Three PVIs sitting and two GDS trainers standing, all of different races having an in-person group training session with a guide dog sitting at the side.

A Guide for Trainers

Are you a trainer supporting persons with vision impairment (PVI) in learning how to use smartphones? Our Trainer page offers guidance to help you get started.

This Trainer page serves as a resource for those in the role of supporting people with vision impairment (PVI) to learn how to use smartphones effectively. In the following sections, we will present some things other trainers have considered when they planned their training. These include the approaches used, and trainer-related factors, as these factors impact training.

We have gathered this information from qualitative research with 22 trainers from Australia, Canada and Singapore, as well as from the discussion within the co-design research group [Tan et al., 2023 (under review)]. The information on this page will be useful for you, a trainer who is looking to improve your training programmes and better support PVIs in using smartphones:

Table of Content:
  • Introduction: the purpose and importance of training people with vision impairment on how to use smartphones
  • Assessment - Understanding the Needs of PVI: Discuss the unique needs and challenges of PVI when it comes to using smartphones and other technology. This can help trainers understand the perspective of their trainees and design effective training programmes.
  • Recommended Training Approaches: Offer practical recommendations for trainers on how to deliver effective training for PVI, graded approach and offer options for low vision and screen readers.
  • Training Format: Offer practical recommendations for trainers on how to deliver effective training for PVI, including a combination of individual and group instruction, hands-on practice, and feedback and support.
  • Tailoring Training Programme: Provide guidance on how to adapt training materials to make them accessible to PVI; the training process with goal setting and outcome measures and offer guidance on how to assess the effectiveness of the training and identify areas for improvement.
  • Content for Training: Summary of the basic smartphone training for PVIs.
  • Tips for Effective Training: Offer practical tips and strategies for trainers on how to deliver effective training to PVI. This can include tips on creating a positive and inclusive learning environment, facilitating group discussions, and providing hands-on practice.
  • References: Lists the sources and references used throughout the document for further reading and research on training PVIs in smartphone usage.
Guide for Trainer


Smartphones have become an essential tool for communication, accessing information, and performing various tasks. Teaching people with visual impairments (PVI) to use smartphones helps PVI develop the necessary skills and confidence to use technology in their daily lives. Training fosters hope, independence, and connectivity, things which are important but not explicit when learners engaged in formal training (for example, training offered by organisations such as Guide Dogs Singapore or other forms of training (example, learning from other friends with vision impairment).

By providing training, PVI can learn how to use smartphones to perform tasks that were previously inaccessible to them, such as reading and sending messages, browsing the internet, and using apps. This can enhance their overall quality of life, giving them hope and helping them to be more independent and feel more connected to the world around them.

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Assess Learners' Needs and Capacities

The personal factors that can impact a PVI's ability to learn how to use a smartphone include their vision, physical abilities, prior experience with technology, learning style, and any cognitive or learning disabilities. The assessment process is designed to identify these factors and assess the learner's current level of understanding and any challenges that may impact their ability to use the smartphone.

During the assessment, the trainer would:
  • Discuss the learner's goals for using a smartphone and assess their motivation to learn.
  • Ask about the learner's prior experience with technology, including any experience with smartphones or similar devices.
  • Understand the extent of the learner's visual impairment. The severity of the PVI's vision loss may impact their ability to learn how to use a smartphone, as well as the types of accessibility features and accommodations that may be required.
  • Assess the learner's physical abilities, including any fine motor control or dexterity issues that may impact their ability to use the smartphone.
  • Identify any cognitive or learning disabilities that may impact the learner's ability to learn.

It is important to note that the needs and challenges of PVI may vary depending on their level of vision impairment, age, and technological experience. Therefore, it is essential to conduct an assessment of their needs and skills before designing a training programme.

People with vision impairment (PVI) face unique challenges when it comes to using smartphones and other technology. As a trainer, understanding these needs and challenges will help you to design effective training programmes.

Consider the Learners' Readiness to Learn

When training vision impaired individuals (PVI) to use smartphones, it's important to assess their readiness to learn new skills. Trainers should take the time to listen to their frustrations and provide support as needed, while also referring them to professional services if necessary. Trainers should also receive additional training to handle delicate situations.

In some cases, PVI may not know what they want to learn about smartphone use, perhaps because they have never used a smartphone or are exploring which model to purchase. It's helpful for training organisations to have trial phones available for learners to test different models before making a purchase decision, as recommended by the co-design team. Providing hands-on experience with smartphones can improve learner engagement and lead to better learning outcomes.

As a trainer, it will be helpful if you could relate the learning topics to the learner’s daily activities. In addition, you can share also how other PVI use smartphones for work, daily activities, and leisure to inspire learners and provide ideas. Once learners have an idea of what they want to learn, trainers can work with them to set goals.

Learner’s Prior Experience with Smartphones

To understand learners’ needs and skill levels well, trainers can plan to ask questions prior to designing the lesson plan collaboratively with learners. You can find out more about your learner by asking questions such as:

  • Have you had any experience in using smartphones?
    If no, “How do you feel about using a smartphone?” What are your concerns, if any, or if there’s anything that’s worrying you with regard to using smartphones? (some probing questions to give trainer an idea on their hesitation about accessing training)
  • Do you have experience with other forms of technology, e.g. other ICT or Assistive technology?
    If yes, which platform (Android or iOS) have you been using?
  • What model of phone are you using now?
  • How long have you been using the smartphone and what accessibility features are you currently using?
  • What activities would you like to use the smartphone for? For example, for navigation, for reading e-books, for listening to music, for work purposes etc?
  • What prompted you to want to learn more about accessibility features for PVI on the smartphone?
  • Can you show me some of the accessibility features which you are using on your smartphone now?
  • Do you think there are obstacles to your learning to use smartphones now?
    If yes, please tell me more.
  • For those obstacles that you mention, what is your level of confidence of overcoming them so that learning can occur?
  • If you think you can’t overcome those obstacles, would you be fine with not learning to use the smartphone’s low vision accessibility features now?

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Individualised Graded Approach

When planning a PVI smartphone training programme, you should consider an individualised graded approach. It's important to gain a good understanding of the learners from the start based on the assessment, including their emotional needs and readiness for training. Some learners may be transitioning from low vision and need time to grieve over the loss of their vision.

Previous research has recommended individualising training programmes to cater to each learner’s unique learning needs and capacities. This can be achieved via understanding each learner well and you may refer to our assessment section further down to gain some tips on how to do this.

Importance of Relating to Daily Activities

When training PVI individuals on using smartphones, it's important for you to relate learning topics to how they use smartphones in daily activities. For example, how will learning to use smartphones enable participation in activities of daily living, navigation, work, and leisure? This can help learners understand the practical benefits of the training.

Offer Options for Low Vision Features and Screen Readers

You should also offer options for learning to use low vision features and screen readers. Knowing both will enable choices to use different features when environmental factors favour them.

In conclusion, trainers who take into account the factors outlined above will be better equipped to develop effective PVI smartphone training programmes that foster hope, independence, and connectivity. By using an individualised approach, being mindful of learners' difficulties and emotions, relating training to daily activities, and offering options for low vision features and screen readers, trainers can help PVI individuals unlock the potential of their smartphones.

Graded Approach with Understanding

Trainers have also recommended to use a graded approach during training. This means starting with teaching simple skills and allowing learners to experience small successes along the way to keep them motivated throughout learning. Remember, some learners may also have other difficulties, such as joint stiffness, cognitive challenges, or poor memory, that make learning difficult besides fear of technology or lack of confidence in mastering technology. Hence patience is key, in understanding and encouraging learners while teaching, as mentioned by learners in our previous research. It has also been found that relating learning topics to how they use smartphones in daily activities, is helpful during training. As a trainer, you can consider questions such as how will learning smartphones enable participation in activities of daily living; navigation; work and leisure. Besides the training approach, another factor to consider is the format of training.

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Training Format

Individual Vs Group Training

Trainers in our research, as well as the trainers and clients in our co-design team have shared their thoughts about training format. Although individual one-to-one and face-to-face training are preferred by most trainers and learners, there are merits to group training too. The advantages of group training include PVI can be connected to other PVI and sometimes when they see others are experiencing similar issues while attending training, it will reduce their anxiety about learning. Learners can form a buddy system to check in with each other post-training, to form an informal support network, to share tips about smartphone technology or form friendship.

For some organisations with a long waiting list for new learners who need support to learn basic skills, some trainers suggested that they can be grouped together to learn the basic skills first. After which they can be channelled to individual one-to-one sessions because they will then know which topics they would like to focus on, after learning the basic skills to operate the smartphone. Another suggestion is to hold thematic workshops for group sessions to cater to larger group of learners with similar skills or interest in certain topics.

The disadvantages of group training include it can be difficult for one trainer to cater to a group of learners simultaneously as everyone’s learning speed, aptitude and goals are different. To overcome this, it is advisable to have more than one trainer during group sessions, and even consider getting a sighted assistant if the trainer has vision impairment. During group sessions, it can also be noisy and disruptive if all the screen readers are working together.

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Tailoring Training Programmes for PVI

Adaptive Materials

It is important for you to understand the perspective of PVI and to empathise with their challenges. Do make an effort to learn about the specific needs and challenges of your trainees, and to tailor their training programmes accordingly. For example, you may need to provide alternative formats for training materials, such as audio descriptions or large print documents.

By understanding the unique needs of PVI, you can design training programmes that are effective and accessible, and that empower PVI to use smartphones and other technology to their fullest potential.

Some common challenges that PVI may face when using smartphones include difficulty reading text on a small screen, difficulty distinguishing between different icons, and difficulty using touchscreens. Additionally, PVI may have difficulty accessing and using certain apps and features that are not designed with accessibility in mind.

To help learners adapt, the co-design group suggests teaching both low vision accessibility features (such as zoom and magnifier) and screen readers, so they have options based on the situation.

For example, in a noisy environment, low vision accessibility features (such as zoom and magnifier) may be easier to operate the smartphone. On the other hand, if one's eyes feel tired or strained, using screen readers can be more convenient. Follow-up training is also essential, particularly for learners who are still transitioning from low vision.

Training Process

In order to understand your learner and to support the learning process, you can consider setting goals collaboratively in the beginning, and using the goals to signpost the learning for them, as well as to evaluate the outcome of the training at the end. Some trainers have found this useful and helpful for both trainers and learners.

Collaborative Goal Setting and Evaluation

Collaborative goal setting is a crucial aspect of training for individuals with vision impairment (PVI) to learn how to use smartphones effectively. It is important for trainers to set goals together with their learners rather than for them, as this approach has been shown to increase motivation, satisfaction, and a sense of ownership (Page et al., 2015; Turner-Stokes et al., 2009). When goals are collaboratively developed, they reflect the learners' needs and desires, fostering commitment and engagement (Holliday et al., 2005).

To facilitate the goal-setting process, trainers can utilise the SMART goal format, which entails setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (Page et al., 2015). These goals serve as guides for learners' progress throughout the training. To keep track of these collaboratively set goals, it is beneficial to document them in writing and regularly refer back to them. This can be done through a shared document or a dedicated notebook, allowing both the trainer and the individual to record goals, track progress, and make notes on challenges and successes.

Regularly reviewing progress towards the goals is essential as it helps identify areas that may require additional support or adjustments to the training approach. By understanding the personal factors of the PVI individual and conducting a comprehensive assessment, trainers can tailor the instruction and support to meet their specific needs. This personalised approach ensures that learners can effectively use smartphones to achieve their goals and maximise their independence.

In conclusion, collaborative goal setting, documented tracking, and personalised instruction are vital components of an effective smartphone training programmes for individuals with vision impairment. By incorporating these strategies, trainers can empower PVI learners to harness the full potential of smartphones and accomplish their objectives.

Overarching SMART Goal

There can be an overarching goal for the overall learning, and individual session goal/s to signpost the teaching and learning. For example, if the client is an avid reader before the vision loss or vision deterioration and would like to get back to reading again, but now instead of using a magnifier app to enlarge the print, is to use screen readers such as VoiceOver or TalkBack to access e-books from an app.

Overarching Goal – To learn to use a screen reader to access an e-book in the Libby app by the end of 10 sessions.

Session goals (Can customise to include a few goals in one session, depending on the learner) –
  1. To learn how to turn on/off the screen reader in smartphones
  2. To learn how to use basic gestures to use a screen reader
  3. To select a “voice” for the screen reader
  4. Learning more advanced hand gestures for web browsing purposes
  5. To learn how to download the Libby app
  6. To learn how to search for a book using a screen reader
  7. To learn how to borrow a book in the app and start reading it using the screen reader

Outcome Measures

Goals can be evaluated using standardised evaluation tools, such as the "goal attainment scale" (GAS) (Roberts & Aberty, 2023), which objectively measures the goals achieved and the resulting change in a person. However, the GAS approach can be rigorous and time-consuming. As an alternative, the "GAS-light" model (King's College London, n.d.) offers a simplified approach to goal evaluation. Following the recommendations of Turner-Stokes et al. (2009), the GAS-Light approach involves six steps:

  1. Collaboratively set one to six key SMART goals that describe the expected level of achievement.
  2. Identify and evaluate short-term staged goals for each key SMART goal to track progress and adjust the timeframe if necessary.
  3. During review sessions with your clients, undertake a rating of goal attainment against the key SMART goals.
  4. Use a six-point verbal scale to rate the attainment of the key SMART goals, which can then be converted to a five-point numerical scale (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2) (Kiresuk and Sherman, 1968).
  5. Calculate the overall score (GAS T-score) using the five-point scale, incorporating the level of importance and difficulty assigned by the learner for each key SMART goal. You can use the Excel worksheet from King's College London's website for this purpose.
  6. Assess the learner's progress based on the GAS T-score and make adjustments as needed.

In addition to the GAS approach, other outcome measures can be considered, such as less formal ways of evaluating training outcomes including conducting informal surveys and asking clients questions about their skills and confidence before and after the training. Clients can also be asked if there are other skills they would like to learn or be referred to additional resources to continue their learning journey.

*example of the GAS approach is available in the Guide for Trainer PDF download.

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Content for Training

During our experience-based co-design process of co-producing this training resource, the group teased out what are the essential basic skills to teach and learn, for anyone wanting to learn to use the smartphone’s accessibility features for PVI.

Hence, we have designed this toolkit to incorporate how to teach and learn the basic skills that will give anyone new to using accessibility features for low vision in smartphones a good head start or foundation to learn other skills. The skills are the same across the 2 platforms (Andriod and iOS) and include:

  1. Explore Your Phone - Touch around your phone and get to know the physical basic parts of your phone.

  2. Just Basics - Find out how to power on/off, bring up virtual assistance (i.e. Siri/ Google assistant), and adjust the volume.

  3. Screen Display Settings - You can customise your screen display settings that suit your needs to make it easier to see. This is mainly applicable to people with low vision who uses their residual vision to see the screen.

  4. Screen Readers - VoiceOver on Apple iOS and TalkBack on Android devices give you audible descriptions of what’s on your screen.

  5. Calling & Messaging - Basic communications - learn how to add contacts, make and receive phone calls, and send and receive messages. This involves using the built-in contact list, message and phone apps in all smartphones. We recognise that WhatsApp app and Telegram app are also other useful platforms for calling and messaging, but we deem using those apps are more advanced level as users need to know how to search and download these apps in the app stores of either platform. Hence, these skills will be covered when we progress to roll out a toolkit to support the learning of more advanced skills.

In time to come, we hope to develop resources for more advanced teaching and learning in the next phase of development of the toolkit.

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Tips to Support Learning

The following tips for trainers and those who are in the position to support a PVI to learn to use smartphones have been collated from sources including our EBCD process as well as our previous research which interviewed 22 trainers from Australia, Canada and Singapore.

  1. Tips for Sighted Trainers - If you are a sighted trainer - to be competent in teaching accessibility features for PVI, the best way is to learn to use the smartphone like a blind person. This means you may want to blindfold yourself and use your smartphone without vision, this will allow you to understand from the perspective of using a smartphone with little or no vision and be proficient in the skills with more practice. For sighted trainers, do be mindful to be more descriptive of your actions when you teach. Saying tap on the “yellow” icon or “this button” is not helpful to a non-sighted person. Instead, say there is an icon which is in the bottom left corner which you need to tap on, or the apps are lined up on the home screen like little squares.
  2. Simplifying Smartphone Technology Jargon for Learners - Do away with jargons and use simple terms, or if you have to use jargons, make it a point to explain it to learners. We have compiled a list of terminologies that will help explain the common jargons associated with smartphone technology.
  3. Building on Learners' Prior Technology Experience - Link learners’ current and prior experience with technology when teaching to let them build on their existing skills. For example, if they know they have learnt how to use some simple apps, they can move on to learning how to use more complex apps, such as banking apps to perform banking functions. Or if they have some experience with using other technologies example, screen readers on computers, that skill can be transferred to smartphone learning.
  4. Staying Current with Smartphone Technology Developments - Technology advances at lightning speed hence it is important to keep abreast of the developments in smartphone technologies. Trainers shared with us that they do so by:
    1. Staying curious and keep learning what is new out there
    2. Subscribe to technology updates or technology reader websites
    3. Join a listserve on smartphone use for PVI to keep posted on what’s out there
    4. Challenge yourself to learn a new platform if you are used to one platform only to cater to different learners’ needs.
  5. The Benefits and Challenges of Online Learning for PVI and How to Overcome Them - Online learning is here to stay since the pandemic and some clients actually prefer to have a hybrid mode of learning. That means, having access to online learning as well as face-to-face learning. Online learning can also cater to those who have difficulties travelling to a fixed venue to learn. However, during remote learning, it is important to ensure that learners know the setup to use Zoom to learn and that there is stable Wi-Fi for both trainers and learners to not disrupt the flow of teaching and learning. During online learning, sighted family members or support persons can also be available to ensure that the PVI learns the gestures appropriately. By also learning the use of smartphone’s accessibility features, the family member/support person can also revise with the PVI after the lesson has ended.
  6. Considerations for Determining the Training Duration - Do consider the duration of training for each learner. Generally, most learners and trainers have found a minimum of 60 minutes of lesson is necessary to teach some skills, as well as to cater to the concentration span of most learners. Some would prefer 90 minutes and even longer, depending on the concentration span of the learner.
  7. Mindful of Individual Challenges - Some learners have other challenges besides vision impairment and trainers can be more aware of the difficulties these other challenges bring. For instance, finger gestures can be difficult for those with stiff arthritic fingers to perform finger gestures successfully. In such cases, it may be necessary to brainstorm on how this person can then operate the smartphone without using gestures. Sometimes, when a person’s memory is limited, it can make recalling what has been taught tough. This will require more patience from both trainer and learner to repeat what has been taught and learn a few times in order for mastery to take place.
  8. Incorporating Practice and Application of Skills - Not everyone likes the sound of “homework” but practice after learning helps to consolidate learning. Trainers shared that instead of stipulating homework, they would perhaps ask the client to save a contact and call/text the person whose contact has been saved to practise the skills of saving a contact and calling using the phone app. Or if other navigation apps have been taught, the trainer and learner can arrange to meet at a new place for the next lesson in order for the learner to apply the skills taught in the navigation app.
  9. Teaching Hand/Finger Techniques - To teach hand/finger gestures such as “swipe”, and “tap” have been discussed to be difficult for some. Some tips shared included using “hand over hand” guidance, or the learner demonstrating the gestures on the trainers’ palm to execute the right pressure for “tap”. Alternatively, you can describe the “swipe” gesture such as flicking some small stuff off from a surface.

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  1. Kiresuk, T. J., & Sherman, R. E. (1968). Goal attainment scaling: A general method for evaluating comprehensive community mental health programs. Community mental health journal, 4 (6), 443–453.
  2. King’s College London. (n.d.). Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation.
  3. Page, J., Roos, K., Bänziger, A., Margot-Cattin, I., Agustoni, S., Rossini, E., Meichtry, A., & Meyer, S. (2015). Formulating goals in occupational therapy: State of the art in Switzerland. Scandinavian journal of occupational therapy, 22(6), 403–415.
  4. Roberts, M. A., & Abery, B. H. (2023). A person centered approach to home and community based services outcome measurement. Frontiers in rehabilitation sciences, 4, 1056530.
  5. Tan, H. L., Aplin, T., & Gullo, H. & McAuliffe, T. (2023). Training and learning support to use smartphones and apps for People with vision impairment (PVI): A multi-site qualitative study on trainers’ perspectives from Australia, Canada, and Singapore (Manuscript submitted for publication). Health and Social Science, Singapore Institute for Technology.
  6. Turner-Stokes, L., Williams, H., & Johnson, J. (2009). Goal attainment scaling: does it provide added value as a person-centred measure for evaluation of outcome in neurorehabilitation following acquired brain injury?. Journal of rehabilitation medicine, 41 (7), 528–535.

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Useful Resources

Useful Accessories
Here is a list of accessories that you might find helpful when using your smartphone.
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Useful Apps
Here is a list of useful apps that our research team is recommending for use in our local context.
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Basic Terminologies
Find out the abbreviations and terms that are frequently found when discussing the use of smartphones. This alphabetical list of terminologies or jargons include terms in relation to smartphones as well as basic terms used in information technology.
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Useful Research Papers
We have compiled a list of research articles on the topic of smartphone use by PVI and other topics related to this website.
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