I saw a number of apps on the appStore (e.g. Aipoly) that are aimed at assisting the blind people with object and colour recognition. Before touch screen smartphones I can imagine that the tactile feedback would have made it a little bit easier for blind people to use phones, but now with smartphones I wonder if there is any specific thought given to making it more user friendly for vision impaired people?
Yes, smartphones with touchscreens can be used by blind people.
Just like with any other computing device with screen, a screen reader is needed, which outputs what is displayed on the screen in a different way (e.g., via text-to-speech or via a braille terminal).
While input devices like physical keyboards or microphones are typically more suitable for blind users than input devices like mouses or touchscreens, even those can be used: the screen reader gives feedback while being in "navigation mode".
Probably the most popular way (because it requires no additional hardware) to use touchscreen smartphones is to have a screen reader that uses TTS (so you hear what is displayed/focused on the screen), and to use the touchscreen to navigate (and the virtual keyboard to type) and/or voice commands for navigating/typing.
One way this can work with a touchscreen:
- Tap somewhere one time (or drag): it focuses the (nearest) button and reads it out.
- Tap anywhere two times: it fires the corresponding action for the focused button.
(There’s often also a mode where you can use two gestures to focus the next/previous button.)
Example: typing the word "hi" on a virtual keyboard:
- Drag near the middle of the screen (where you guess the h key is): the screen reader reads while you drag: v, b, g, h. Stop dragging (the last key read out was the h, so it’s still focused). Double tap. The h is entered.
- Drag slowly to the top right (where you guess the i key is): the screen reader reads: u, i. Stop dragging, double tap, the i is entered.
- Drag to the place where you guess the enter key is, double tap when it’s focused, done.