iDevices are iOpening for Blind and Visually Impaired

By Sheryl Bass, The Hadley School for the Blind

Hadley School for the Blind LogoIn the eight years since the iPhone was invented, it has delighted social media savvy teenagers and overscheduled business professionals alike with its user-friendly design and its ability to respond to verbal commands with personal assistant, Siri. However, perhaps unexpectedly, the iPhone and other related devices (iPad, iPod touch and Apple Watch) have found a new fan base—people who are blind and visually impaired.

Hadley's Popular iFocus Highlights iAccessibility Features

The iPhone has always provided a universal design with built-in accessibility features at no additional charge. The Hadley School for the Blind, the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind and visually impaired worldwide, has offered free, quarterly blind and low-vision audio seminars on how to use these features for the past three years. Hadley calls this series iFocus.


"I had a colleague tell me that his iPhone made him half as blind," Douglas Walker, Access Technology Instruction Specialist at Hadley said. "Every native app is totally accessible." Walker himself is legally blind, due to Macular Dystrophy. He is also an enthusiastic user of the apps he teaches. "Even the camera app has VoiceOver, which tells me how many faces are in the picture," he said.

Hadley is now poised to present its 11th quarterly audio seminar. Each seminar covers four to six topics and presenters respond to listener questions at the end of each live session. The seminars last up to 90 minutes.

iFocus Instruction Expands to YouTube for People with Low Vision

The first iFocus audio seminar covered four iDevice topics. At the end of the very first seminar, however, survey feedback revealed that attendees sought a video component for each of the four audio topics covered (as only a very small percentage of the legally blind have no vision). One-topic video companions, now offered on YouTube, came one year later. The longest video is approximately one hour and 15 minutes, though most are much shorter. Hadley created 30 videos in its first year on YouTube and the school now offers 50 free instructional videos.


The first and by far the most popular video Hadley offers in the series is on beginning Gestures and VoiceOver. A gesture is any user movement on the face of the device, such as a double tap or flick to the left or right. Currently, the YouTube videos have more than 22,000 views.

Hal Drody had never owned any type of smart phone, so he watched all the videos in the iFocus series for 90 days before purchasing his first iPhone. Drody is visually impaired and now uses his iPhone for reading and composing emails, texting, setting medication reminders and other tasks. "I was ready to take it out of the box and use it. The videos were very thorough," he said.

By the end of 2015, Hadley expects to have a library of 60 instructional iDevice videos for the blind and visually impaired on YouTube. Because YouTube is not always very compatible with computer screen reading software used by many visually impaired consumers, the videos are also now available on the Hadley website.


Leo Bissonnette has listened to all of the iFocus audio seminars and the YouTube videos. As a blind iDevice user with a doctorate in educational technology, he credits the courses for providing him with alternative methods to use the accessible iDevice apps. Bisonnette did not initially use Siri, for example. Instead, he used an external keyboard for appointments and reminders. However, thanks to the iFocus series, he now realizes Siri is useful for these tasks when he is away from his keyboard or his hands aren't free, such as when he is walking with his guide dog. Bissonnette does consulting work for an Apple store and plans to use what he learned about the Apple Watch in the iFocus seminar and video to test that iDevice.

About the author:

Sheryl Bass is the Media and Marketing Specialist at The Hadley School for the Blind. She has more than 10 years of experience as a communications professional, including work in both PR and corporate communications. Bass holds a master's degree in Print Journalism from University of Colorado at Boulder, as well as a master's degree in Social Work from Colorado State University. She received her bachelor's degree from The Florida State University in Psychology. Sheryl and her husband live in the Chicago suburbs.



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