While growing older does bring many benefits, there’s no denying that it brings some drawbacks too. Downsides like impaired hearing, reduced dexterity, and vision loss can conspire to frustrate even the simplest job.
Everyday tasks like making and receiving a phone call, using the camera on your phone, or catching up on social media can all be made much harder on a smartphone that’s been designed by and for a younger generation.
Mobile phone handsets bristle with ever more features as rival firms vie to seduce the youth market, but ease of use for all seems to be the lowest priority among mobile manufacturers, while the basic point of what we use a phone for seems to have been lost.
Add in hard-to-read displays and fiddly keypads, and many elderly people avoid mobiles altogether – missing out on a vital lifeline.
But don’t despair; a number of manufacturers have woken up to the demand for more accessible handsets, and there are companies out there that understand our needs (big buttons!) and are more than happy to cater for us by adapting and modifying their phones to make them easier to use.
Mobile phones with large buttons
If all you’re after is a straightforward mobile phone to make and receive calls - and maybe take the odd photograph of the grandkids - then there is no shortage of them available.
The spelling of the ARTFONE C1 GSM might make you cringe but it’s a solid, straightforward mobile phone with huge buttons that are easy to read and press, alongside a very effective loudspeaker function for those who’re getting a bit hard of hearing.
It’s also got a bright red SOS button on the back that you can programme to call the number of your choice in the event of an emergency. There’s also built-in torch, plus a camera, radio, calculator, and a talking numbers function.
Available from Amazon for under £25, those who own one seem to love it, giving it a very credible score of 4.7 out of five on Amazon user reviews.
However, if you want the simplest possible mobile phone then the Binatone M250 should fit the bill. Again, it costs less than £25 and is ultra-simple to use for elderly people or those with impaired vision or arthritic fingers.
Its back-to-basics ethos means that it doesn’t have a camera or calculator but it does come highly recommended by those that own one with a score of four out of five on Amazon reviews.
Doro's range of 'Easy Phones' come with colour screens and are designed for ease of use, specifically for elderly users. Large buttons and a high contrast display will help the visually impaired. The fonts are certainly far larger – and with better contrast - than on a conventional mobile.
When you land on the web page, it asks you what functions are important to you, offering options like 'hearing aid compatible', or an assistance button, so you can choose a phone safe in the knowledge it will have what you need. The assistance button is particularly reassuring - simply programme it with five key contacts, and if you need to press it, the phone will automatically text and ring those numbers in sequence until someone picks up. If your Doro phone also has GPS send your location as part of the text message.
The range starts as low as £28 for the Doro 1360, a basic phone with big buttons that will call, text and boasts a torch, but for a bit more the Doro 6520 (£90) and Doro 6530 (£130) enables you to access emails, browse the internet and Facebook.
As Chris Millington, MD of Doro UK, said: "Needs, opinions and tastes in mobile phones differ among older people as much as in younger target groups. It's great that we can now provide alternatives even for senior citizens who need functions like text messaging or listening to the radio, but still want an easy-to-use mobile phone."
Contract or pay-as-you-go?
Landlines with large screens
While many of us have ditched the landline in favour of a mobile phone alone, some insist on keeping their house phone as well.
And it won’t come as any surprise to hear that the needs of the telephonically Luddite among us are catered for, too. Again, Amazon has the largest selection online, including an unbranded landline telephone for just under £50 that has large keys and an easily readable digital display, which makes it ideal for anyone with fading eyesight.
Interestingly, it also has space on it to insert up to three photographs next to its speed-dial keys. This is a clever little touch that makes it even easier to see who you are calling without having to peer at a name or remember who is who on the speed dial keys.
While I’m always wary of nailing my colours to any one particular mast, British Telecom is a highly regarded alternative for those who’d like to browse an alternative to Amazon. Its home page is very useful, showing its entire range of inclusion phones in one place.
Like the BT Big Button 200, which costs £30 from the BT online shop (or £25 on Amazon). Other than its almost cartoonishly large buttons, it’s fairly traditional in appearance and can be used as a hands-free phone as well as a conventional corded phone.
Compatible with hearing aids, users give it a score of 4.3 out of five on Amazon reviews thanks to features such as a very loudspeaker for those who are hearing impaired. It also has a visual ringing indicator, a speed dial facility, and those large, easy-to-use buttons, making it a truly inclusive landline telephone.
Do I still need a home phone landline?
You might not even need a new phone
While there is no shortage of mobile and landline telephones aimed at older people, you might not need to buy a specific phone, even if your fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be or your eyesight is flagging because many smartphones offer accessibility functions embedded within them.
You could start by using your iPhone’s camera as a high-tech magnifying glass - and don’t forget, that if the item you want to see isn’t very accessible, you could do what I do and photograph it. All you need to do then is expand the image on the screen to get a close-up view of it. This is a great tip for those times when you’re carrying out a spot of DIY in the home or on your car and can’t see the screw, fastening or widget you need to remove, replace, or adjust.
On a more technologically advanced level, your Apple iPhone has Voiceover built in to its operating system, which makes the iPhone easier to use for the visually impaired. You turn it on by triple-clicking the Home button; after doing so you’ll hear a verbal description of everything that’s happening on your iPhone from, as Apple itself puts it, the “battery level to who’s calling to which app your finger is on.”
It can even recognise and describe images to you, or read text out loud and, almost unbelievably, it can even interpret the expressions on people’s faces in photos. It’s as intuitive and brilliantly simply as we’ve come to expect from Apple and could transform your life if you’ve ever struggled to read your iPhone’s screen.
Of course, it’s easy to forget that even simple things like using your fingerprint to unlock your iPhone can be a lifesaver for those who might struggle to input a password, and standard Apple features like Siri open up a whole new world for people whose eyes aren’t as sharp as they once were.
And nor does Apple have the accessibility market to itself because Android smartphones also have an Accessibility Suite, which includes TalkBack.
TalkBack adds spoken, audible and vibratory feedback to let you know what your Android smartphone is seeing and doing. There is a very good guide here but if you’ve got an Android smartphone I’d recommend turning it on and having a play with it for yourself because it is very nearly as clever as Apple’s and could help you hang on to your smartphone and all its life-enhancing apps for another few years.
Do you have any recommendations or tips you’d like to share with our readers? If so, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org!
The details and prices mentioned are correct at time of publication.