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Donated smartphones serve as lifelines to Canada's visually impaired

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Looking to get a new smartphone? If you choose to donate your old one, it could serve as a lifeline to the estimated one-and-a-half million Canadians with some form of sight loss.

“The smartphone can be customized to support any type of vision loss whether it's someone with some useable vision or if they are completely blind," Shane Laurnitus, with Smart Life Technology Programs at The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), told CTV News Toronto Thursday.

Phone it Forward is a smartphone donation program started by CNIB four years ago which has already collected and distributed five thousand smartphones to the visually impaired across Canada. It has also worked with partners to develop apps that can read e-mails, texts and books, prescription labels, and street signs, making the smartphone an essential tool to those with vision trouble.

“A lot of people with vision loss are not employed, so they are not able to go out and purchase a smartphone. It can be difficult because of the expense," Laurnitus said. "The phone can provide spoken information about their surroundings so they can easily get to where they need to go."

Phones can be donated for free with a shipping envelope pre-paid by the organization. To donate your phone, envelopes can be obtained at participating locations, online at www.phoneitforward.ca, or by calling 1-833-554-5020.

The program is looking for newer smartphones that have been gently used. Charitable tax receipts can be obtained for their value.

The phone will be wiped, refurbished if necessary, and re-loaded with technology that can help change the life of someone visually impaired.

A person who receives a smartphone with the new technology will also be given "one-on-one" training on how to use it and could be a lifeline if they need emergency assistance.

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