Jessie Lorenz (SF LightHouse) Reports on the New iPhone Accessibility

(Note: Jessie is totally blind. iPhone use for low vision individuals will be soemwhat different.) 

I received my new iPhone last Friday afternoon. I took my new phone to the AT&T store and had it activated. I had to change cellular providers to become an Apple Fan Girl… I asked the man working at the store to turn on the “Voiceover,” screen reader on my phone. Good thing I knew how to direct him- because he had no idea what I was talking about… (smile)

Turning on the screenreader was really easy. Tap Settings, General, Accessability and than turn on Voiceover. Though magnification does not help me, it is worth mentioning here that Voiceover and the magnification program cannot be run concurrently.
The first thing that happened when I got my new phone was pretty cool. I was still in the AT&T store showing off my talking phone to all of the employees at that store. I received a text message. My phone vibrated and the Rio Speak Samantha voice read both the phone number and the text of my new text message out loud. It was very clear and very easy to understand. Samantha is the same voice used on the Victor Reader Stream. Caller ID on the new iPhone works great and unlike Mobile Speak and Talks, it does not stutter. 

The iPhone is a very thin device with one round button on the front, up and down volume buttons on the left side and an on/off/lock button on the top. That is it. four buttons total.

The operation of the phone is  controlled by the touch screen located on the front of the device.

For me, text entry on the phone is challenging. I text message very very slowly using my new iPhone. In addition, editing text on this device is something I have not mastered. This is one area of the phones interface that could use some improvement.

When the phone is powered on, the home screen appears. The home screen is important because from it you navigate to the phones applications and settings. To return to the home screen you press the one and only round button on the phone one time.

The iPhone 3g “Home Screen,” displays the most commonly used applications such as contacts, keypad, maps, mail, iPod, Safari and weather.

To hear the choices on the home screen tap the screen once. To cycle through the list of choices tap the screen. again until you hear the control you want to open. This is very different than traditional screen reading technology. You operate this phone by taps, flicks and turns of your fingers- not by memorizing keystrokes. Here is a page where you can find a description of the gestures:

When you want to activate an item on the iPhone you tap the screen twice in rapid succession.

The coolest parts of the iPhone have nothing to do with making phone calls. The weather, iPod, Maps, Compass and Safari web browser are really neat applications and I have been able to use them all rather easily. Listening to music on the iPhone is easy and fun!

I have had more trouble making calls  on my iPhone than I have accessing these more non-essential functions. That said, those, “non-essential functions,” are a lot of fun!

In order to dial a call you have to activate the keypad icon on the home screen. Tap the screen until you hear it say the numeric digit you want. When you hear the digit announced, don’t lift up your finger. With your finger still held down, tap somewhere else on the screen to confirm that is the digit you wish to dial. Keypad entry for me is still slow going.

The fastest way to call someone is to synch your contacts with your iPhone and than to either dial through the contacts list or using Voice Command. Contacts can be accessed through the home screen.
Voice Command can be accessed from anywhere. To access Voice Command press and hold the round button until you hear a beep.

Sometimes Voice Command works, and sometimes it does not. There is no way around that. Speech recognition just isn’t where I’d like it to be- and this device is no exception. One thing about Voice Command worth noting is that it seems to work better if you do not have the headphones plugged in. In addition, if you know someone’s number it seems to work better if you say a number digit by digit rather than someone’s name.  That said, I am not impressed with the Voice Command.

Mail is pretty neat. You can get the account information from your computer simply by telling iTunes to sink your mail accounts. No more account set-up wizard.

Reading mail is pretty easy–so is reading text messages and web pages. You read by flicking your fingers across the screen. 

Entering information is slow and inefficient for me so far. When I want to write text I turn the phone so that the keyboard appears in landscape view. Like the phone keypad, the quarty keyboard appears on the flat touch screen. You type the same way you dial a number- holding your finger on the letter you want and while holding that letter using another finger to confirm that is the letter you want to appear in the edit field. 
Text entry is slow. Correcting a mistake isn’t something I have been successful at just yet. I do hope I get better at this in time.

Finally, The iPhone has what is called a proximity meter in it. This means that when the phone is near your ear you can hear the speaker and Voiceover in your ear. When you remove the phone from your ear it automatically goes to speaker phone. In addition, Voiceover has a different set of commands when the phone is near your ear verses when it is simply resting in your hand. This is especially important when you want to end a call. To end a call the phone must be in your hand and you must tap the screen twice.

So, in closing, this is the most accessible device I have ever purchased and been able to use out of the box. That said, it feels like I have taken a step backwards from the nimble Windows Mobile phone I used prior to the iPhone. I can do all sorts of cool things- and yet- the two primary reasons I have a phone are really challenging for me, making calls and sending text messages. I believe that there is a learning curve that I have not yet gotten to the other side of. When I get to the promised land I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, any iPhone tips or tricks are welcome!