Are You Afraid to Take Up New Smart Phone and Other iDevices?

Updated 9/7/2022

Like many of you who still use those good old flip phones for your communication needs, I also resisted giving up my flip phone until one day when I accidentally took it swimming with me. It fell into salt water and had a massive seizure. My little flip phone was dead. So my daughter insisted that I get my first smart phone.

Learning About My First Smart Phone

When I got it, it did take me some time to get used to swiping tapping, flicking, and touching a smooth screen but I finally got the hang of it. I use the Siri feature all of the time now. She can do almost everything except drive me around and cook a meal. (smile)

Maribel holding 'old faithful' to her ear and holding smartphone in her hand

Seriously, the big problem in learning to use a smart phone is in having to rely on sighted information about how the home screen is laid out and developing a good mental map of where everything is located. Sighted help from family and friends can be very frustrating because they often tell you to put your finger in the middle of the screen or to the left or in some other direction to locate what they are trying to point out to you. And all you will hear is strange bleep, bleep, bleep noises that are telling you that your finger has not found anything yet.

Basic Concepts to Learn

There are some very basic concepts that everyone who is blind or visually impaired should know when using most Apple iDevices. The great news is that if you can learn to navigate around on one of your devices such as an iPad, you will find that you can also use your same skills for navigating a smart phone or iPod touch.

Importance of Having a Point of Reference

One basic problem encountered by new users who are visually impaired is that there is no point of reference or simple description of the flat screen. In other words, if you don’t know where you are, you cannot get to where you want to go or do what you want to do.

Since I am blind with no usable vision, it is very important for me to know where I am and what I am doing in relation to a task. Like most reluctant individuals, I initially felt that the learning curve was too difficult. I was so comfortable with a raised keypad that required no effort on my part for interaction other than muscle memory. And now the new challenge was going to be one that did not afford me the ability of using tactile strategies. I was going to have to rely on VoiceOver and some sort of strategy for knowing where some reliable landmarks could be found.

With a little practice, and one single gesture, I discovered there are actually some common landmarks that can be learned and used as easily as I had used my flip phone’s keypad. Once I learned to predict where certain buttons would be located as well as where tabs could be typically found, it became easy to navigate with confidence and a great deal of speed. Here are a few pointers for finding landmarks that can help you get started using your iDevice with confidence. You will only need to use one gesture in order to get started.

Pointers for Finding Common Landmarks

  • If you hold your smart phone, etc., in front of you with the home button directed toward your chest, you are in the correct position to begin exploring the screen.
  • You can also use the Volume Up and Down buttons and Mute switch on the left side as a reference point to having the phone in the proper orientation
  • The first landmark that you need to locate is known as the status bar. It is located at the top of the screen and goes from left to right across the top. The status bar provides you with network information, the time, the battery level, and tells you if your screen is locked in position. This landmark is always present no matter what app you are using. You can touch this area of your screen at any time in order to hear the status of all of the items listed in the status bar.
  • Just below the status bar, you will find a large area dedicated to your apps. They are positioned within a grid layout with at least four apps in each row and at least four columns down. There can be additional rows or columns of apps depending on the number of apps you have installed on your device and if you are using an iPad which has a larger screen area for more apps. The concept here is to give yourself a mental image of a grid with icons (apps) located within each square.

Moving Around and Hearing Everything on the Screen

  • This is where you’re going to use one finger and learn to navigate around. Because you are learning where everything is located, you are going to use the same strategy for looking at and within all of your apps. You now know where the status bar is located so you are going to use one finger and touch toward the top of your screen just below the status bar. Be sure and start at the left so that you can hear the first item listed.
  • You will swipe from left to right as if you are underlining each app as you come to it. If you want to go backwards, then swipe from the right to the left. You can move as slowly or quickly as you like in order to move through and listen to the names of the apps listed on your device. When you come to the app that you want to open, VoiceOver will have spoken the name of the app and you can then use your finger to quickly tap two times in order to open it.

Landmarks in an App

  • Once you have opened an app, there are once again some predictable landmarks that you should be able to locate. There will usually be a back button in the upper left corner of the app that can help you navigate within the app when you encounter multiple pages. Remembering that your initial goal is to see (hear) what is on the screen, you will again position your finger so that you can start in the upper left hand corner below the status bar and begin to swipe to the right in order to give yourself a mental map of what is on the page.
  • As you open and explore different apps, you will also begin to notice that you will find an “edit or search” box at the top of the page. This edit field can be used as a landmark for you since many apps do provide some sort of feature for searching or editing text that can be placed into this box. After you are comfortable moving around within your apps, you can then begin to learn how to access these particular items. For now though, you can use a “search edit” box to help you know that you are probably located near the top of the screen. You will also notice that an edit button or done button can be used as a landmark because they are typically found in the upper right hand corner of an app just below the status bar.
  • Remember that the key to locating these landmarks is to explore the entire page first with your single finger swipe to the right or left in order to give yourself a mental map of what is on the page and where things are located.
  • The final landmark that is very helpful while exploring apps, is known as tabs. These are typically located at the bottom of the screen just above the home button. If you are using your single finger swipe to the right or left and hear the names of the tabs, you are most likely near the bottom of the screen. Tabs have the ability to change the contents of the entire screen when you select one of them. Let’s say that you open the app store icon and want to search for a new app from the app store. If you touch at the bottom of the screen and swipe right, you will hear the names of the tabs: “Featured tab 1 of 5,” “Top charts tab 2 of 5,” “Explore tab 3 of 5,” “Search tab 4 of 5,” and “Updates tab 5 of 5”. When you decide what you want to do, just select the tab after VoiceOver speaks it aloud, and then use your single finger double tap to bring focus to that tab. When your newly selected tab opens onto the screen, again you will start from the upper left hand corner exploring the page.

Importance of a Working Mental Map

Once you have a working mental map of where everything is located. You will be amazed at how quickly you will be able to locate your landmarks. As you begin to develop your own mental map of how your device is laid out, you can quickly learn other strategies for moving from one page (screen) to another. You will find that you can build on your basic knowledge and begin to move around with more powerful gestures such as using a two finger swipe up from the bottom of the screen to read the entire page.

Start with Baby Steps

for now, just take the baby steps and try exploring with a one finger swipe to the right or left for your first explorations. If you get stuck at any point and want to back out of your exploration, you can always press the home button one time to get back to your home screen. When you feel comfortable with the landmarks that you have located, you can then explore some of the many helpful web sites that offer additional resources and instructions.

Other Resources for Learning

An excellent resource for learning is provided by the Hadley School for the Blind. They present a series of workshops in their low vision feature series.

Also check out AppleVis,  a leading online resource for blind and low vision users of Apple products such as the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV