Siri and the Visually Impaired: Call Me Apple!

The following is originally from the Blind With Vision Blog. When Apple first introduced the voice assistant Siri with the iPhone 4S in 2011, I can tell you that many people I know were thrilled to say the least. Siri with its ability to translate voice commands has the potential to make life so much easier for visually impaired individuals. Using voice commands to look up phone numbers and make phone calls is just the tip of the iceberg. In surveying my colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey’s Technology Division, I heard countless other use cases, including creating appointments with reminders, setting wake-up alarms, sending text messages, getting directions, checking the weather, getting word spellings and definitions and even performing basic math. In short, Siri assists those of us who can’t see by allowing us to use our voices to get things done just by asking. The wonders of modern technology never cease to amaze me. Many individuals use Siri on their iDevices, but only know a handful of commands. I discovered a complete listing of Siri commands compiled by, a website for blind and low-vision users of Apple products, including Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV and Apple Watch. You will find Siri commands for all kinds of inquiries. Here are some of the categories:

  • Making phone calls (including calling 911 and the fire department)
  • Managing phone conversations and voicemails
  • Using Apple’s FaceTime
  • Finding contacts
  • Reading, sending and replying to messages
  • Scheduling meetings and conference calls
  • Checking calendars
  • Receiving reminders
  • Making notes
  • Posting to Facebook and Twitter
  • Using maps and getting directions
  • Finding local businesses and restaurants
  • Playing music
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Making mathematical calculations
  • Searching the Web
  • Looking up photos and videos
  • Managing iDevice settings
  • Taking dictation
  • Getting the latest news, sports, weather, entertainment and stock market information
  • And the list goes on.

Despite the wonder of this amazing technology, there are definitely areas for improvement from my perspective. For example, those of us with speech impairments get frustrated with Siri. You know you said a word clearly enough, but Siri doesn't interpret it correctly. Sometimes my "g" sounds like a "d" so Siri might have trouble that way even when I am speaking clearly. After several repetitions, I usually give up and enter my inquiry manually. I have read that researchers are working on technology that better recognizes unusual voices or speech patterns, so hopefully one day Siri will be able to learn how a particular individual speaks. This would make a big difference to those with speech impairments or people who speak with a hard-to-understand accent and allow us to use Siri more. No doubt, the next iteration of Siri will bring even more improvements that address some of the existing deficiencies. In the meantime, perhaps Apple developers would like to talk to some of us “real users” with disabilities? We see and hear things from a different perspective and can definitely offer some opinions and useful feedback. Call me Apple!


Posted by NancyJun 22, 2017

I have a neighbor who is blind and says he has to keep a landline for those calls where they ask you to "press 1" during the call. On his iPhone, even though he uses Siri to dial the call, he can't see the screen to find the right key for those automated phone systems where you have to keep pressing numbers to make menu choices. What can he use (software? hardware?) to deal with this?

Posted by DebstechJul 17, 2017

I have a visually impaired client and she uses Siri on her iPhone for everything. Not sure how she deals with the pressing 1 problem...but she sets reminders, texts, makes phone calls and listens to articles on her iPhone by activating voice over. I set up some music Playlists for her so that she can use Siri to play the songs she needs for the yoga class she teaches. I am soon going to teach her how she can use Siri on her desktop, but I think that might be a challenge. Still figuring it out myself and I can see!!

Posted by Diane BraunerJul 18, 2017


When you raise the phone to your ear during a call, the touch screen (numbers on the keypad) disappear, so that you do not accidently activate a number while talking.  To select a number from an automated menu (such as press 1 for Mr. Smith), you must lower your phone from your ear;  wait a second and the onscreen keypad should re-appear.  Once the keypad appears, drag your finger around the screen to find the desired number.  Lift your finger (if Touch Typing is the selected typing option in the Rotor) or double tap/split tap (if Standard Typing is the selected typing option in the Rotor).  

Note:  Once the call is active, you cannot use Siri to select a number in the automated menu; you have to manually select the desired number using VoiceOver gestures.


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