We seniors are relying on our smartphones more than ever these days. But sometimes dealing with those tiny photos, tiny keys and tiny little text messages can be frustrating. Fortunately, modern smartphones have a wide range of features that make the phone easier to hear, see and interact with.
Generally referred to as accessibility features, these phone enhancements are often buried deep within the phone’s settings and as a result are often underused. Here are just some of the accessibility features you may not have tried out yet:
Use keyboard shortcuts. This feature allows you to use just a couple of keyboard characters to type out a much longer phrase or sentence. For example, you can tell your phone to type “I’m on my way, see you soon” when you type just three letters, o-m-w. For frequently used sentences and phrases, this is a great time-saver.
Make text larger and easier to see: Your smartphone has settings that allow you to increase text size, to make it bold, and to increase contrast (for better legibility).
Turn your phone into a magnifying glass: Many smartphones have a setting that allow you to use the phone’s camera lens like a magnifying glass — newer models of smartphone include a flashlight that works with the magnifier. Next time you’re in a dark restaurant trying to read a menu with small print, activate your phone’s magnifier and/or flashlight.
Zoom in on your phone’s screen: On most smartphones you can enable a setting that will allow you to magnify the text or items on the screen. This is a different feature from the magnifier we described above – the former magnifies what’s out in front of you, while the latter magnifies (zooms in on) what is actually on your phone’s screen.
Instead of typing, have your phone take dictation: (Dictation on iPhone, Voice Typing on most Android phones) There’s a learning curve for you – and your phone – with this feature, but once mastered it can save you time and make writing emails and text messages much easier.
Have your phone read the screen to you (VoiceOver on iPhone, TalkBack on most Android phones): This feature “speaks” what is on your phone’s screen. With most newer phones you can even fine-tune this feature so that it will speak only what you tap on, or read the whole screen to you. You can also vary the speed, pitch and even the accent of the “speaker.”
Try out color adjustments: If it’s easier for you to read white text on a black screen, try the Invert Colors setting on your iPhone (or Inverted Rendering on an Android phone). Additional color filtering options can often be found within the phone’s accessibility settings.
Use closed captions when available: Though not all apps and websites offer closed captioning, you can set your phone to use this feature when it is available, even while watching some videos.
Change how your phone responds to your touch: Most phones have various settings where you can customize how the phone responds to the gestures you use to operate it – for example, the speed with which you button-press, the pressure you apply when tapping or pressing on the screen, and the length of time you must touch the screen before the touch is recognized by your phone. Some phones can even be set to ignore a repeat touch, should you accidentally double-tap the screen. You may also be able to create your own gestures and teach your phone to respond to them.
As amazing as these features are, they are just a small subset of all the helpful options available on today’s smartphones. Go on and explore your phone’s accessibility settings. Try them out even if you’re not sure what they do. You can always turn them back off if you don’t like or don’t need to use them.
We don’t have to let vision, hearing or even manual dexterity limitations prevent us from using our phones with ease. If you’re interested in trying out your phone’s accessibility features but are not sure how, ask a knowledgeable and trusted person to help you out. It’s worth it.
And don’t forget to make friends with Siri, the iPhone’s artificial intelligence feature (Bixby on Android phones). With the press of a button (or in some cases, just saying “Hey Siri”) you can use your voice to tell Siri to make a call, get directions, set an alarm, send a text message, write a note, open an app, and find a great quiche recipe for your Mother’s Day brunch. Really, she’ll find you a quiche recipe – try it, you’ll like it!