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Iphone/itouch features and AT for people with sensory or cognitive impairments

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As this society is moving in an aging direction, more and more users with sensory or cognitive impairments find difficulties with using a standard cell phone. Typical symptoms of sensory impairments includes the loss in visual, hearing, or tactile sensation. Users with cognitive impairments appear to have trouble in memorizing or reading. Due to the inconvenience in use by this group of people, many assistive technology features have been set in contemporary cell-phones. For this growing market, universally designed cell-phones, which will meet the requirements of people with or without disabilities, will be in high demand.

Features to Facilitate Use

  1. Understanding of product usage should be intuitive and simple, causing less cultural or language barriers. Reduce recognizing process of product usage and improve the perception quality.
  2. Simplicity of function: avoid unnecessary functions or can be highly customized to function setup.
  3. Have multiple accesses to control the products. E.g. users can control products either by pressing button, remote voice control, gesture control etc.
  4. Enable multiple vision effects for the benefit of visual impairment and color blind people.
  5. Automatic correction of mistakes.
  6. Can be able to download software seamlessly to extend their capabilities.
  7. The wireless connection will provide access to a tremendous range of information and services, the network effect will allow for the better mobilization of resources.
  8. Will have the processing power for almost all the requirements of adaptive technology.
  9. The costs of these products and services will reach a level that allows true accessibility worldwide.

Modify the information for remaining sensory ability

Low vision assistance


iPhone running Zoom
iPhone running Zoom

This feature is designed to help old people or near-sighted people with difficulties in identifying small size texts. Zoom function on iPhone lets you magnify the entire screen of any application. Zoom up to 5 times normal size and move left, right, up, and down to view any portion of the screen close up. Zoom works everywhere, including the Home, Unlock, and Spotlight screens, and with every application.

Contrast This feature is to assist color blinded user and low visual users. If you need or prefer higher contrast, iPhone’s White on Black function lets you change the display to white on black. It reverses the colors on screen to provide higher contrast for people with low vision. White on Black feature can be used in any application, as well as the Home, Unlock, and Spotlight screens.

Hard of hearing assistance

Mono Audio Mono Audio combines left and right audio channels so that they can be heard in both earbuds for those with hearing loss in one ear.

SoundAMP SoundAMP is the first assistive application that turns iPhone/itouch into an interactive hearing device. It accepts audio input from iPhone’s built-in mic (or wired headset with mic), and provides real-time volume and tone modifications which are delivered instantly to the user’s headphones or earbuds. SoundAMP's advanced sound processor is combined with audio filters designed to help with speech intelligibility, it softens loud sounds and amplifies soft sounds to maximize hearing comfort.

Change the way in which users receive information and do operation

For sensory impaired people in the respect of vision, hearing, etc. Cognitive disabilities and human-technology interface will have a big impact on this group’s usage. Multi-controlled function is in need on cell-phone operation. Iphone, especially with its version of 3GS, has done a great job in this field. It gives user several choices of achieving certain operational goal. The application of touch-screen tech and Voiceover have enabled iphone to be not only the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, but also and a universal designed cell-phone because it is built-in, finger-and-touch-based and fully integrated with other apps like Phone, iPod, iTunes, Mail, Safari, and Maps. VoiceOver describes aloud what appears on the screen so that you can use, you simply touch the screen to hear a description of the item under your finger, then double-tap, drag, or flick to control iPhone, without seeing it. It speaks 21 languages and works with all of the applications built into iPhone 3GS.

iPhone touch screen
iPhone touch screen
VoicOver application
VoicOver application

Another feature of iphone is its hands-free, voice-control interface. By loading an application, users will be able to dictate commands to perform various tasks, such as calling a friend or playing a song in the phone’s iTunes library, thus users can do operation on the phone only by “talking” to it. There is prediction that cell phone for next generation will be totally voice-controlled.

Technology for people with memory and executive impairments (cognitive impairments)

ReQall memory aid
ReQall memory aid

People with cognitive impairment will often experience a loss or weakness in a series of cognitive skills including planning, task sequencing and prioritization, task switching, self-monitoring, problem solving, self-initiation and adaptability. Related memory skills include “prospective memory”, that is, remembering tasks that need to be performed and carrying out these tasks at the appropriate time. Early work on prospective memory aids such as clocks, calendars, timers and digital watches are inexpensive, easy to use. Later application of memory aids can could be found on PDA, electrical dictionary etc, they also operate well as iphone/itouch applications. E.g. ReQall is a voice-enabled memory aid that seamlessly integrates your mobile phone, email, text messaging and IM into a powerful organizer, reminder system and productivity assistant. It constantly watches for opportunities to keep you well-prepared and memory-strong. It analyses your situation—looking at the current time, your current location and the upcoming items on your calendar—predicts when you’ll forget, and automatically delivers timely, relevant memory assistance. It can also predict when you'll forget and send you periodic "memory refreshers" to prevent forgetting. This application will be useful with meeting schedule, medical compliances, etc.


In conclusion, the trend of cell-phone’s universal design improvement will focus on perceptible information, low physical effort and equitable use. For cognitive people, will there be an add-on of “low mental effort”? Market and research will tell.


  1. iPhone user manual
  2. iPhone - Accessibility & Apps ,
  3. Alan Baddeley, Working Memory: The Interface between Memory and Cognition, MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, England
  4. Alex Mihailidis, Ned Kirsch: Assistive technology for cognitive rehabilitation: State of the art, neuropsychological rehabilitation, 2004, 14 (1/2), 5–39
  5. William C. Manna, Sumi Helal, Rick D. Davenport, Michael D. Justissd, Machiko R. Tomita and Bryan J. Kemp: Use of cell phones by elders with impairments: Overall appraisal, satisfaction, and suggestions, Technology and Disability 16 (2004) 49–57
  6. James R. Fruchterman: In the Palm of Your Hand: A Vision of the Future of Technology for People with Visual Impairments,

Author:Yiran Li

Universal Design @ Georgia Tech.