Silver, old fashioned rotary dialled phone on a red sofa. Telephones

Making and receiving calls

We have been talking to each other on the telephone since 1876. However, it is doubtful that Alexander Graham Bell envisaged the power and possibility of the modern smart phone. The Managing Sight Loss team held a session focusing on smartphones and their capabilities. In this resource we strip the smartphone back to basics and discuss ways in which blind and partially sighted people can make and receive calls.

Making and answering calls on your landline

If you have an old fashioned or traditional corded landline telephone it is as simple as picking up the handset and saying hello. Do you have a tendency to push the phone away when answering, or knock it over? Try standing the phone on a non-slip mat.

Do you struggle to hear the caller on the other end of the line? Modern phones have volume controls which can be adjusted to help you hear better. If you are a hearing aid user, get advice from your hearing aid provider on the compatibility of your phone. You may need to adjust your hearing aid when answering the phone.

Answering calls on your mobile

There are many tactile, simple to feel mobile phones on the market. Some are flip phones you open to answer; others rely on a button to be pushed. If you have a smart phone (not an iPhone) you can nominate the volume or power buttons to answer callers to save swiping. It is also possible to set your phone to automatically answer, however, this is not always convenient. If you use a smart phone with voice over then there will be a gesture to answer using voice over: it is a two-finger double tap. Using talk back it is a two finger swipe up.

Keypad dialling

Numeric keypads are laid out in rows of three numbers starting with 1 the top left corner 0 is in the centre of the fourth row to the left of the 0 is the star key and to the right the hash key. The hash or star keys may be needed to access telephone or zoom groups.

The number 5 should have a raised dot that you can feel. This should allow you to orientate yourself around the pad if you use the central key as a landmark. You can use tactile marks or bump ons (sticky rubber buttons) to ensure the 5 becomes more tactile. You may choose to highlight other keys with specific functions such as the hash key. You may choose to use highly visible markings. Large button phones might be more visible but sometimes the wider spacing between keys can make them more difficult to dial. A sticky mat under the phone can stop it moving around when you are dialling.

Taking a long time to dial the number

Do you find it takes you a little longer to dial in numbers in than it used to, and you find the dialling tone disappears? Just keep dialling replace the receiver, pick it up again and press the last number redial button (LNR).

Memory buttons

Most landline phones have the capability of storing key numbers. These need to be stored in the phone. If the memory buttons stand alone, you may wish to make this more visible or tactile. Beware of over marking your phone as it may become confusing.

Making calls on your mobile

There are several inexpensive mobile phones on the market with tactile keypads. Not all of them have voice feedback though. Some phones on the market have been simplified to only call three pre-programmed numbers and emergency numbers. Some Managing Sight Loss course attendees recommended the Blindshell Classic 2 phone. They were impressed by the accessibility of the Blindshell Classic 2. Watch a YouTube review of the phone on: This Blind Life.

On smartphones you can use talk back or voiceover to hear the keys as you type and check the number before you dial.  Typing in numbers and listening to feedback does take practice and patience.   If you have numbers stored in your phone you can usually ask your phone to call your contacts. It is also possible to dictate numbers you know into your phone for it to dial.

Accessible landlines and mobiles

There are several suppliers of large button or picture phones with and without cords. Look at:

Other suppliers include Argos, SW Retail and the partially sighted society. We recommend that you purchase a phone on a sale or return basis to check that it meets your needs. Simply return the phone if it is not what you are looking for.

Making calls on a smart speaker

There are three main types of smart speaker: Google, Apple and the most popular Amazon Alexa. Amazon and Apple smart speakers have the facility to make phone calls. Google is a little different allowing you to only call only Google Duo users.

On Google you can call programmed contacts by name or if you know the number. Just say call 0303 123 9999 and you will be connected. Or you might say: “What’s the nearest Chinese take away?” and you will be given the option to call. You are not charged for calling in this way. You can call also mobiles within the UK. Amazon Alexa users can ask for the RNIB Helpline. You do need access to broadband internet to use a smart speaker.

195 free directory enquiries

Members of the Managing Sight Loss sessions regularly use British Telecom’s 195 service. They simply dial 195, quote their pin are offered the number they require or are assisted. You can call 195 to join the service. BT 195 service.

Finding numbers and contacts

Many smart phones can store contacts, as do smart speakers that are linked to phones. There is still a place for writing numbers large,  you can use felt pen and paper or a chalk board. Small voice recorders allows you to take information from a call and to store numbers for the future. If you would like to talk about personalised ways of storing numbers, get in touch with us and we can help you explore options. Get in touch on or 0203 761 3651


There is lack of fully accessible plug-in answerphones on the market. Some answerphones are easier to use (and clearer to see) than others.

Attendees on the Talking Phones session referenced the 1571 service, which can be personalised.  Attendees recommended this as an accessible service for blind and partially sighted users. Check costs before setting the 1571 service up. The service may not be available with all phone providers. This Wikipedia article provides more detail on the 1571 service, including pros and cons against and information on the answering service.

Telephone preference service

You can register your phone number to reduce nuisance and unwanted calls. Telephone Preference Service.

Concerned about the digital phone switchover?

Attendees on the Talking Phones session shared their concerns about the digital switch over. In simple terms this means that by 2025 all landline phones will plug directly into a broadband router.

Concerns raised around this include:

If you are worried about the change, speak to your telecare provider and your phone company. You should get notice before changes are made, and an engineer will have to come into your home. You can read more here: What does the telephone switchover mean for you.

If you have more tips on dialling or answering calls, please get in touch and we can share your tips more widely!