Best way to use your smartphone with visual impairment

We have prepared a list of three things to consider while making your keyboard choice. Are you stuck between using the dictation function, QWERTY keyboard, and still unsatisfied with the current solution? Or are you a regular braille user, but find it hard to use it with your smartphone? We tested 6 ways to use a smartphone — Dictation function, virtual on-screen input, wireless keyboard, braille virtual screen, braille keyboard, and Hable One controller. Do you find yourself struggling to find the right solution? We will give you all the handles you need to find out which keyboard suits your needs best! We do this based on the following three factors:

  1. Mobility solution: Smartphone inbuilt options verses extra keyboard

Three of the solutions that are considered are built-in functions in your phone: dictation and the virtual Braille and Qwerty keyboards. As you can imagine, these functions are very portable. You don’t need to bring extra accessories and your phone can fit in your pocket. Dictation can however give problems in crowded areas, as it picks up too much ambient noise, defying the mobility purpose of the smartphone. The Hable One keyboard is an extra accessory that you have to bring with you but still fits into your pocket. The physical braille and qwerty keyboards are the least portable. The accessories require a bag. Moreover, you require a desk or stand to place the keyboard on.

2. Make sure you are able to use the keyboard fully

In different situations, you will likely use different solutions. But how easy is it to use and learn every solution? Dictation can for example be very fast compared to typing, but also makes a lot of mistakes. This mainly has to do with the fact that the dictation function can not interpret the context of your message. If you have to correct all the errors, it may still take a lot of time to type a message. As with most things; it takes time to learn. And so is the case with the dictation function, although different than you might expect. Most dictation functions are self-learning and thus become better at actually understanding you over time. When you are typing yourself, you don’t have to worry about interpretation. However, this does not guarantee fewer errors. For example, the virtual Qwerty keyboard is a solution with which you can type everything you want. The possibilities are endless: from letters to punctuation marks and emoji. This also makes it complicated at the same time. The buttons are very small and therefore more error-prone. The physical Qwerty keyboard has bigger buttons and is maybe easier to use if you have problems with the virtual one. It is however hard to learn typing with the physical keyboard.

So far the solutions that do not require Braille knowledge. The virtual braille keyboard and the Hable One are based on the same principle: six braille dots that can be combined to make letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. It is up to you if you prefer tactile keys or not. Research suggests that tactile keys improve speed and reduce errors, although this is also very personal. The physical braille keyboard also uses multiple dot combinations to make letters and punctuation marks. The positioning of the fingers is however different and more dots are used to make the combinations. While the virtual braille keyboard and Hable One can be used while traveling, the physical keyboards do require a surface to be laid on before you are able to type.

3. Make sure it solves your purpose of using a smartphone

Eventually, it is also important what your typing goal is. Do you want to write a fast reply on WhatsApp or are you typing a long Facebook message? We noticed that dictation can come in very handy, especially when you haven’t mastered the braille options yet. It does however have its flaws as well. As mentioned earlier, dictation finds it hard to understand you in crowded areas and also stops after 30 seconds. Therefore, the dictation function could be a good starting option for you. But at the same time, try to master one of the other solutions. The physical qwerty keyboard is mostly used by people that already used it before their visual impairment, as it is quite hard to learn. Moreover, using the physical keyboard for short messages is not efficient, nor preferred. Therefore, this keyboard is mainly used for longer messages. The virtual Qwerty keyboard is seen as the last option, as it is so error-prone and hard to use. Of course, you always have this typing solution with you on your phone. This can make it easy to use for short messages sometimes. It does however not substitute a more general solution.

The three braille options seem to be more durable solutions. Once the braille combinations are learned, it can be used for long and short messages. The virtual braille keyboard and the Hable One are generally used more often for shorter messages, but can also be used for longer texts. Depending on your choice of tactile keys, these solutions can help you both indoors and when traveling. The physical braille keyboard is mostly used indoors for longer usage and/or professional messages.

End

Often, the solution that fits you most has to do with a combination of all three points (and probably even more!). If you just want to use your solution for a quick text on the go, you will prefer something different than when you want to type a long email. That is why it is good to explore your options. At Hable we will always use our expertise to help you to the best of our ability. Do not hesitate to ask us all the questions you have!

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