibility for the Blind

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Cell phones have become one of the essential gadgets that people use on a day to day basis. Everyday a new feature becomes available for most modern phones. Voice dialing, phone books, web browser, e-mail, multimedia messaging, multi-color display screen and cameras are a few examples of these advanced features [1]. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired, however, may not be able to operate such devices independently. Having easily identifiable buttons in order to make and receive calls is not the only option blind people wish to access; Thus, accessibility of modern cell phones for those with visual impairments is still of concern.


“The Sweet 16”

American Foundation for the Blind, a national nonprofit organization based in New York, conducted a survey in which they asked people who were blind or had low vision which phone features they would like to access [1]. The following is the list of 16 common features, in the order they were chosen by this group. The top three features that are starred were tied for the first place.

  • 1. *Keys that are easily identifiable by touch
  • 2. *Voice output
  • 3. *Accessible documentation
  • 4. Battery-level indicator
  • 5. Roaming indicator
  • 6. Message indicator
  • 7. Phone book
  • 8. Phone lock mode
  • 9. Keypad lock mode
  • 10. Power indicator
  • 11. Ringing or vibrating mode indicator
  • 12. GPS feature
  • 13. Signal strength indicator
  • 14. Ringer volume control
  • 15. Caller identification
  • 16. Speed dialing

Two Categories of Accessible Cell Phones

Off-The-Shelf Phones with Built-in Speech-output Capability

One of the options available for the persons who are blind or visually impaired is using Off-the-shelf phones that have speech output features incorporated directly into their system. Although, these phones were not initially designed for the people with visual impairments; they have been used by this group widely. The advantages of using such phones is that they do not require installation of any third-party software and they are relatively low cost [2]. However, they provide limited accessibility to the phone features, such as caller ID, battery level indicator and signal strength [3]. Since not all the phone features are accessible to this population, they might not be ideal for those who want to use more advanced features, such as text messaging, web browsing, and e-mail.

Most LG phones use Voice Command function, which is a built-in voice recognition application. The user chooses from the following 6 voice commands (listed below); the phone then recognizes the voice and follows the command [5].

LG Voice Command
LG Voice Command

Voice Command List:

  • 1. Call someone
  • 2. Dial number
  • 3. Listen Voicemail
  • 4. Message
  • 5. Missed calls
  • 6. Time and date

Motorola and Samsung phones use text-to-speech application which is similar to the Voice Command function used in LG phones. However, they are not as powerful and they do not provide accessibility to as many features as the LG phones do [4].

Third-party Software for Smartphones

Using a third party software is the other option available for people with visual impairment. Symbian, Windows Mobile, Linux, and Android are some of the common operating systems (OS) used in smart-phones. Cell phones with these OS allow installation of the third-party softwares, such as screen reader or screen magnifier software [4]. These programs provide voice and/or Braille output to allow accessibility for most of the phone features, including the phone book, e-mail, text-messaging. They are more expensive than OTS phones because of the additional cost of the third-party software and higher price of the smart-phone itself [3]. Before purchasing the third-party software, it is important to ensure compatibility of the software with the cell phone.

Available Accessible Software Applications

Code Factory

The software programs from this manufacturer are compatible with both Windows Mobile and Symbian OS.

  • Mobile Speak Screen Reader: the common screen reader software. It allows the information displayed on the screen to either be outputted as speech using Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology or to be outputted to Brialle device. It is the only screen reader that is also compatible with Brialle input[6].
  • Oratio Screen Reader: newest screen reader software designed for BlackBerry smartphones (by AT&T)that also uses TTS technology.
  • Mobile Geo: a GPS navigation software for Windows Mobile-based Smartphones.
  • Mobile Magnifier: enlarges and magnified the screen to allow better

readability of the screen

Code Factory Products.

Nuance (partnered w Dolphin since 2009)
  • Naunce TALKS offers by Verizon - The software is compatible for both Symbian and Windows mobile OS. The text displayed on the screen is converted to speech. Most of the phone features are accessible with this software, including call ID, text message. Web browser, contacts.
  • Nuance ZOOMS TM: It is a screen magnification application for low-vision users.
VoiceOver for Iphone.
VoiceOver for Iphone.

Apple has two software applications that enable the individuals who are blind to access iphone features.

  • VoiceOver Screen reader: is the first gesture-based screen reader. It can be operated using simple gesture, such as touching the screen, to hear what is on the screen. Bluetooth wireless braille displays could also be used along with VoiceOver to output in braille.
ALVA BC640 Braille Display Supported by Iphone.
ALVA BC640 Braille Display Supported by Iphone.

External Links



Code Factory

Nuance Talks_Zooms

Apple Voiceover


1. American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) TECH Evaluates Cell Phones. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

2. Darren Burton. You Get to Choose: An Overview of Accessible Cell Phones. March 2005;6(2). AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

3. Accessible Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired. ETOEngineering. March 2005. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

4. Cell Phone Accessibility Overview. American Foundation for the Blind. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

5. Voice Commands. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

6. Code Factory. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

7. Nuance. Accessed on October 21, 2010.

8. Apple. Accessed on October 21, 2010.