Mobile Solutions: How to Use a Smartphone as Assistive Tech

Did you know that there are 3.5 billion smartphone users around the world? Around 47 percent of those users say they couldn’t live without their device. 

It makes sense, for many, that their whole world is contained within their smartphone. Your day-to-day schedule, payment methods, calendars, communications, games, and more live on your phone. 

However, one thing many of us don’t think about is using a phone as assistive tech. Yet, for individuals with disabilities, their phones can become their way to navigate the world. 

How have phones evolved to become a tool used by individuals with disabilities? Keep reading to learn what assistive technology you can have on a phone; you might even recognize some functions you use. 

What Is Assistive Technology? 

Before we dive, let’s discuss what assistive technology is. For the purposes of this, we’ll be discussing high-tech assistive technology. 

However, assistive technology doesn’t always need to be what we now define as technology. Assistive technology can include low-tech solutions as well. 

Simply put, assistive technology is anything used to allow an individual with disabilities to perform tasks of daily living. For example, someone struggling with gripping their spoon can add padding to the handle to allow for a better grip. 

That’s a low-tech example. A high-tech example would be a tablet that allows someone who’s nonverbal to communicate with others. 

Assistive Technology and Mobile Phones

Today’s mobile phones are vastly different from what first came out in 1983. The original mobile phone looked like a cordless phone you would have in your home. 

It’s hard to believe that almost 40 years later, so much progress has been made. Millennials have grown up seeing phones change from what Zach used on Saved by the Bell to phones that allow you access to a world of answers with a few taps. 

This evolution has been great for anyone that carries a smartphone. However, it’s been invaluable for people with disabilities. From apps to built-in features on phones, people can now navigate the world more independently due to smartphones. 

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to discuss accessibility features built into phones and apps that can get used as assistive technology. Some of these tools were designed for individuals with disabilities. However, other tools are ones that are commonly used by individuals without disabilities as well. 

Support for the Hearing Impaired

One of the great functions you can find on mobile phones is support for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf. These options are a great way to interact with the world around you and people on your phone.  

Closed Captioned Phones

Closed captions have come a long way over the years. In the early days calling someone who was hard of hearing or deaf required them to have a landline with captioned telephone service. 

Now with the emergence of mobile phones, there are new ways to get your calls and voicemails captioned. Many phones also have multiple options.

For example, Live Caption detects speech on your device, and then it automatically generates captions. However, Live Transcribe transcribes speech as text so you can participate in the conversations around you that aren’t on your device. 

You can also choose your caption preferences, including size and style. Even with this technology, some people still choose landlines with captioned telephone service. 

There are a variety of pros and cons to both options, as discussed by

Sound Detectors

When you’re hard of hearing or deaf, you might not be able to hear the things that other people can. This can be a challenge when you need to be responsive to the needs of others. 

For example, if you’re a parent, how do you know your baby is crying? Or how do you know someone is ringing your doorbell? 

These simple social cues can get lost when you can’t hear them. There are many ways around this, but phones offer another alternative. 

You can set sound detectors on your phone. When it hears that sound, it notifies you. 

Amplify, Adapt, and Hearing Aid Support

You can also change the sound settings on your phone. There is support for individuals who wear hearing aids. 

There is also the ability to amplify sounds around you so you can hear them better. If you have a hard time hearing certain frequencies or are sensitive to certain frequencies, you can use the accessibility settings on your phone to adapt that sound so it’s tuned for your ears. 

Visibility Enhancements

When it comes to visibility enhancements, it goes beyond visual impairments. There are several functions here as well you want to be aware of. 

Change Colors, Fonts, Contrast, Highlights, and More

If you struggle to see certain colors or contrasts, you can change those on your phone. You can also change fonts to make them larger and have higher contrast. This can make it easier to see. 

One of the most frequently used functions by everyone is the zoom function. You can easily zoom into smaller objects on your phone to make it easier to see. 

Change Animations

For some people, animations and bright lights can trigger migraines or even seizures. You have the option to remove some screen effects and movements. 

This can help people who are triggered by these. 

Extra Dim

If you struggle with bright lights, looking at your phone can be a challenge. This is especially true for individuals with migraines. 

The setting for extra dim can be found in your accessibility functions. 


Android phones now come with a function called TalkBack. While you may have gotten in trouble for talking back as a kid, this function is actually really helpful. 

This function is perfect for people who can’t see their phone screen. It gives spoken feedback, so you don’t have to see your screen while using your phone. It has the ability to read text on your screen to you as well. 

Touch Screen Gestures

If you’re looking to quickly access your apps but can’t see them, what do you do? Touch screen gestures help solve this problem. 

It allows you to set up gestures that perform certain functions. For example, swiping in a certain direction might help you get to your home screen. In addition, some phones now have the ability to respond when you move them. 

Android phones would allow you to decline phone calls simply by turning the phone face down. 

Braille Keyboards

Both Android and Apple phones have braille keyboards now. These keyboards allow someone with a visual impairment to use it across all apps. 

The keyboard has different braille dots. These dots allow the person to type out letters or symbols in braille before sending their message. This makes typing on the phone simple and easy for people who use braille. 

Interaction and Dexterity

For individuals with mobility issues, navigating their phones can be a unique challenge. Fortunately, there are settings that can get used to help with this. 

Voice to Text

Voice-to-text is a function that’s used by many. However, it’s also assistive technology. This allows people to type and sends messages even if they can’t use their hands. 

Specialized Menu

Most mobile phones now allow you to set up menus that make accessing frequently used buttons and functions easy. These menus can replace gestures, hard keys, and other common interactions. 

Mouse and Physical Keyboard

Is your phone too responsive? If you’re constantly going into the wrong app, you can set slow keys or bounce keys. 

Slow keys require you to hold the key for a certain amount of time. This prevents accidental key presses. 

Bounce keys help people who sometimes double-tap the key. It requires a certain length of time to pass before it accepts a second touch. 

Voice Control

If you don’t have the ability to navigate your phone with your hands, voice control will help you. Different voice assistants can allow you to open apps and navigate your phone solely by speaking commands. 

Apps Galore

Beyond the normal accessibility options on a phone, there are many apps that make phones even more accessible to individuals with disabilities. If you’re looking for a certain function, it’s worth checking for an app in your appstore. 

Control Your Phone With Movements

Going beyond the programmed functions on your phone, you can download apps that help with controlling your phone. There is even an app that allows people to control their phones entirely through head movements. 

Sign Language Interpretation

 Do you need to learn sign language? Or do you want an app that can translate what you want to say into sign language?

If you find yourself in this situation, there are apps available that can translate for you. You simply type or speak into the app, and it translates for you. 

Apps like Hand Talk use cartoon characters to provide the right translation.

Pull Out Your Camera

Are you struggling to see something across the room? Pull out your phone and turn on your camera. The zoom function on your camera will allow you to read things you previously couldn’t see. 

Identify Objects

If you’re shopping and you can’t see the items on the shelf, it quickly becomes a problem. For this reason, many individuals with visual impairments need extra assistance in the grocery store. 

But did you know that you can use your phone to identify objects? A barcode reader can identify the object and read the ingredients and description out loud. 

Set Timers and Reminders

Timers and reminders are a great function on smartphones. However, what you might not realize is they also qualify as assistive technology. 

Timers and reminders can help someone remember a daily routine, remind them to take medication, tell them when to get ready for work, or remind them of many other things. Timers and reminders can be the difference between someone with a learning disability being able to live independently or not. 

Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. It impacts around 40 million adults. It can be a challenge combatting anxiety, but if you have the correct tools, it helps.

Apps like Headspace provide places where people with anxiety can go to find those tools. This allows people to take real tools with them on the go. 

Whether they need a breathing technique or relaxing music, it’s always at the tip of their fingers. 

Alternative and Augmentative Communication

Alternative and augmentative communication, or AAC, has evolved over the years. There are still forms of this communication that involve cards or boards, but now you can also find apps. 

This type of app helps someone who’s unable to communicate verbally. They can use the app to help them communicate. This makes it easier to navigate the world and join in conversations. 

It can do this through symbols or buttons the person chooses. However, AAC apps can also use text-to-speech. This allows the person to type in what they want to say, then the app speaks it. 

Keep Up With Evolving Assistive Tech

Assistive tech is constantly evolving and will continue to evolve in the coming years. With the many apps and accessibility functions now on mobile phones, it makes life even easier for individuals with disabilities. This opens many doors and allows people with disabilities to have more independence. 

Are you looking to stay on top of current information and tech trends? Keep reading more articles on our blog and stay in the know. 


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