One of the many, many reasons I decided to buy an iPhone two years ago was to support the idea of universal design: the iPhone 3GS was the first touch-screen device that blind people like me could take out of the box and use right away. It comes with speech software called VoiceOver — built-in screen access for people who are blind. Miraculously, it allows blind people to interact using the touch-screen.
The iPhone 4 came on the market in 2010, just before I left town to train with Yellow Lab Harper. During training at the Seeing Eye I could hear phones murmuring text messages to the younger students in class while we were waiting in the lounge. Carlos regularly updated his Facebook status from his iPhone while we commuted in the Seeing Eye van together. He and Marcus would point their phones at their dogs from time to time to take photos, then manipulate their phones to send the photos home to loved ones.
Apple drastically reduced the price of the iPhone 3GS to $49 the very month I came home with Harper. I bought one, and after learning how to use it to make a phone call (in case of an emergency) I put off learning how to do anything else with it.
My two-year contract ends next month. I finally devoted time over the holiday break to climb the very steep VoiceOver learning curve so I can decide whether or not to renew.
The simplest way for you sighted iPhone users to understand how VoiceOver works is to give it a try yourself. Here’s how you turn VoiceOver on :
- go to Settings
- choose General
- choose Accessibility
- choose VoiceOver
- turn it on.
Still with me? Okay. Now press the home key. Slide your finger around the screen, and Voice Over will call out the icon you’ve touched. Don’t worry, it won’t select that icon, it will just call it out so you’ll know where you are on the screen. Hold the iPhone so that the earpiece is facing up, toward the ceiling. If you touch the left edge of the screen about an inch below the earpiece, you’re likely to land on the top left icon. VoiceOver will call out what that is. Flick one finger right to select the next one. If you flick your finger four times to the right , you’ll get to the first app on the second row of apps. If you come across an app you want to open, tap the screen twice, and…voila! Note: If you open an app BY MISTAKE, just press the Home button and you’ll return to the home screen.
Is your head spinning? Then you can imagine what a dither I was in the past two weeks learning how to listen to voice mail, Google, send and receive email using my iPhone. I can get into all that in a future blog post if you are really interested, but I’m guessing that all you sighted folks want to do right now is learn how to turn the #(@%! VoiceOver off. If you follow the bulleted directions above, below the heading at the top of the VoiceOver screen you’ll hear a button labeled “VoiceOver on.” Notice that VoiceOver gives you a hint out loud by saying, “Double-tap to toggle setting.” When you hear that, go ahead and Double-tap to turn VoiceOver off.
I reached a big goal over the weekend when, ta-da, I exchanged a series of text messages withmy sister Marilee. I’m OMW. TTYL!