17.05.2012

Smartphones "a big help" to the visually impaired

Smartphones "a big help" to the visually impaired

By Alexa Kaczka

In the last few years, mobile phones have gone from being simple devices used to make and receive calls to amazing pieces of technology that can perform a wide variety of tasks.

As well as being used for entertainment purposes, they can also help to make people's lives easier, as has been evidenced by certain apps that can assist blind and visually impaired people in their daily routines.

However, despite the fact that iPhones and other smartphones can be a huge help to the visually impaired, few vision doctors are recommending them to patients, a new study has found.

The report, which co-authored by a Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine ophthalmologist Dr. Walter M. Jay, involved surveying 46 low-vision adults from The Chicago Lighthouse and the Spectrios Institute for Low Vision in Wheaton, Illinois, whose best-corrected vision ranged from 20/70 to complete blindness.

Researchers found that only 15 per cent of patients reported that a vision doctor had recommended smartphones for the devices’ accessibility features.

Overall, 11 of the 46 patients used smartphones, with their average age being 36, while 30 patients used basic mobile phones, with their average age being 67, and five patients did not own a mobile phone.

"Young, visually impaired patients are getting ahead of their doctors. Low-vision specialists should be getting out in front on this rather than being behind the curve," Dr Jay explained.

Some of the accessibility features that smartphones offer to the visually impaired include font sizes that can be increased to as large as 56 pt, which enable users with very poor vision to text and email.

In addition, the screen can be brightened considerably and GPS and voice features help the visually impaired to navigate.

"Smartphones can dramatically improve the quality of life of people with poor vision,” Dr Jay concluded.

by Emily Tait


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