A cellphone with a keypad as well as a screen, speech that reads the display, and voice commands to make calls. This is a combination that seniors with vision loss might really like, but there are only a few, and it may all come down to what your carrier offers.
It’s critical for all of us with a vision disability to have a cellphone to make calls easily outside our homes, and one that still works if the power gets shut off, as more land lines switch to the internet.
Doug Rose my go-to expert on accessible devices, who has contributed much to this post, points out the considerations for anyone choosing a phone with some speech. “There’s the user’s ability, their budget, the carrier they use, and the changing models on the market.”Vision Rehab professionals also talk about speech volume and clarity, button-prominence, and ease of use.
This post is about available current models.
Accessible keypad phones are not true smartphones but has some of the same features. They do not have mobility features such as Google Maps and BlindSquare. But may have an S O S feature that allows emergency services to find your location.
Kyocera Dura XV Extreme has this feature. It is the newest of the accessible cellphones and available on Verizon, which is good since previously Verizon only had the Jitterbug (check out below). It seems that this phone could also work on other carriers.
Kyocera Dura XV Extreme, is a flip phone.
PC Mag reviewed it favorably: “This super-tough, very traditional flip phone offers only the basics, but it does them well. It’s not cheap, but it will keep you connected for years…It has readout and short voice command features, also weather, flashlight, wifi, bblue tooth and ear bud connection.” In my visits to several stores a Verizon store manager told me they had instructions not to open the box or have it on display and live! So I couldn’t check the buttons or speech clarity.
In the August edition of Newsreel Audio Magazine, Trish from Sacramento talks about this phone. She is particularly please with the Kyocera resetting itself after she shuts it down if she gets lost in the menus. This is an important feature that only a blind user would spot.
Unfortunately sending a voice text message is a 3-step process- a real drawback in this time of text messages.
kyocera’s tech support office: 1-800-349-4478
Price: $240, Verizon offers a monthly payment plan.
Blind Shell Classic Lite
Blindshell Classic Lite reviewed in AFB’s AccessWorld in February 2021 by Steve Kelly a respected vision rehab therapist. “Like its older sibling, the BlindShell Classic, the BlindShell Lite is a candy-bar style phone with the display and touch pad on one side of a straight, non-folding phone… The keys and tactile dialing pad are large, well-spaced, and have large, high-contrast print.”
However it does not have wi-fi or text dictation and may be a phone for people who are already pretty good at phone navigation. The volume of the speaker may be low for people with hearing impairment. Available on T-mobil $249
The BlindShell Classic does have wi-fi and text dictation and costs $299, and the new BlindShell Classic 2 with even more features costs $489.
MiniVision 2 from RAZ mobility,
Reviewed in AFB AccessWorld in August, also by Steve Kelly
“Maybe the smartphone is really the mobile phone that’s easy to learn, has buttons you can feel, and a spoken menu from the moment you turn the phone on. …With a couple handy applications like a voice recorder, sending a text with voice dictation, or making a shopping list…” This is another candy bar phone and preferred by Jack Mitchell (a vision rehab therapist in North Carolina) for it’s ease of use for simple voice calls, and good volume. It is available on T-Mobil and currently on A T&T, but from February next year it will not work on A T&T while the phone is updated to 5G. It also works on some smaller carriers.
The volume of the speaker, ringer and voice can be set separately. There is a trainer to help customers with the set-up.
The phone must be purchased from the website. Razmobility
Jitterbug Flip 2 (Jitterbug3 is a smartphone)
Jitterbug Flip 2 is a phone for seniors. The new models come with Amazon Alexa installed, but it is not otherwise an accessible phone. The buttons are small and have the numbers slightly embossed which makes finding the 2 little bumps on the 5 to center your fingers more difficult. It is said to have a loud speaker. This might work well for seniors with useful vision who already use Alexa at home. They can go through the “Lively” skill on Alexa and use their voice to ask for a call or dictate a text. Great Calls has now become Lively, and operator assistance seems to have been discontinued. Jitterbug phones do offer more assistance for senior health such as fall detection.
Smartphones are all-screen wonders! Learning techniques for using one with vision loss could be fun and interesting, or just too much! And the touch gestures may be a trial with shaky or painful fingers. Siri and Hey Google on smartphones do plenty but they can’t do it all and for many blind people an accessible keypad phone may be the smarter choice.