A great deal is often made about “User Interface” in the tech world, but to date, much of that discussion is focused on how things look. All well and good, except if you’re blind or visually impaired. (Note that “Blind” is a medical term that encompasses severe visual impairment with some remaining vision)
With some 285 million visually-impaired smartphone users worldwide – 39 million of whom are completely blind – finding a simple, effective way enabling them to use their devices to almost full potential is important.
Enter BlindShell, an application providing access to the Android system using simple touch gestures.
There are certainly old, clunky mobile phones that cater to the blind, but few things that turn your existing Android phone into an easy to use device for the visually impaired. For example, VoiceOver on the iPhone, or TalkBack on Android often get criticized for being overly complicated. Third party apps, too, have tended to be both too user unfriendly and/or costly.
BlindShell runs on Android as a launcher app to replace the regular user interface with a new, minimalistic one. The BlindShell menu consists of all the basic but necessary apps, such as calling, messages, contacts, alarm, notes, color recognition, settings, favorites, state information and information about missed events. There is also a voice recorder, and if the user uploads txt or txd formats to the phone, these can be read by book reader.
The application is controlled by six simple touch gestures, which can be performed anywhere on the screen. A short touch on the left or right side of the screen moves between menu options, a long touch confirms a choice, a short touch with two fingers to stop the screen reader and have it repeat the information, or to give information about an incoming call.
A long touch with two fingers moves a user back to the previous screen, and a quick one finger swipe up from the bottom of the screen to the top opens the State Information application. The sixth gesture involves holding one finger on the screen and tapping the other finger N times, anywhere on the screen. The item that is in Nth place in the list is chosen. This is most useful for writing an SMS or a note with the built-in keyboard.
Everything that happens on the screen, of course, is read by a Text To Speech synthetic voice and there is also vibration and sound feedback.
The Czech startup claims that even users inexperienced with touch screens find they are able to learn how to control BlindShell within a few minutes.
The application can be downloaded on the Play store, with a 15 day free trial, or the unlocked version for $5.