I’ve always had a bit of a quandry with my mobile phone. I don’t really need to use a screen reader with but struggle just enough to discourage me from using the internet on it. So I’ve never gotten a tarrif that allows heavy internet use – which in a turn also limits my usage!
With an idea to change this I went to the RNIB’s recent Phone Watch event. It was billed as “short overview talks of the different mobile phone choices available for blind and partially sighted users and giving you the chance to get hands on with the latest handsets”.
Since graduating from a normal to a smart phone I’ve always stuck with Windows Mobile operating systems. Considering that parameter, when getting my current model I chose it largely on the screen size and the easy to read ‘TouchWiz’ reskin that Samsung had done to the normal interface. It certainly helped.
But compared to iphone and Anroid devices there are very few useful apps for Windows phones. It is a trend that may or may not start changing with the coming of Windows Mobile 7, plus Nokia’s takeover by Microsoft and hence swtich to Windows 7.
So I thought I’d go to Phone Watch to see what accessibilty features the alternatives have and whether I’d find them useful. This is my write up of my notes.
I arrived late, near the end of talk about apps for iphones. Twitalator and Tweetlist were said to provide large fonts or screenreader access for twitter. Big Names shows contact in large print. iloupe uses the camera to give 8x magnification but doesn’t give the help of the flashlight, which is possible more expensive apps. Generally Apple products are regarded as relatively accessible once out of the box and the feature is switched on.
Personally I don’t want to get caught up in the Apple trap. So I was more interested in the next section about Android phones. First was the news that Android has only had accessibility features appear since version 1.6. Lower end phones can also be sluggish when using them too.
There is 3rd party software called Mobile Accessiblity (requires Android 2.1) which provides a suite of screenreader friendly versions of 10 standard features such as contacts and web browser. Talkback, the built in screenreaders isn’t useful for purely touchscreen devices – it needs a trackball/dpad to move around. Most disappointing for me was learning that there are no means of enlarging or magnifying the text on screen, only apps for specific features. Indeed I was stunned later during the hands-on session to find no font size options at all.
The general feeling seemed to be was that with but limited to the features Mobile Accessibility provides Android might be considered better than the iphone for screanreader users. But for non-screenreader users iphone is currently much superior.
Finally talk turned to Blackberry devices. There is a free theme called Clarity which rearranges the interface to make it large print and high contrast. I was very impressed when I tried this later. There is a numerical screenreader but it is only available in the US. There are hopes that a new one will be coming to Europe soon.
As mentioned the evening ended with a chance to play with the various phones plus and ipad and a Kindle which was really useful. The facilitators were very knowledgeable, answering lots of questions. I’m very grateful for them running the event. For details about future events, the App Of The Month posts and more read the the RNIB’s TechKnowMore blog or follow them on Twitter.
As for me, I’ll stick with what I have for the moment. But when it eventually gets lost/stoken/broken I’ll have a better idea of the variable state of play and where to find out the latest.