What would people with vision loss have done without Steve Jobs? He gave his staff such a hard time with his perfectionism, but he gave people with vision loss great riches because he insisted that iPod Touches, iPhones and iPads have the screen reader – voiceover – built in. It works seamlessly from the moment you touch the Home button. The newer iPhone and iPad models also have Siri, the “beautiful woman” who allows you to get verbal information directly from the internet. There is also built-in dictation which can be used for making notes or sending text messages and emails.
These riches also extend to other kinds of disability, including limitations in hand use. For example, at dinner on Saturday a friend was steadying one hand with the other to start Siri so he could get the Red Sox-Rays score. Last year, an eighteen year-old suffering from the effects of a brain tumor set reminders for her weekend assignments on her iPhone so that she’d be notified at the right time.
For people who can’t read regular print easily the change is huge, both in cost and in self-esteem. We can now have the cool new thing – and buy apps for pennies, or at most a few dollars, rather than the hundreds to update specialty software.
You could make a start with an iPod Touch while you learn the swipe and the double tap. It does not have Siri but does have dictation, and of course no other cost because it isn’t a phone. You may get a discarded one from the family or a friend (Remember, it has to be an iPod Touch.). Or you can buy a re-conditioned model from the Apple store from $179 – the deals change all the time. http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/specialdeals/ipod
I hear that Android smart phones and tablets have good large print options, and they may be your best choice if you have several years of stable vision ahead, but if large print is becoming a struggle, you need to switch.
I don’t want to pretend that any i-device is a piece of cake to learn – you will get frustrated, and there are glitches, but not in the product, which is very hardy and reliable. On Christmas night three years ago, I dropped my brand new iPod Touch into the toilet. It didn’t miss a beat. (Don’t try this at home kids.)
As soon as you get your i-device, get a friend with good eyes to go to “settings” then “general” then “accessibility” and then choose “voiceover on”, or choose “zoom” for looking at magnified pictures and text, or choose both. Once voiceover is on, you can begin to spread your wings. You will need help. You will need a problem solver for when you back yourself into corners, but just keep going. I am no expert – but the pleasures of instant access to so much information, music and more is wonderful.
Before you begin trying any extra apps, explore the clock, the voice memos and the phone, if you decided on an iPhone. (Tap your way to the right icon then double tap.) Notice how useful the timer is for alerting yourself to cooking times, but also when to move stuff into the dryer, or when to phone your doctor.
Try recording a few voice memos. Retrieving them is a bit tricky to start with, because the voiceover instructions are much louder than your recording.
Then try setting yourself a reminder using Siri . It’s an easy way to start with Siri. Or try dictating a shopping list in “Notes” . If you have an iPhone notice how useful the “recent” list is. Tap then double tap the entry and immediately you are calling that number, no painstaking search through bits of paper.
Now open up the camera. If you have some remaining sight you can make the camera face backwards and use it as a mirror. (The girl with memory loss taught me this.) Or you can take photos of your grandkids, or a lovely landscape and email it to yourself (or someone else if you don’t have a desktop or laptop computer). Then you can open it up to fill the whole screen and look at the face or scene as you can no longer do in real life.
Later on (or immediately if you don’t have usable vision) you will use the camera again and again with various apps to read dollar bills or receipts, identify packages or read bar codes.
What is your experience with your iPhone or iPod Touch? Let us know what you like and don’t like.