iPhone as a Tool for the Visually Impaired

‘Tis no secret how I have always wanted an iPhone, but priorities dictate that I spend my money otherwise. (Yes, I can be responsible when I want to.) After reading this guy raving about his new iPhone though, I just can’t help but feel more excited about the product. It’s not like I need the features he describes, but the piece gave me a different perspective on how the iPhone can be more than just another gadget to toy with, but something that really adds value to one’s daily existence.

According to Austin Seraphin the iPhone is “the greatest thing to happen to the blind for a very long time, possibly ever.” No, he’s not a fan boy nor is he a casual observer who doesn’t understand the fine points of usability. In fact, his review of the iPhone is quite thorough, at least in terms of the features for the blind.

Mac’s screen reader, VoiceOver, is now available on iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS. The screenreader is revolutionary in that it is gesture-based, and actually uses gestures that make sense to the vision impaired. Some of the features of VoiceOver include:

Physical interaction with the screen – Since the iPhone uses touchscreen, gone are the days when someone vision impaired would have to struggle to understand where things are located on the screen. When a part of the screen is touched, the iPhone explains what exactly is on that part of the screen. As you move your finger around, it will keep on describing the things on the screen, giving the vision impaired spatial information of what is on the screen.

Adjustable speaking rate – This ensures that the listener won’t have a hard time adjusting to VoiceOver but that it will adjust to the person’s listening ability. Even better, VoiceOver automatically lowers the volume of any other apps when VoiceOver is talking.

VoiceOver also really works for text messaging, so that even the vision impaired can send and receive text messages. The iPhone can also describe colors and so much more. This is what got me: Austin described just how the iPhone helped him “see” colors again.

Those are only some of the things that made it work for Austin, but I really suggest you read his post. It is one of the most – if not the most – touching pieces I’ve read about consumer electronics in a while. It makes me realize that some things that we take for granted actually make a difference in other people’s lives.

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