Mobile phones have become a necessity for everyone. They are no longer just a device to make calls and send text messages. Today, mobile phones can perform a variety of tasks such as navigating, entertainment, connecting with friends and family, and much more. However, people with disabilities such as visual impairment often face challenges when using mobile phones. Fortunately, there are free cell phones available for the blind and visually impaired that are designed to help them navigate through the digital world.
In this article, we will discuss free cell phones for the blind and visually impaired, their features, and how to apply for them.
What Are Free Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Free cell phones for the blind and visually impaired are mobile phones designed specifically to assist people with visual impairments. They have features that make it easier for people with visual impairments to use them. Some of these features include:
- Screen Readers: Screen readers are software that reads out the text on the screen aloud. This feature enables visually impaired users to read text messages, emails, and web content. A screen reader works by using a synthetic voice that reads out the text. This feature is also called text-to-speech.
- Voice Recognition: Voice recognition is a feature that allows the user to operate the phone using their voice. This feature is especially useful for people with visual impairments who may have difficulty operating the phone using the touch screen. With voice recognition, the user can make calls, send text messages (speech-to-text), and access various apps by giving voice commands. Android phones tend to use the Voice Access app to help the user control the device with spoken commands, and Apple phones use Voice Control.
- High Contrast Screen: The high contrast screen is a feature that allows visually impaired users to see the text and images on the screen more clearly. It does this by making the text and images more distinct from the background.
- Braille Display: A braille display is a hardware device that displays the text on the screen in braille. It allows the visually impaired user to read the text using their fingers. This feature is especially useful for people who are blind and cannot read text using a screen reader.
- Large Display, Buttons, and Text: People with visual impairments would also appreciate a phone with a large screen, big tactile buttons, and large text and icons way more than a device where they must strain their eyes in order to see anything.
- Emergency Button: Blind and visually impaired people would also likely appreciate having a dedicated emergency button, which enables them to call for help in case of an emergency with minimal effort, instead of having to unlock the screen and dial the number. After all, in case of an emergency, every second counts!
- GPS Tracking: In case a blind or visually impaired person gets lost, it’s also a good idea for the phone to have GPS tracking. This way, the person’s loved ones can always find the person even if the person doesn’t know exactly where they are.
- Long Battery Life: Finally, a person with any type of disability should have as few obstacles as possible. Having a phone that is constantly low on power is definitely an obstacle, especially if the person is not in a place where they can charge the device. As such, it’s best to opt for a phone with long battery life.
How to Get Free Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired
There are different ways to receive a free cell phone for the blind and visually impaired.
- One of the most common ways is through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Lifeline Program.
- Another way is through the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), also known as iCanConnect.
- You can also apply through a charity or non-profit organization that provides phones for the blind and visually impaired.
- Lastly, you can check out promotional deals from carriers and retailers.
Let’s dive deeper into those options in the following sections.
How to Get Free Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired Through Lifeline
The Lifeline Program is a federal program that provides discounted or free phone and internet services to low-income families and individuals. The program is funded by the Universal Service Fund (USF), which is administered by the FCC.
To qualify for the Lifeline Program, you must be a low-income household or an individual who meets certain eligibility criteria. The eligibility criteria include:
- Being enrolled in a government assistance program such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), or Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit.
- Having a household income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
- Participating in one of the tribal-specific programs.
Additionally, the applicant must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor and the only applicant in a household (exceptions apply).
Once you have determined that you are eligible for the Lifeline Program and made sure that you can prove your eligibility with valid official documents that contain all the vital details (your name, income, program participation, etc.), you can apply for a free cell phone by following these steps:
- Step 1: Choose a Lifeline Service Provider: To apply for a free cell phone, you need to choose a Lifeline Service Provider. There are many Lifeline Service Providers available in all states, and you can choose one that meets your needs. However, the company must operate in your area. You can find a list of all Lifeline providers in your state at cnm.universalservice.org.
- Step 2: Fill Out the Application Form: Once you have chosen a Lifeline Service Provider, you need to fill out an application form. The application form will require you to provide information about yourself, such as your name, address, and eligibility.
You may also need to apply through the National Verifier at nv.fcc.gov/lifeline or via mail.
People with print disabilities may request braille, large print, or screen-reader friendly versions of the application via the email form at [email protected]. To get assistance with your Lifeline application, contact the Lifeline Support Center at lifelinesupport.org or call 800-234-9473.
How to Get Free Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired Through NDBEDP
The iCanConnect program, also known as the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), is designed to offer low-income individuals with significant hearing and vision loss access to telecommunication equipment to help them communicate effectively. The program serves eligible residents of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition to devices, assessments of specific accessibility needs, equipment installation, training, and other technical support are also available.
Prior to applying, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the program’s eligibility criteria and requirements. To contact your local NDBEDP office, go to icanconnect.org/how-to-apply/#contactmystate and select your state of residence to obtain the relevant contact information or download the application from the provided application resources.
After completing the application, send it to your local NDBEDP office by mail or email for consideration. If your application is approved, you’ll be given a free phone. If you have any questions regarding the iCanConnect program, you can visit iCanConnect.org or call 1-800-825-4595.
How to Get Free Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired Through a Charity or Non-Profit
Another way for blind and visually impaired people to obtain free cell phones is through nonprofit organizations that specialize in providing assistive technology to people with disabilities. These organizations may offer free or low-cost cell phones and other devices that are specifically designed to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired users.
Some nonprofit organizations also provide training and support to help blind and visually impaired people learn how to use their cell phones and other devices effectively. This can include assistance with setting up and using features like voice recognition, screen readers, and other accessibility tools.
Organizations that offer such devices and services include:
- Perkins School for the Blind (perkins.org)
- Light House for the Blind and Visually Impaired (lighthouse-sf.org)
- American Foundation for the Blind (afb.org)
Charities that also provide free phones for those who are unable to afford them include:
- Mobile Giving Foundation
- Charity Mobile
- Cell Phones for Soldiers
- SecondWave Recycling
To get a free cell phone from such an organization, you must contact it, ask about its eligibility criteria, and then follow its instructions on how to apply.
How to Get Free Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired Through a Promotional Deal
In addition to these options, some cell phone carriers may also offer free or discounted phones and services to blind and visually impaired customers. These offers may be available through special programs or promotions and may require documentation of disability and/or income eligibility.
Numerous carriers and retailers offer promotional deals on free or discounted phones. However, these offers come with some special conditions and requirements. For instance, you may need to switch to the carrier’s services, add a line, purchase a select plan, trade in an old device in good working condition, or buy another device at full price. Moreover, these deals are usually designed for the general public instead of people with special needs that require special devices.
Nevertheless, there are some carriers that offer wireless accessibility features for the blind and visually impaired. For example:
- AT&T offers accessibility features, such as text-to-speech, speak passwords, voice control features, screen readers, and text customization features. Find out more and get the assistance that you need at about.att.com/sites/accessibility/vision.
- T-Mobile offers accessibility support for people with special needs. To find out more, you can call the company’s Accessibility customer care at 1-833-428-1785 or visit t-mobile.com/responsibility/consumer-info/accessibility-policy.
- Verizon offers multiple accessibility products and services for people with visual and other types of impairments. You can learn more at verizon.com/about/accessibility/visual-assistance or by calling Accessibility customer support at 1-888-262-1999.