iPhone at ten: How the iPhone changed my life as a blind person

Someone using an iPhone

Ten years ago, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. Our Online Communities Assistant, Kevin Satizabal, blogs about what an impact the iPhone has had on his life as a blind person.

The first time I came across an iPhone was when a good friend of mine showed it to me a couple of days after he had been one of the first to buy the iPhone when it came out in the UK. He couldn’t stop going on about how great it was, how easy it was to use, and how seamless browsing the internet was. Intrigued I took hold and was instantly bitterly disappointed. It was touch screen, and only had one button.

If this was the future I suddenly felt shut out. How was I ever going to interact with a touch screen as a blind person? I smiled politely and handed it over, and quickly put the iPhone out of my mind.

‘I was using a touch screen phone’

I next came across an iPhone in 2011, (a whole two years after the built-in screen reader voice over was added to the iPhone 3GS) when another good friend had told me that she had seen a blind person using it.

She turned on Voice Over and handed it over. I touched an icon and it read out ‘Messages’. I touched another “Voice memos.”

“How do I activate them?” I asked. “Just double tap when you touch the one you want to open.” She answered. I double tapped, and sure enough voice memos opened. I soon learned flicking with one finger to the right or left scrolled up and down the screen retrospectively, and before I knew it I had sent my very first text message on the iPhone. Genius! It wasn’t long before I was a proud owner of an iPhone 4.

‘For the first time I knew exactly where I was’

After browsing the app store to find out what apps could help with my daily routines, I came across a handy app called Ariadne GPS that said it would read out street names and intersections when I was travelling down them.

With mounting excitement I thought I’d try it out. I was living in Birmingham at the time, and I always had to take a bus from the centre to my house. Birmingham didn’t have any talking buses, so I always had to rely on the driver to tell me when to get off. Drivers often forgot, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to end-up miles away from my home without any idea how to get back again.

So, on my next trip home I loaded Ariadne GPS and sat back listening to each street and intersection being read out, open-mouthed. For the first time I knew exactly where I was, and I was 100% sure I was going to get off at the right stop.”

The iPhone today

In the five years I’ve owned an iPhone, I can’t imagine life without it. It has helped me to:

  • Read print documents at work – Apps like KNFB Reader, allow me to take a picture of a print hand-out at a work meeting and the iPhone then reads it out to me.
  • Get out of the house and meet up with friends – The other day when I was meeting a friend, they weren’t sure where I was waiting. So I simply shared my location with them on Whatsapp and two minutes later he found me.
  • Manage my finances – Using Apple Pay and my mobile banking apps allows me to keep track of my finances. Before the iPhone came along, I needed someone to read out my print statements.
  • Do my food shop – accessible apps like Ocado now make online food shopping a breeze.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. As technology continues to innovate, I look forward to what I’ll be able to do with the iPhone if it’s still around ten years from now.

Sign up to our tech sessions

At RSBC we run technology sessions as part of our employability programme. They are lead by Assistive Tech Officer Alex Man who will teach you how to use iPhones and other smart phones to travel independently and in the work place to help you get job ready. RSBC believes in the power of technology and we can’t wait to get you started. If you are 18-25 and vision impaired you can join our programme. Fill in your details below and we’ll be in touch.

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