How To Adapt Electronics for the Visually Impaired

Accessible electronics
Accessible electronics

Modern electronics are wonderful! A cell phone, for instance, adds connection - and safety. Help is just a button away.

A cellphone can be especially valuable to shut-ins and the elderly. Check in with family (or 911!) at the click of a button or the swipe of a touchscreen... BUT ONLY IF they can see and manipulate that button or touchscreen.

Wonderful gizmos don't always work for the users who need them most.

Look closely at your own cell phone, your CD or DVD player, or your any-other-electronic-marvel.... Are there teeny tiny little buttons? Hard to see, hard to manipulate controls? Impossibly tiny print and labels? Stubborn battery compartments? Is the gizmo of such sleek, slick, black plastic design that you can't even SEE any controls? Now imagine if your eyesight was poorer or your hand was shaky. (And we're only talking about the mechanical aspect of problematic electronics here; we won't even get into topics like websites so poorly designed that the "delete" button sits right next to the "save" button. Yeesh.)

Recently I had an older relative visit. Seeing them in daily life and for days in a row, I discovered that there were all sorts of simple push-a-button tasks that their eyesight and faltering hand coordination made difficult.

A few enlightened companies HAVE realized that there is a problem (and a market!) and are starting to provide electronics geared to less-abled users. Like the "Jitterbug" phone my relative swears by. (Big, Easy. And with Great BIG Buttons.) But most manufacturers are clueless.

My relative, being independent-minded, struggled and generally succeeded against unhelpful product design... but why should listening to an audio book be such a struggle?

Being a designer, I tried to find ways to change the world - just a little - to make things easier.

Here is one of our solutions - an easy-peasy home-made retrofit to electronics for the vision impaired.

A NOTE: This lens was recently chosen as Lens of the Day. Thank you!

Time required: 1/2 hour

Difficulty: easy

Cost: $2-10


  • Consumer Electronics etc.
  • "Puffy" Paint
  • Colored Electrical or Other Tape


  • None



When shopping for consumer electronics and tech products (or any other kind), look first for the best available design to suit the user's needs. If this item is for someone visually impaired, for instance, look for high contrast between, say, controls and casing. If the gizmo is white and the "On" button is black, it'll be easier to find than the usual black-on-black electronics color scheme. Can you easily feel the controls? As eyesight dims, the physical feel of a gadget gets more important. Generally, you want the biggest buttons you can find - and ones with a positive "click" as they're pressed. Many touchscreens can be problematic or impossible for the sight impaired. If a touchscreen is the only way, would a stylus work better for the user than a fingertip? Also consider the item's weight and ease of handling and its sturdiness and stability, to make sure it's neither to clunky for its perhaps frail user, nor too dainty to stand up to perhaps clumsy manipulation.


After you find the best (i.e. most user-friendly and user-proof) version of the tech... Look over it carefully. What controls are basic to its operation? Highlight those with a dot of puff paint (bright to see, raised to feel) or a stripe of color-coded tape. Colored tape also makes a great marker to keep various cords straight: color-code the power cord with a different color from the headphone wire or other cable. Nice bright! colors.

(The same strategy works to distinguish pill bottles too.)

On this inexpensive CD player, for instance, all the controls were tiny little black buttons - on a black case. They were nearly impossible to find with fingers alone, hard to find with good eyesight, and too similar in size or shape... but they did have tiny tiny minescule labeling. Real helpful!

Four dots of puff paint made these impossible controls friendly: "ON" became green for GO, "Off" got stop-sign red paint, and "forward/backward" got dabs of yellow paint because that contrasted well with that black background. (Luckily the player's designer at least put the "forward" on the right-hand side of "backward" which worked intuitively.)

Another very helpful place to dab a little paint is on the plug and receptacle of the charger. EVERYONE has a hard time getting that mini plug turned the right way - small side to small side. Two dabs of puff paint will let you plug in your phone etc. even in the dark, just by feel. Plugging in the phone used to take up to 15 minutes for my relative... after paint it takes one try.

There are a couple other Squidoo lenses that have some suggestions you may find helpful: How do you do ___ "blind"? My story and Top 5 Low Vision Products,

What problems or fixes have you discovered?

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Comments 35 comments

esmonaco profile image

esmonaco 2 years ago from Lakewood New York

Very useful information, these are certainly things that you don't think about until they affect you. Congratulations on LOTD!

PriyabrataSingh 2 years ago

Nice observation. Great tips for the best working of the device.

Merrci profile image

Merrci 2 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

Congratulations on Lens of the Day! What excellent and needed suggestions.

SusanDeppner profile image

SusanDeppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

It's tiny print or symbols that I don't understand that give me the most problem. I love these solutions, particularly the colored puff paint. Brilliant! Congratulations on an everyone-should-read-this Lens of the Day!

Karen317 profile image

Karen317 2 years ago

i got no mobile phones or even gadgets until now, therefore, I don't know anything about it,

however, it gives some ideas about the pulp

delia-delia profile image

delia-delia 2 years ago

Congratulations on LOTD! You have great suggestions here! Everything you have said is so true...I always tell my husband that these electronics are made for the young, they don't consider people that have eye issues or are elderly. I use nail polish but your puff paint is a great idea. My mail Rx prescriptions just changed the labeling to TINY...unbelievable!

kimberlyschimmel profile image

kimberlyschimmel 2 years ago from Greensboro, NC

Excellent topic that needed to be addressed! One of my jobs in college was to read for visually-impaired engineering students. Over 30 years ago there were not many helps for them--except a helpful fellow engineering student with good vision. I'm glad there has been so much innovation since then.

profile image

GrammieOlivia 2 years ago

Colour coding things is a great way to identify those tiny little buttons, great how to instructions....thanks.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@GrammieOlivia: Color really does help! It looked so useful, in fact, that I went ahead and added the paint dots to my own electronics - especially to that phone power plug - removing one little annoyance in my day. Thanks for visiting!

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@kimberlyschimmel: What a great job! Reading out loud is still necessary, but I'm glad to see more and more books are commercially on tape or CDs. And there are some great FREE audio books on line too if you look for them. Textbooks? Not so much. Thanks for your comment!

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@delia-delia: I know! And labels on foods are also teeny. Wine bottles are the worst though with tiny "classy" (i.e. unreadable) fonts in high-contrast colors like medium gray on light gray! You'd think product designers would have noticed all the baby-boomer market aging, wouldn't you?

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@SusanDeppner: Thank you, you're very kind. It's the designer thing - we refuse to just put up with the world as-is. Thanks for visiting.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@Merrci: Thank you - glad you could visit!

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@PriyabrataSingh: I'm glad you found it helpful. Thanks for visiting!

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@esmonaco: Thanks! And thanks for visiting.

Faye Rutledge profile image

Faye Rutledge 2 years ago from Concord VA

Thanks for these very useful ideas! Congratulations on a well deserved LotD!

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@Faye Rutledge: Thanks! And thanks for visiting.


Really Insightful post. Great Stuff

Rhonda Lytle profile image

Rhonda Lytle 2 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

Really good tips! Congrats on LOTD. This information can help a lot of folks :).

Bercton1 profile image

Bercton1 2 years ago

Very informative topic indeed!

anonymous 2 years ago

Very informative lens. Nice work and congratulations on getting LotD!

Dressage Husband profile image

Dressage Husband 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

Great ideas and often overlooked. Well done on the LOTD.

tmadeira lm profile image

tmadeira lm 2 years ago

Thanks for the lens. I helped my grandma with some similar projects to help her out. The ones she seemed to appreciate the most were 1. small round raised pieces of felt I glued to some important buttons on her TV remote control (power button, number zero, etc) and her computer keyboard (delete key, escape key, etc.) and 2. bright florescent tape I put on her stairs up to her front door to help her up the steps.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@tmadeira lm: The fluorescent tape on the steps makes so much sense... creating some color contrast really help! Thanks for that tip and for visiting.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@Dressage Husband: Thanks! Glad you could visit.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@Rhonda Lytle: Thank you - I hope it's helpful.

gal3722 2 years ago

this is really practical and cool too

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@gal3722: Thanks!

oscar1208 lm profile image

oscar1208 lm 2 years ago

Very helpful observations! There are electronic devices out there with letter markings that are almost impossible to read. We usually do not think about it until after we have purchased the item. Thank you for this valuable lens.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@oscar1208 lm: Yes, it's usually when you get the thing home that I discover the design flaws... maddening! Thanks for visiting.

dmalone510 profile image

dmalone510 2 years ago

Fantastic lens. Great observations and solutions. I am visually impaired and appreciate your insight.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@dmalone510: So glad this was useful! Are there other topics I ought to try to cover? Thanks for visiting.

srsddn lm profile image

srsddn lm 2 years ago

Very useful ideas!

LiteraryMind profile image

LiteraryMind 2 years ago from Connecticut, USA

What great ideas. The buttons are difficult for even a user with great eyesight.

cdevries profile image

cdevries 2 years ago Author

@LiteraryMind: They sure are! Thanks for visiting.

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