There are many degrees of visual impairment ranging from difficulty in reading small characters through to complete blindness.
Most mobile phones incorporate displays providing a range of options for users with visual impairments. In particular, the following features are likely to be of interest:
- Tactile markers to help orient your fingers on the keypad.
- Audible or tactile feedback to confirm a button has been pressed.
- Adjustable font sizes.
- Audible cues for low battery, call waiting or ending a call and volume level.
- Adjustable brightness/contrast controls for the display.
- The size of the main display.
- Backlit display.
The shape of the device may also be something to consider. A sliding or flip phone design may be of interest to make it easier to answer or hang up a call.
Voice recognition is also a very useful feature that can help people with a visual impairment. This allows the user to use voice commands for dialing and accessing features on the phone.
Another feature of potential use is the ability to assign different ring tones to different numbers stored in the phone. Such a feature allows you to allocate a specific ring tone to a family member, so that you will automatically know who is trying to contact you when the phone rings without the need to even look at the display of the phone.
For people with moderate to profound hearing loss, a telephone of any type can be a challenge. Most mobile phones offer a range of features that can certainly make a noticeable difference to those with hearing difficulties, including:
- A range of visual alerts to notify the user of incoming calls/messages.
- Adjustable volume control.
- Display of missed, received or dialed calls through call logs.
- Visual or tactile indicators showing what’s been pressed on the keypad, and visual display of text.
- Text based messaging options.
Two-way video calling is a feature that can allow sign language to be used to communicate. This sort of facility will depend heavily on the network speed and video capabilities of the phone, and users should try to test the phone themselves to determine whether it meets their needs.
Other features that may be of interest include hearing aid compatibility and TTY textphone connectivity for those using such services. As the quality, immunity and customization of hearing aids vary greatly, hearing aid wearers should definitely test different phones before buying to ensure that the particular model of phone is going to work well with your hearing aid. There are also optional accessories from phone manufacturers that are designed to work well with telecoil equipped hearing aids.
For people with limited dexterity, such as those with arthritis, operating the keypad or simply holding the phone may be difficult. For these people, the following features may be of interest:
- Ability to use the phone in hands-free mode.
- Predictive text input that predicts the word and minimizes the number of key presses.
- “Any key” answering which allows the call to be answered by pressing any key.
- Voice recognition for dialing or accessing features within the phone.
- Design where the controls of the phone do not require pinching, twisting or rotation of the wrist.
Consideration may also be given to the shape of the device, with a “candy bar” design being more useful to avoid the extra movements that a phone with a folding or sliding design requires. A flat back on the phone can also be helpful to allow for operation on a table top rather than having to be held.
Optional accessories such as a Bluetooth headset or keyboard can also make life easier by making talking and texting much easier.
Making a mobile device and its features as easy to use as possible is good design sense for everyone. Ensuring menus and instructions are clear and simple to understand, providing simple instructions when something is required from the user, and providing enough time for users to enter the required information are all features that most people will benefit from.
Another particularly useful feature is the ability to associate photos with telephone numbers in the phones memory.
Other features that may be useful include:
- Having a choice between audio, visual or vibrating alerts to let users know when they’re receiving a call or have a message.
- Keys with audio, visual and tactile feedback when pressed.
- Popular functions such as placing a call can be controlled by repeating pre-recorded voice commands.
- Help menus designed to anticipate the information being sought.
- Keypad shortcuts to make every step quick and efficient.
People who have speech-related accessibility needs will tend to rely on the text-based features of phones to help them communicate effectively. The “Find Devices” section of this Web site includes a section outlining which messaging options are available on a given model. These options may include:
- Text Messaging/SMS
- Instant Messaging
- Multi-media Messaging
- Predictive Text
Another feature that may be useful is the ability to personalize a text message so that you can re-use it as many times as you like. “On my way home now” is the sort of personalized message that many people would be able to use and re-use.