Hearing and Vision Not Required: iPhone is Invaluable to Deaf-Blind Maryland Man

June 24, 2014
Marc Simitian picture

Until recently 50-year-old Marc Simitian of Glen Burnie, Maryland wondered how a person who is blind could operate an iPhone.

“I thought, gee, how would you access this,” recalls Simitian who has no vision and relies on hearing aids.  “How would you navigate the screen when it’s all visual?”

Then Simitian received a new iPhone – and a portable braille display – through the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, which is promoted as iCanConnect.  The program provides a wide array of communications technology and individualized training at no cost to low-income people with combined hearing and vision loss.

Simitian received his one-on-one training from Shannon Wright, who works with the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, the agency that administers iCanConnect in both Maryland and the District of Columbia.

“Shannon told me when a call comes in you have to do a two-finger double tap,” recalls Simitian, who describes his first encounter with an iPhone with a laugh:  “I’m going tap.  Pause. Tap. She told me to tap faster.  So, I went tap, tap.  It’s so simple.  I wanted to make it a project or a big production.”

Simitian quickly mastered the two finger double-tap and discovered the feature that makes communication as easy as talking:  the iPhone’s voice-activated app, also known as Siri.

“I think about how I used to do it (with his old flip-style cell phone), typing each letter,” recalls Simitian, who works as a customer service representative, “Now I can say something in ten seconds and the message is done.” 

What’s more, the technology allows Simitian can make a call, send a text or check his email no matter where he is.

“I still have to remind myself when I’m on the go that I don’t have to go home and check the email,” he says. “It’s right there at your fingertips.”

Simitian especially likes a feature on the iPhone that tells him when he’s missed a call or a text message.  The downside of a talking phone is, of course, a lack of privacy.  So when Simitian wants to use his iPhone without the speech option he uses the braille display, which works like a standard keyboard and enables him to privately access the content on his iPhone and send messages.

“Marc was initially skeptical about the devices and wondered if they would really work,” recalls Wright. “Now to see him and how much progress he has made and how much it has impacted him.  It has literally been a life changer,” she says.
 
“Shannon asked the right questions,” says Simitian. “She talked about what equipment would be useful and meaningful to me.”

Now that he knows how a person without sight operates an iPhone, Simitian has another question:  how could ever live without it?

“The iPhone is with me everywhere I go, we’re joined at the hip.”

iCanConnect is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Learn more at www.iCanConnect.org. Click on “State Partners” to find each state’s contacts. The website is accessible to users with low vision and those who use screen readers, and it features video that is both audio described and captioned.  Information about iCanConnect is also available by calling 1-800-825-4595 Voice or 1-888-320-2656 TTY.