By Hannah Fairbairn, Author of When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes
Editor’s note: A version of this post appears on Hannah’s blog and is published on VisionAware. Links to Hannah Fairbairn’s book, When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes, and the webinar she did for VisionAware are at the end of this post. She hopes this post will be helpful in choosing gifts for the holidays and other occasions.
Why Cellphones Are Critical
A cellphone with a keypad as well as a screen, speech that reads the display, and voice commands to make calls, is a combination that seniors with vision loss might really like. Unfortunately, there are only a few options, and it all comes down to what your carrier offers.
It’s critical everyone with a visual impairment has a cellphone to easily make calls outside their home. That phone should also work if the power is off, as more users are switching their land lines to cell or internet phone service.
Doug Rose, my go-to expert on accessible devices, has contributed much to this post. He points out the considerations for anyone choosing a phone with some speech, “There’s the user’s ability, their budget, the carrier they use, and the changing models on the market.” Vision rehab professionals also highlight the importance of speech volume and clarity, button-prominence, and ease of use.
Available Accessible Models
Accessible keypad phones are not true smartphones but have some of the same features. They do not have mobility apps such as Google Maps and BlindSquare. But they may have an S O S feature that allows emergency services to find one’s location.
Kyocera Dura XV Extreme
The Kyocera Dura XV Extreme is a flip phone and has this feature. It is the newest of the accessible cellphones and available on Verizon, which is good, since historically Verizon only had the Jitterbug (see below). This phone may also work with other carriers.
PC Mag reviewed it favorably saying, “This super-tough, very traditional flip phone offers only the basics, but it does them well. It’s not cheap, but it will keep you connected for years…It has readout and short voice command features, also weather, flashlight, Wi-Fi, blue tooth and an ear bud connection.” A Verizon store manager told me they had instructions not to open the box or have it on display live. So, I couldn’t check the buttons or speech clarity.
Trish from Sacramento reviewed this phone in the August edition of Newsreel Audio Magazine. She was particularly pleased with the Kyocera resetting itself after she shuts it down if she gets lost in the menus. This is an important feature that only a blind user would spot.
Kyocera’s tech support phone: (800) 349-4478
Price: $240 and a monthly payment plan from Verizon.
Downside: Sending a voice text message is a 3-step process—a real drawback in this time of texting.
BlindShell Classic Lite and BlindShell Classic
The BlindShell Classic Lite was reviewed in AFB’s February 2021 AccessWorld, by Steve Kelley, CATIS, a respected vision rehab therapist, AFB AccessWorld reviewer and peer advisor for VisionAware. Steve said, “Like its older sibling, the BlindShell Classic, the BlindShell Lite is a candy-bar style phone with the display and touch pad on one side of a straight, non-folding phone… The keys and tactile dialing pad are large, well-spaced, and have large, high-contrast print.”
Price: The BlindShell Classic has WI-FI, text dictation and costs $299. The new BlindShell Classic 2 contains additional features and costs $489. Check out Steve’s review of the BlindShell Classic.
Downside: It does not have WI-FI or text dictation. The BlindShell Lite may be a phone for people who are good at phone navigation. The volume of the speaker may be low for people with hearing impairment.
MiniVision 2 from RAZ Mobility
Reviewed in AFB AccessWorld, August 2021 by Steve Kelley,
“Maybe the smartphone is really the mobile phone that’s easy to learn, has buttons you can feel, and a spoken menu from the moment you turn the phone on…With a couple handy applications like a voice recorder, sending a text with voice dictation, or making a shopping list…” This is another candy bar phone and preferred by Jack Mitchell (a vision rehab therapist in North Carolina), for its ease of use for simple voice calls and good volume.
The volume of the speaker, ringer and voice can be set separately. There is a trainer to help customers with the set-up.
It is an unlocked 4G phone, available on AT&T, T-Mobile, and some smaller carriers.
Raz Mobility Phone: 1-800-729-0083
Price: $309. The phone must be purchased from Razmobility.
Downside: After February, 2022 the current MiniVision 2 will no longer work on A T&T. As with other cellphones A recertified version will have to be purchased
Jitterbug Flip 2 (Jitterbug3 is a smartphone)
The Jitterbug Flip 2 is a phone that is marketed to seniors. The new models come with Amazon Alexa installed, but the phone is not otherwise accessible. The buttons are small, and have slightly embossed numbers, which makes finding the two little bumps on the five more difficult. The Jitterbug Flip 2 has a loudspeaker. This phone might work well for seniors with useful vision. Individuals can go through the “Lively” Alexa skill and use their voice to ask for a call or dictate a text. According to the Lively Website, Lively (which superseded Great Call), offers services such as urgent care, personal operator, transportation arrangement, and fall prevention, some services are provided for an additional fee.
Lively Phone: 1-800-650-5918
Price: $100. The phone can be purchased on the Lively website or through retailers such as Walgreens.
Downside: limited accessibility features
Alcatel Go Flip
The Alcatel Go Flip, is recommended by Steve Kelley. The phone is relatively accessible and inexpensive. It works on GSM Networks, the ones T-Mobile and AT&T use, and other networks as discussed in this PC Magazine review.
Price: Hard to find brand new, refurbished $80, also available as a prepaid phone.
Downside: Hard to find brand new
Downside for any phones using older 4G and 3G technology:
After February 2022, many networks are switching to 5G, and older 4G cell phones may have challenges accessing networks until updating to 5G. In addition, 3G technology will cease to be available
Smartphones are all-screen wonders! Learning techniques for using one with vision loss could be fun and interesting, or just too much! The touch gestures may be a trial for those with shaky or painful fingers. “Hey Siri” and “Ok Google” on smartphones are helpful, but they can’t do it all. So, for some blind or low vision people, an accessible phone with a keypad may be a better choice.
As Steve says in his review of my post, “I really like the way Hannah put this together. It will be a link I’ll forward to other vision rehabilitation therapists, so they have some reference. It’s an easy read and covers the basics.”
AccessWorld Issue on Aging & Low Vision | OIB-TAC–information about the BlindShell phone