Posted by New York Able Newspaper by Angelo Pacheco, Program Administrator at Vision Rehabilitation Services for Lighthouse Guild

Technology has come a long way, but has it come far enough for people with low vision and total blindness? 

Let’s take cellular phones for example. Similar to anything else, when people purchase an item there are personal needs and wants involved. For example, cost, color, dimensions, features and so much more must be considered. One priority for individuals with vision impairments is accessibility.

There are a wide variety of cell phones out there today. However, are there accessible versions? And how accessible are they? Accessible technology centers receive many calls from people asking this question, even more now due to the pandemic. The answer to the question is, “It all depends on someone’s needs and wants and if they are ready to do what it takes to learn how to use it efficiently.”

Cell phones come in a variety of “flavors,” but “Does the person need all the “bells and whistles” or just a simple cell phone to make and receive calls? ”This question opens an entire dialog on how accessible each feature is. 

One question that is not brought up enough is, “What does it take to learn the device? ”Many people are under the impression that the word “accessibility” means they open the package and are able to start using the device immediately. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case. An example is the smart phone. For anyone to use the device, whether they are visually impaired or not, they will need to know what the features are, where to locate them and how to use the said features. 

For people who are visually impaired, there are extra steps. They need to turn on magnification, speech or both. Then they have to learn how to set these accessibility features to their personal needs. This includes but is not limited to magnification level, speech rate, male or female voice and so much more. 

Once they set up accessibility needs, they’ll need to learn how to use them in combination with the device’s functions. This may seem simple but try remembering 25+ hand gestures and where to single tap, double tap, or triple tap when different apps may require different hand gestures to perform the same task. 

Accessibility sounds great and it is. However, people will need to invest time to adjust to their device, its accessibility features and their perception of the priority features they will need.

It’s important that consumers try before they buy. Many stores allow shoppers to handle the devices and ask questions. It is also very helpful to contact agencies that provide services for people who are blind and visually impaired for guidance, as well as friends who already use accessibility features on their devices.

There’s no reason why anyone should take a chance on a costly investment. These tips can prevent a cell phone from becoming an expensive paper weight due to the overwhelming features available and the work it will take to learn how to use it successfully.