by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Many of us have had an electronic partner that stays with us almost all the time. It is a smart phone. But many blind people have felt left out in this world of accessible phones, because they lack the interest or the dexterity to use a touchscreen. They want buttons, and they want menus they can hear and use to accomplish some of the tasks that their smart phone buddies using touch screens have. Curtis Chong offers what may be a good solution. His credentials to evaluate and explain technology are well known to readers of the Braille Monitor, so let us go directly into his article:
When we think about accessible smart phones, the Apple iPhone is usually the first thing that comes to mind (apologies to those blind people who have had success with Android-based phones). I do believe that for a lot of us, the iPhone has turned out to be the most nonvisually accessible and usable smart phone that we have ever used. However, I am equally certain that there are blind people out there who would still prefer to have an accessible cell phone with real buttons or (for whatever reason) have not been able to learn to use the iPhone and its touch screen.
Enter BlindShell. BlindShell is manufactured by a company called Matapo s.r.o. in the Czech Republic and sold in the United States by a number of organizations. Based on the audio and YouTube presentations I have been able to find, the BlindShell seems to harken back to those early accessible cell phones that had real buttons, simple menus, and built-in speech.
Samuel Seavey (firstname.lastname@example.org) serves as the BlindShell product representative in the United States. According to Mr. Seavey, "The [BlindShell] phone is unlocked on GSM networks and fully supports 2G, 3G, and 4G." BlindShell is an intuitive and simple cell phone with big, tactile buttons and many features. In addition to making phone calls and sending text messages, you can get the current weather forecast, listen to internet radio, or find out your current location. BlindShell works with AT&T and T-Mobile as well as other GSM networks. It is available in black or red. I have gleaned the following information from a variety of web-based sources.
With voice control, you can give the phone voice commands without having to use the keypad. For example, you can:
You can use Voice Dictation to:
The BlindShell has a physical keyboard with tactile buttons. The spacing between the keys makes it easier to distinguish one key from another.
The BlindShell includes a number of useful applications. With the Email client, you can write and receive emails from your friends and colleagues. With internet radio you can listen to thousands of radio stations from around the world. The weather app will tell you the current weather and forecast for the next three days. The location app can tell you your current GPS location or the nearest address.
If you get into a situation where emergency help is required, you can use the SOS emergency button to reach your designated emergency contact. Pressing the button for at least three seconds will call your emergency contact, which can be set whenever and however you want. Do not worry about triggering this function accidentally; you must confirm the emergency call before it is actually made.
The BlindShell can be configured to hide its more complex features, making it appear to be a simpler cell phone. In this simplified mode, you can only make calls and handle text messages. At any time, the hidden complex features can be made visible through a simple menu change.
I myself have not yet had a chance to use the BlindShell as a working telephone. But I must admit some interest in having, once again, a cell phone which enables me to send text messages and answer calls without having to use both hands. Honestly, I doubt that I will abandon my iPhone, but I am, nevertheless, glad that the BlindShell is available as an alternative to the iPhone. I have worked with quite a few people who I think will be glad to have something like the BlindShell, and I hope that this product stays around for a lot longer than models tend to do in the fast-changing cell phone industry.
Samuel Seavey has put together a comprehensive series of YouTube tutorials about the BlindShell. They can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Mona4Y73hI&list=PLD