Thursday, March 17, 2016

Smartphone for a blind senior dummy

When I mentioned that I don't have a cell phone let alone a smartphone, some people thought I was kidding.  It was like saying I don't own a watch.  I don't have a smartphone because of the following excuses:
  • I don't go out that much by myself.  The landline at home works fine for me.
  • I don't have anyone who couldn't wait to talk to me until I am home.
  • I don't want to pay for a wireless plan that I would rarely use.  After all I am on fixed disability income, have to watch my expense.
  • All the smartphone are using touch screen to operate, how would a blind old man learn to do that.  I knew about the voice feedback feature on the smartphone, but I thought that was too much of trouble to operate a phone.
However, I now realize I have been left behind.  I felt like I am  using rotary phone while rest of the world is using touch tone phone.   Beside I need to learn something new to keep my brain working, learning to use a smartphone is like learning a new computer OS.  A cell phone would let me call for help in case of emergency while out walking with my guide dog.  OK, these are my lame excuses for getting a new toy.

The first decision that I have to make was which mobile OS to use.  I knew many blind people like the Apple's IOS due to its VoiceOver  and magnifier features  I was going to get an Apple iPhone but the price was just too high, even a used iPhone 5 would cost around $300 or more.  Given my low usage, I just couldn't justify the expense, so I had to go with the Android OS.

After looking into few Android smartphones, I decided on a $20 reconditioned LG L22C smartphone sold by TracFone.  This LG phone has a fairly large screen and runs on Android 5 OS.  This phone came with lifetime triple minutes, so the operating cost will be very low too.  I am sure the $20 prepaid plan for 90 days of service  will be fine for my low usage.  If I can't figure out how to use a smartphone, all I loss is $20, no big deal.

  When I got the phone, it looks brand new, all the parts were sealed in their plastic baggies. The only thing missing was the user manual.  Luckily I found the manual online and beside I can't read the hardcopy manual anyway.  Believe it or not, this is the first time I look and feel a smartphone in detail.  At first I couldn't even find the power button, then I found it at the back just below the camera lens.  I push it once and wait and nothing happen.  I thought I had a defective unit, until I figure out I need to press and hold the power button for couple seconds to turn on the phone.

Until I got this phone, I have never used a smartphone before.  So when I turn the phone on the first time, I had no idea what to do.  All I saw was a bunch icons on the screen.  Where is the phone dial pad? I thought I bought a phone.  Due to my visual impairment, I was not able to make out the function of each icon.  I knew I had to turn on the screen reader, Talkback, in order for me to operate this phone.  Because I couldn't see the icon, I had to get assistance to turn this feature under accessibility option in the setting apps.

The first time that Talkback was turn on I was offered a quick tutorial on gestures.  From what I learned, everything would take longer to do with Talkback enabled.  So, instead just tap once to select an item, I have to glide my finger on the screen until I hear the item I want to select, then I lift my finger and double tap anywhere in the screen to select that item.  For example, if I need to dial 303-555-1234, I have to glide my finger on the dialpad until I hear the first number 3, then I lift the finger and double tap on the screen to select this number.  Repeat this procedure for all 10 numbers and the call button. I have to do 33 taps instead 11 taps to dial a phone number.  I hate RP, it makes everything more difficult.

There are many more options under the accessibility settin.  I will need to try out each one to see how they would help me use the smartphone.  In addition, there are many apps that would help  blind people to use the smartphone to help them do some daily tasks easier. I probably post another blog on my learning effort.  

Update after 2 weeks play with this phone.
I found that Talkback did not work consistently with couple of Apps so far.  For example, when I dial a phone number, I have to do that triple tap to select a number.  But on the contact page, I only need to glide to a letter then lift my finger to select the letter or glide to a number and lift my finger to select the number.

The Talkback also seem to have problem with password entery field.  For examp, let say my voicemail PIN is 1234, when I triple tap on button 1, somehow number 8 was entered instead.  If I turn off Talkback, the PIN was entered correctly.

I found the following info very helpful:


  1. Hello,
    I have gone through this post. Its too useful and i loved your thought. Its all about low vision aids. Thank you too much.....

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