iPhone 3GS with VoiceOver Easiest Smartphone for Blind People?


According to David Pogue in the New York Times, the accessibility features like VoiceOver introduced with the iPhone 3GS make it one of the easiest smartphones for the blind and visually impaired:

First, you tap something to hear it. You can tap icons, words, even the tiny status icons at the top of the screen. As you go, the voice tells you what you’re tapping. “Messages.” “Calendar.” “Mail — 14 new items.” “45 percent battery power.”

Once enabled in the settings, Pogue details how new gestures like double-tap to launch, two-finger upward flick to read, three finger flick to scroll or go to next/previous screen, and three finger triple tap to turn the screen off and save power.

You can also use "the rotor", a two finger circle, to change the way other gestures work -- proofreading text character by character rather than word by word, for example.

Supported languages included Bahasa Indonesian, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (China), Chinese (Taiwan), Dutch, English (US), English (UK), English (Australian), Finnish, French (Canada), French (France), German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spain), Swedish, Thai, Turkish.

For more on VoiceOver, see Apple's overview.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPhone 3GS with VoiceOver Easiest Smartphone for Blind People?


Ok, I'm not trying to be insensitive here... but are there a lot of blind people out there wanting to take photos and video? And even if there were... how would they know what they are actually filming? Maybe I am missing something.

Somehow I don't see it being the easiest phone for blind people. I mean it's a touchscreen. I'd think actual hardware buttons would be easier.
But then again I've never used VoiceOver so I wouldn't really know.

As someone with a disability and as an advocate I'm eager to know if the iPhone is a good phone for the blind. I could maybe see it being OK for the visually impaired but not sure about the the blind. As for the video question, just because they can't see it doesn't mean they don't want to remember it. Maybe they would use the Voice Memo app for that. I don't know but I'm going to a 3 day disability conference in August so I'll ask some of my blind friends. Either way it's nice to see companies including accessibility features in their products. Go Apple!

It's not and app. You have you use voice over for yourself to see how it works. Voice over is on all 3GS iPhone under the setting menu. So turn it and and give it a try I'm sure that you would be impressed.
As for the blind people question about taking pictures, is there another phone that would be easier for boing people to take pictures on?

warning! i tried this and it was indeed kinda of cool for about 1 minute then got really annoying THEN i could not figure out how to scroll and get to the menu for reversing this feature, took me 20 minutes of google and playing around with my phone to finally turn it back off. gesh

As a blind person I can safely say the I phone is, actually, usable. I'm a totally blind individual. Why are you annoyed? Its not rocket science - you tap an icon, it tells you what it is, double tap and it clicks it. Only thing I don't like is the on screen keyboard, takes gettin used to. I tried it in the store, but I think I'l still go with a nokia e71. And by the way, I do take pictures. Just because I'm blind doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to make that decision...jeesh!
Anyway how does the e71/n95/I phone compare in size and looks? What looks the best, that's part of my buying decision. Leaning towards e71/I phone though as n95 feels too flimzy (slider is plastic etc).

I am an actual blind person. This article got a friend of mine excited that I could use the 3 G I phone. Its total BS. touch screens do not work for the blind.
Using this voice feature I could not make a call, read a text, or change settings. that is hardly accessible. I like seeing companies show an interest in accessibility, However I'm annoyed that bold claims are made falsely clearly without testing with a population of actual blind people.

hey im seriously not trying to be insensitive, but i am actually rly interest, how do blind people read online articles like this?

To answer the previous commenter, blind people use screen readers to read a page like this out loud. Those with some vision would read enlarged text.
As for the iPhone, I too am glad to see an interest in accessibility but a flat screen with no tactile landmarks at all wouldn't be very usable. Better to have buttons that can be felt. Nice attempt though.

hey there i am a blind person to i am very interested to know if that program is availible on the iphone 8gb as i was informed its onlhy on the 16gb and the 32gb mmmmmm if it is cam some one help me!!!! i know a blind person who uses one and they love the iphone i use a e71 currently but i want to getsomething that would be more app friendly

The VoiceOver feature is only available on the iPhone 3GS. And, I have to say, as an actual owner of the iPhone, who is also blind, the iPhone 3GS is hands down the best phone on the market right now, in terms of accessibility and function.

This is definitely for real. My sister was telling me she was thinking about an iPhone, and I was like...Dude, you're blind. Does it have Jaws? She said that it has this Voiceover thing, and that it makes it simple to use. For the dorks who are asking about pictures and videos, my totally blind sister can probably take a better picture than I can. The iPhones are so much more than just cameras. For her, being able to function out in the world is a necessity, and having the same current technologies that us sighted dorks use is wonderful. I am still amazed at the technologies available that have made her a geekier person than I am...and I'm proud of her for that. (hear that Lisa?)

This review is very accurate. I am completely blind, and use my iPhone 3GS for so many things. I make calls, send and receive email, send and receive text messages, and have many apps and am steadily getting more. I commend Apple for building speech software right into their devices, so that I don't have to pay a fortune just to do things that sighted people do with their phones. If it wasn't for the iPhone, I would've paid $700 in total for a cellular phone plus the screen reading software. This evolution of the accessible iPhone is outstanding!

In response to the blind people who say the iPhone isn't easy to use, perhaps you haven't spent enough time becoming accustomed to the accessibility features. Voiceover is remarkable. I've had my phone for four months. I will acknowledge that text messaging is slower than it would be with a tactile keyboard, but it is most certainly doable. It also gets faster over time as you become familiar with the layout of your screen.
There is also something called a tactile screen protector for the blind. It's available from Solona. It is a screen protector which has dots that are feelable where the on-screen keyboard is located (i.e. on the bottom half of your screen for the portrait mode orientation). These dots mark every letter, so that the likelihood of hitting wrong letters is completely eliminated. I don't yet have this screen protector, but I have ordered one. They are available at: www.solona.net. I hope this is helpful. :)

This actually works great. You've just got to take some time to get use to it. Here's a little top for those who wasn't to try it out. Go online first and learn it's functions. Also got to settings and set it so that a triple home button tap will turn the voice over on and off.
Now, I happen to be deaf. Welli can hear now with my cochlear implant but I've been deaf for twenty years before I got it. I found out about this voiceover on the iPhone for my friend who is blind. We spent a little time together learning how to use it. Now he's got his own iPhone and uses it all the time. He's using it to make phone calls, sending and receiving email and SMS, browsing online and even in facebook. The keyboard is a little annoying in voiceover but it works. The dragon dictation app can work but it needs some tweaking to make it more voiceover friendly. But he does use his dictation on his iPhone and he's been blind since he was born. So those who have not learned learned how to use this feature and actually tested it out after you've learned to use it and all its features. Don't come here saying it doesn't work. It does work and better then most other options available for the bind right now as far as mobile phones. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is, but its a great start and works well enough.