Sunday, 21 April 2019

The iPhone: How it has Changed my Life

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

As I was chatting with a friend over lunch last week, we were discussing how far smart phones have come, especially for people with vision loss. 

I still recall my initial hesitations about the concept of using a smart phone with speech. I just couldn’t get my head around how a person with vision loss could use a flat screen device with speech. And now here I am, approximately 8-years later, using my iPhone for virtually everything like texting, emailing, reading books, recording podcasts, and filming Youtube videos. The accessibility features of the iPhone have literally allowed me and others living with vision loss to be on the same equal level playing field as our sighted peers. The use of smart phones has revolutionized the way people with vision loss communicate, accomplish tasks, and participate in their communities.
So now you must be wondering, just how does a person with vision loss actually use a flat screen device? Thanks to Voiceover, the revolutionary built-in screen reading technology, Apple has transformed the way people with vision loss use mobile phones. It is the first mainstream mobile phone that a person with vision loss can start using virtually out of the box. Simply by tapping a few buttons, Voiceover is ready to go. Voiceover allows the user to navigate their phone with a few simple gestures, e.g., single finger swipe, single finger double tap, double finger double tap, 3-finger swipe up or down. As the user swipes their finger across the screen, Voiceover will indicate which app the focus is currently on. To open your desired app, just double tap with one finger and voila! This may sound overwhelming to you, but honestly, once you apply these gestures to your phone, you will understand.

Voiceover also allows the user to use the virtual keyboard for everything ranging from texting, emailing, and conducting searches. At times I will use the keyboard as well as the dictation feature to help speed things up. Siri can also help achieve various tasks, but it can’t replace Voiceover. 
While there is a plethora of apps to choose from, there are some specific ones that stand out. These apps can enhance one’s life in many ways ranging from daily life, work, education, and pleasure. While every single app is not accessible with Voiceover, there are a number of them that are. Many of them have specifically been developed for people with vision loss. Here are a few of my favs.


Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and partially sighted people to sighted volunteers for visual assistance through video calling. Users have been able to get assistance with reading food labels, directions on packages, reading documents, finding keys, and even taking photos. Sighted people can sign up to become a volunteer and assist the user when they are called. Since there are thousands of sighted volunteers around the world, you do not have to worry about being bombarded by calls through this app. I have a friend who signed up 6-months ago and she is still waiting for her first call. One more advantage about this app is that the user will usually be connected to a volunteer within seconds due to the large number of people who have signed up to lend their eyes. In addition, calls can be made day or night. For more info on this incredible app, click here.


Seeing AI

Seeing AI is a free app developed by Microsoft that works with the camera to scan an item and have it interpreted and read out by Voiceover. All you have to do is hold your phone so that the camera is pointing at what you want to read out and wait a few moments for the app to do its thing. It takes a few tries to learn the proper technique, but once you get it, you are on your way. I have found this app incredibly useful for reading the labels on my beauty products. For more info on Seeing AI, click here.


Voice Dream Reader

Voice Dream Reader is a comprehensive app that allows the user to access books and other print materials in formats such as PDF, RTF, MS Word, MS PowerPoint, plain text, and Google Docs. The text is read out by one of the many voices through the app. Voice Dream has been my savior for the past 2-years in pursuit of my degree at RRU. I have been able to read my text books, alternate readings, and even some other books and magazines for pleasure. It has a number of features such as the ability to create book marks, conduct searches, and navigate by page, paragraph, or sentence. To learn more about Voice Dream Reader, click here.


iHeart Radio

I have always been a fan of radio since childhood. Maybe that’s why I became a radio broadcaster for a few years and produced some radio documentaries for CBC Radio. The iHeart Radio app is a 1-stop-shop for all things radio ranging from various genres of music, news talk, or a wide range of podcasts. What I love about this app is that I am able to use it independently with the Voiceover commands on my phone, even during the initial set-up. All of the features on this app are clearly labelled which enables Voiceover to read quickly and effectively. I was able to search for my favourite podcasts with ease, and exploring new ones was also a breeze. To learn more about iHeart Radio, click here.

Hopefully by now I have opened your eyes and opened your mind to the wonderful world of mobile accessibility. I can honestly say that the iPhone has  changed the way I communicate, access information, and participate in life. It has truly transformed my world.

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