How People with Low Vision Can Access iDevices with iFocus

Focus on iDevices
woman using assistive technology. Harry Williamson/Spring studio

If you are like me, using a smartphone can be challenging with low vision.

So, I am excited to share with you an interview with Douglas Walker, a legally blind instructor at the Hadley School for the Blind. He gives us an inside view to describe a new series called iFocus.

The Hadley School for the Blind is the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind and visually-impaired. They offer a wide range of free audio seminars and videos as well as online, large print and braille courses that can be accessed worldwide.

Welcome Douglas, can you tell us about your role at Hadley?

I am Douglas Walker, Hadley’s Access Technology Instruction Specialist. I am responsible for all aspects of the iFocus Instructional Series. This includes task analysis scripting and video production. I conduct Hadley’s quarterly iFocus Seminar Series and also schedule outside presenters that speak about a wide array of assistive technology topics for Seminars@Hadley.

Can you tell us what is the iFocus series?

The iFocus videos began as companion videos for Hadley’s quarterly iFocus seminars. The Hadley seminars are audio driven and over time, our participants expressed the desire to incorporate a visual component.

Although many of our listeners are legally blind or visually impaired to varying degrees, enough participants have some vision whereby a visual component to the topics discussed could prove helpful. Four topics are covered in each seminar and a video is produced for each of the four topics covered.

The videos are then posted as instructional videos on Hadley’s YouTube channel.

We attempt to keep each video to no longer than 30 minutes. We also attempt to keep the videos current so that they will work with the most recent version of iOS.

What is Hadley’s ongoing interest in the use of iPhones by the blind and visually-impaired?

Hadley began conducting seminars on the Apple’s accessibility features because of an overwhelming number of topic requests from previous seminar surveys as well as requests through Hadley’s feedback form.

Apple is truly committed to Universal Design. Universal Design refers to a device that can be purchased off the shelf and can be used by anyone because the accessibility software is built directly into its operating system.

So, that means that there is no need for a person to have to purchase expensive 3rd party screen reading and magnification software in order to use the device. This is remarkable considering the fact that we still live in a time where it is difficult to purchase an accessible microwave or coffee maker!

Can you tell us a bit more about the iFocus video series

The goal has been for the video topics to cover the accessibility features that are built into the Apple operating system, apps that are native to the iDevice and high profile apps specifically designed for use by individuals with vision loss. Many topics have also been suggested by our Hadley students.

How is the iFocus series being received by the users?

The iFocus series has been very well received with an average of 3,500 views per month on YouTube. This accounts for around 25,000 minutes of viewing each month. The videos have also been accessed by people from 25 different countries worldwide.

That’s great! But are there any technical limitations on the use of Siri? For example in areas with limited WiFi access.

relies heavily upon access to Wifi.

However, Siri will also work even if there is no Wifi connection as long as the device has a cellular connection.

 It is important to know that Siri can be a very useful tool for a person with a visual impairment. However, the accessibility features that are built into Apple’s operating system go far beyond Siri. The iDevice can be totally accessible using the accessibility features without ever using Siri. In other words, Siri is only one facet of how the iDevice can assist a person with a visual impairment.

Glad to hear this. How does a person access the information on the iFocus series?

The iFocus Instructional Series is available 24/7 for free on Hadley’s YouTube Channel and on the Hadley website.

Thanks, Douglas. Is there any further information you would like to add? 

Only that the iFocus Instructional Video Series is designed to meet the unique requirements of the adult learner by providing short, meaningful videos created to teach the basics of Apple’s iOS operating system.

The videos are designed so that the learner can progress at their own pace and choose the videos that are relevant to their individual needs.

Wonderful. Perhaps you can share a testimony from a participant?

Sure. Here are 2 we received at Hadley.

“I am a 71-year-old statutorily blind veteran. My blindness has been a result of open angle glaucoma since 1967 and a CVA in 2004. I had been struggling using my iPhone for nearly 2 years until I was aware of your iFocus Series.

Between your Seminars and YouTube venue, I have learned key navigation on my iPhone and use the essential Apps.  I consider your iFocus series to be equal and in some instances exceeding chair-side training by an instructor. Please keep them coming.”


“I just love your ‘upbeat’ attitude and the way you present the iFocus videos in such a clear and concise way.  It is such a great program and anyone could teach themselves how to do the iPhone with your help!” 

Thank you so much, Douglas, for this interview.

For those who want to access the FREE video series, find details at The Hadley School for the Blind.

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