15 Ways To Use A Smartphone As Assistive Technology

With the advancement of smartphone apps and accessibility settings, the assistive technology solution you need might already be in your pocket.

If you’ve been around long enough, you may remember assistive technology devices like picture communication boards and CCTV magnifiers. These devices are powerful tools to help individuals with disabilities communicate, participate more fully in their community, and even expand their opportunities for employment. 


Today, many types of assistive technology have evolved from being a separate device to being integrated into smartphones and tablets. Apps turn iPads into picture boards, while the phone in your pocket can act as a handheld portable magnifier.  


Using smartphones and tablets as assistive technology can help disability support professionals (DSPs) serve more effectively, while empowering individuals with disabilities to be more independent and decrease their need for support. Not only that, but smartphone-based assistive technology is a convenient and cost-effective solution since it can combine multiple devices into one. Below are 15 ways to use a  smartphone as assistive tech:  

1. Get live captions of conversations

(This is actually three tips in one!) 


Live Transcribe is your go-to feature to make everyday conversations and sounds more accessible. This feature automatically transcribes speech in real-time using your device’s microphone, but you can do so much more with this feature than just generate captions.  


For one, you can type a response instead of speaking. You can also save the transcript for later, which is helpful if you need to review information from a class or doctor’s appointment. Live Transcribe is built-in on most Android devices, but you can also download the Live Transcribe app for free in the Apple store.  


Another similar feature is Live Caption, which captions anything that has audio such as videos, podcasts, and phone calls. This feature comes standard on newer Androids, and will be available later this year for Apple devices.  

2. Translate sign language

Let’s say you use sign language but need to communicate with family members, friends, and coworkers who don’t. Or, you’re a DSP whose client relies on sign language but you only know a few basic phrases. In that case, a sign language translator app like Hand Talk can be a helpful communication resource. The app works like a digital interpreter to convert text and audio into sign language, and is available for free on both iPhone and Android. 

3. Expand communication with AAC apps

As we mentioned before, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices like picture boards can be helpful communication tools. However, they are also notoriously clunky. The good news is that there are a number of communication apps available that work like traditional AAC devices, but on a smartphone or tablet. These apps empower individuals to do anything from ordering off a menu to sharing medical information without having to lug around an extra device. 

4. Turn on voice control features

One of the most valuable (yet underused) smartphone accessibility features is voice control. Voice control, also known as voice access on Android devices, lets you control your device with spoken commands. You can tap, swipe, scroll, type and otherwise navigate your device using only your voice. 

5. Make your phone’s touchscreen more accessible

If you want to make it easier to type, navigate your device, or read your screen, there’s an app for that. The free eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY app includes assistive technology features like hands-free mode, as well as the ability to control your device with a switch or voice commands. The app is free for Android, and an iPhone version of the app is currently in development.  

6. Control your device with head movements

For hands-free access to your device, there’s also Sesame Enable — a free app that uses your device’s camera to control your smartphone or tablet using head movements. The app, which is available on Android and Windows devices, was founded by a person with quadriplegia.

7. Invert colors on the screen

Some people find that viewing text and images on a dark background reduces eye strain and allows them to see more easily on their device’s screen. Both iPhone/iPad and Android devices come with the option to invert colors on your phone or tablet’s display. There are also many other accessibility options, such as increasing contrast and text size, that can help make screens easier to read.

8. Use your phone’s camera as a magnifier

Another helpful feature is the ability to use your iPhone or iPad camera as a magnifier. This allows you to quickly magnify objects or enlarge text without having to carry around any special equipment. For example, you can quickly zoom in on a written assignment at school or take a look at an object across the room. 

9. Identify objects with the barcode scanner

You may already know that your smartphone’s camera can be used as a barcode scanner. However, what you might not realize is that this feature can be used to help identify items while working or shopping.  


For example, the Digit-Eyes iPhone app scans codes found on product labels in stores and reads users the name, description, and ingredients aloud. Users can also print their own labels for everyday household items and even clothing.  

10. Use your phone’s screen reader to read printed text aloud

Ever want text read to you? Today, most mobile phones come with built-in screen readers that convert text to speech. This feature is known as VoiceOver on Apple devices, or TalkBack on Android. Once VoiceOver or TalkBack is turned on, the user can tap on the screen to hear text, image alt-text, and screen navigation elements read aloud.  


You can also take things a step further and use your phone’s camera, along with the screen reader, to read printed text aloud. First, you’ll need to scan the text with your camera. Then, use VoiceOver orTalkBack to convert the text to speech. While this does require multiple steps, it can be a useful tool for reading written instructions, recipes, and directions. 

11. Turn speech into text

Many people are familiar with their phone’s built-in speech-to-text feature, but you might not think of it as an assistive tech tool. However, speech-to-text is a great alternative to writing or typing. This feature can be used to dictate almost anything, from text messages to friends and family members to taking notes at school or work.

12. Record voice notes and memos

Many people find it helpful to record meetings or lectures and listen to them again later. Rather than carry around a separate recorder, both Apple and Android devices come with built-in recording apps that use your phone’s microphone to capture sound. These apps can also be used as a personal note-taking device to record voice memos and reminders.  

13. Set timers and reminders

Smartphones also come with many features that can help with time management, organization, and independence. For example, Google Calendar lets you set reminders on your phone to take pills or complete tasks at work. On iPhone, you can use the Reminders app to set notifications based on time, date, place, and so on.  


Timers can also be a helpful tool for daily living activities like cooking food or remembering to take laundry out of the washer. Another use for timers is to support individuals in transitioning from one activity to another. Visual timer apps like Time Timer can display how much time is remaining in an activity so the individual can prepare to make the switch.  

14. Support new habits

Many people find habit tracking apps helpful for supporting new self-care or daily living routines. For example, using a habit tracking app can help with remembering to perform daily tasks like brushing teeth, showering, and locking the door.  


Habit tracking apps can also be useful to remember tasks at work like clocking in and out or confirming the schedule for the following day. Most of these apps are based around checking a box on a calendar to keep track of what you have completed.  

15. Reduce anxiety

Meditation apps can be a beneficial tool to help with anxiety and self-regulation. Apps like Calm and Headspace, for instance, teach breathing techniques that can help with relaxation. Over time, these apps can help individuals learn strategies that help them calm down when they get upset or overwhelmed.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there are so many different ways you can use your smartphone as assistive technology. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.  


If you’d like more ideas on how to use assistive technology or get funding for devices, we recommend seeking out local assistive technology resources or member chapters to learn about those resources.  


In the meantime, be sure to subscribe below and share this article with your team — one of these tips might be just the solution they were looking for.  

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