Chapter excerpt: managing phone spam for special needs iPhone users

From chapter on using an iPhone as a … telephone.


When telephone calls migrated from mechanical switches to digital networks they picked up an unexpected problem. It’s now quite easy for someone outside of the US legal system to phone someone in the US with a fake phone number. These calls are used for everything from advertising to scams to stealing people’s identity and money. An unlisted number is of little help, digital dialers call phone numbers randomly 1 as well as lists of known active numbers. Many of us no longer answer any calls with an unrecognized Caller ID 2.

Explorers may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation of course. So it’s a good idea to consider defensive options.

To start with an Explorer’s number should be added to Federal Do Not Call registries at This has only a small effect on modern spam but It’s a reasonable start.

Some mobile carriers are implementing defenses against spam calls. They use proprietary rules to try to distinguish good and bad calls 3. If your Explorer’s carrier provides phone filtering I recommend enabling this feature 4. I’ve used AT&T Call Protect with good results. As of the time I write this AT&T and Tmobile provide call blocking for free, Sprite and Verizon charge for it.

The iPhone also supports “Call Blocking & Identification” either by adding Blocked Contacts 5 or using a Call Blocking & Authentication service 6.

The Do Not Disturb feature is another option to consider. An iPhone can be setup to silence all incoming calls and messages unless they match a Contact. In Settings:Do Not Disturb set Silence to “Always” and Allow Calls From to “All Contacts”. I have seen problems with this setting however, in some versions of iOS it blocks notifications even for people in Contacts. This is a bug that may be fixed by the time you read this.

The best defense against phone spam at this time is a Carrier service and Explorer education. Using Call Blocking & Identification or Do Not Disturb features can work for some but are tricky to manage.


1 In any given US area code there are at most 9,999,999 phone numbers and many mobile numbers are reused.

2 In theory a spam call’s fake number might, by chance, match a number in Contacts. I have thousands of Contacts though, and I’ve never seen this happen. Ignoring unrecognized calls isn’t an option for everyone unfortunately.

3 These products can help reduce attacks but won’t get everything.

Carriers are also looking into next-generation communication systems that authenticate callers and can use the same approaches that manage email spam. This may be 5-10 years away though.

4 Alas, I need to make some privacy warnings here. This product gives AT&T access to user Contacts. I don’t know what privacy policies are in place.

AT&T Call Connect is based on a product called HiYa. It’s “free” because the vendor sells user information to marketers. It would be funny if robocallers were buyers!

5 One trick: Create a Contact called “Bad People” add add numbers to it. Then block “Bad People”.

6 See Apple support: I can’t recommend a specific service however.

Voice and Video options for iPhone Explorers

I’m writing a chapter on the least appreciated feature of an iPhone — voice communication. Had to throw in Video as well. I make a plug for using FaceTime audio to initiate calls to an Explorer — I think the better quality audio can help.

There are many ways to do voice and video “calls” in 2018. All of the big tech vendors have their own products and they don’t talk to one another. You can’t, for example, call a Microsoft Skype user with the iPhone’s FaceTime app. It’s like 19th century railroads, when every company used a different track design.

Not only do tech companies have their own proprietary technologies, they change them often. Nobody is sure what Facebook is going to do, and Google seems to have a different video call strategy every few months.

Happily Apple has been consistent and predictable. Apple supports “plain old telephone service” (POTS) and FaceTime Audio and Video. For most Guides and Explorers the practical approach is to stay with Apple’s options. 1 

There are many ways to make these connections on an iPhone. handles telephone calls, has a Video tab and an Audio tab. can be used to start a phone call, FaceTime Video call, or FaceTime audio call. The Favorites list 2 has shortcuts for telephone audio, FaceTime Audio, and FaceTime Video.

Handling an incoming call is pretty much the same for all three; they all have the same default ringtone sound.

Most Explorers will need to learn to make and receive a standard telephone call. Some Explorers may find communication easier with FaceTime Video than with audio only, the video image provides additional communication cues 3.

FaceTime Audio is a special case. Few neurotypicals use it; most Explorers won’t need to deal with the added complexity. Still, it does does have some advantages. FaceTime Audio sound quality is much better than a traditional phone audio. There are no charges for international FaceTime Audio calls other than possible cellular data use — and it uses very little data. FaceTime Audio may be useful when phoning an Explorer, it will seem like a standard incoming phone call but the audio quality will be much better.


– fn –

1 It’s largely outside the scope of this book, but if an Explorer needed to do video calls to a relative with an Android smartphone or Windows computer you could install either Google Hangout or Facebook Messenger on the Explorer’s iPhone. I talk about Facebook Messenger in the Facebook chapter. In 2017 there were rumors Facebook would drop video call support however.

2 You might ask why does the Favorites list, which is a part of, also support video calls? That’s a good question that I think Apple would prefer not to dwell on.

3 Our Explorers have little interest in FaceTime Video, but my elderly father did much better on Video calls than on plain voice calls. I suspect this was at least partly due to hearing impairment.

Teaching iPhone Voice Call and FaceTime use to Explorers

Smartphones for All book subchapter: Teaching Voice Call and FaceTime use. It was interesting how caller ID spoofing has changed how everyone manages voice calls.

What’s the best way for an Explorer to use the iPhone’s phone feature? How should they use voicemail? How should an Explorer respond to a phone call they don’t recognize? When is it appropriate to do a FaceTime video call? What about FaceTime audio?

The answer to these questions is going to vary for every Explorer. For example, I have had older Explorers phone me without texting first. That’s a social faux pas now, but it’s something older neurotypicals expect. It’s may be hard for some Explorers to understand that it’s okay to phone Grandma without texting first, but socially incorrect to “cold call” a coach or friend. Likewise some Explorers may find phone calls easier than texting and some will actually check voicemail⁠1. Phone management training and setup should be personalized.

I think most Explorers who are comfortable with texting will adopt the current social norm of using “cold calls” for urgent or emergent communication and using texting for brief communications or voice call preparation. I also think most will not use voicemail, but will instead text if a “cold call” goes unanswered.

For our Explorers this did not require formal training, it was a social norm they learned from siblings and friends. Training may be relatively easy when needed however. A somewhat older Explorer used to routinely “cold call” me. I knew he did well texting so I sent his calls to voicemail and replied by text message. After two to three repetitions he switched to texting me instead.

We also haven’t had to teach our Explorers that voicemails are usually ineffective; they don’t like to leave them. It may be useful to teach an Explorer to use text messages in place of voicemail if an urgent phone call is not answered.

Since don’t expect our Explorers to listen to voicemails we haven’t taught voicemail management. It could be helpful if an Explorer responded to an employer’s voicemail, but most employers know that voicemails are not reliable ways to communicate.  Of course individual circumstances vary, some Explorers will benefit from teaching and reinforcing voicemail management.

Spam and malicious phone calls are a problem for Explorers — as for everyone. The ability to fake caller IDs (“spoofing”) has been a boon to pests and criminals. Obsolete regulations on marketing calls to cell phones⁠2 and “do not call” registries are largely ineffective now. The first defense here is phone configuration and carrier screening apps as discussed earlier in this chapter.

The next defense is teaching suspicion. This is a lifelong learning project for Explorers across the material and immaterial worlds. I’d love to see “suspicion” as a formal curriculum in special needs education! In this book I address suspicion education in every communication method, from voice calls to texting to email to Facebook. In the case of voice calls the rule to teach is fairly simple: If you the incoming call doesn’t show the name of a Contact then tap the red disconnect icon or push the power button once⁠3. It’s helpful that many Explorers won’t answer a cold call anyway, and many won’t check voicemail. It’s also helpful that the most vulnerable Explorers don’t usually have many financial resources under their control; criminals typically prefer vulnerable elders.

The value of FaceTime video calls will vary by Explorer’s situation. They may be very helpful for an Explorer living independently as a way to help with activities of daily living or as a social connection. They may be less interesting for an Explorer living at home.

General FaceTime video (and audio) call initiation is somewhat complex, but an iPhone “Favorite⁠4” can be setup to initiate a FaceTime video (or audio) call. In this case an Explorer need only learn which “Favorites” are audio versus video calls. Most will learn this quickly on their own⁠5. Answering a FaceTime audio or video call requires a bit of practice but most Explorers will learn this quickly. As with a voice call a FaceTime call will typically be preceded by a text message — so Explorers will be prepared to respond.

FaceTime audio calls are rarely used; I think they are underused. They only work between Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac) but the sound quality is much better than cellular sound quality. They don’t incur international charges and they use very little data, a FaceTime audio call to Canada costs no more than a FaceTime audio call next door. They can be setup as a Favorite and, when preceded by a text message, they are easy to answer.

1 At least at first. As discussed below most modern voicemails are spam so Explorers will learn to ignore them.

2 These regulations were from an era when it cost money to receive a phone call and most people used landlines most of the time. So mobile phones were treated differently from landlines. They really are obsolete in an era when few people have landlines and voice call reception is typically bundled in a flat fee.

3 Tapping once makes the call ‘disappear’ but the caller spends time “ringing” before voicemail is available.

4 It is a bit odd that “Favorites” are part of Phone setup but also apply to FaceTime. A practical UI compromise! When FaceTime is used this way the FaceTime app icon can be hidden away.

5 The phone works better if a single person’s Contact holds email, sexting phone number and FaceTime information. In some cases you could consider splitting them up to be more recognizable but I don’t recommend this.

Creating contacts for an Explorer

I learned several new things about iOS Contacts when I wrote a book section on entering an Explorer’s Contacts.


Contacts can be added to an Explorer’s iPhone in several different ways. They can be typed in the iPhone directly or typed into the on an Explorer’s iCloud account. A Guide or other person may also share their contacts by Message or Mail (see user guide on sharing contacts). There are also ways to share many contacts at once 1 that can save time for some Guides.

Whether Contacts are shared to an Explorer’s phone or entered as new there are ways to make them more useful and less confusing. Keep the list relatively short at first — usually family members, aides, key friends and support staff. When you’ve assembled your list choose a few, ideally 3-8, to be “Favorites” (see below). Even if an Explorer never uses the Favorites list the iPhone’s increasing intelligence can use that knowledge, including automatically bypassing “do not disturb” settings. I’ve summarized recommendations for entering Contacts in table form, I’ve omitted fields that I haven’t found a use for (social profile, instant message, etc):


Contact field(s)


First and Last name and Company


For businesses or organizations leave the name fields empty and enter the Company only. If you want to create an entry for a couple, like “Aunt Emily and Uncle John” put this into the Company field.


When a call comes in the iPhone uses this number to display a name. So while you want to enter as few numbers as possible to reduce confusion, you may need to include a Favorite’s work number if they call from there. Tap on the default “home” label to specify if this is an “iPhone” or “mobile” or “work” or “home 2” number.


As with the phone example this information will be used to lookup an email correspondent. Most people have multiple emails, in general you want to put as few as possible here. Again tap on the label to specify “home”, “work” etc.

Ringtone and Text Tone

Don’t skip over these! You may want to enable “Emergency Bypass” for some callers, particularly if an Explorer enables “Do Not Disturb” to avoid pesky calls they truly need to get (obviously be thoughtful about this). You can set distinct ring or text tones for key people.


Even if an Explorer never looks at Contacts, much less sends a letter, this information is used by Maps and other apps for directions. Include it for places that an Explorer may travel too. Don’t forget to enter the Explorer’s own home and work addresses, many parts of the iPhone rely on this information.

Add Birthday (but not other dates)

If you add a Contacts birthday it will show up on the iPhone calendar and Siri will answer question about when it is. You can add other dates, like anniversary or custom labels (Adoption Day) — but they are currently seen only in Contacts. Siri and don’t use them.

Add related name

If you define a relationship here Siri will understand commands like “Call my brother Tim”. Instead of typing a name in use the “i” text button to select it from the Explorer’s Contacts list.

Add Field: Nickname and Phonetic.

At the bottom of the edit screen there’s an “add field” text button. If you click here you’ll see choices like “Phonetic last name”, and “Nickname”. Both of these features work well with Siri and you should add them where appropriate 3.


Once you’ve finished editing and saved contact information you will return a screen showing completed contact information. From there you can “Add to Favorites”. You can also choose to share an Explorer’s location with a specific person (See ____ for a detailed discussion on location sharing.)



1 See

2 Power user tip: If several contacts in a house share an old-fashioned landline then incoming calls will show one of those contact names. For our own home I put our home number in a special contact called “Home Number” and removed it from individual family member contacts.

3 There are other ways to train Siri to recognize names, but I find this is the easiest. As of the time I write this nobody knows how the “Pronunciation” field is used, my guess is that it’s used by iOS’s built-in screen reader. That’s an accessibility feature for visually impaired persons.

Teaching Messaging to an Explorer: stay within the Notification budget

From the Smartphones for All chapter on messaging:

The first step in teaching messaging to an Explorer is to simplify the iPhone’s as much as possible. I review this in the Setting up an Explorer’s iPhone chapter.  The iPhone’s has become harder to use as Apple has added more features, but most Explorers seem able to work around the confusion.


If an Explorer has even modest reading abilities they will learn Messaging quickly. Using to communicate from room to room in a house is one way to practice. Many families do this for neurotypicals, but for our Explorers this practice has been particularly helpful. I believe this is generally true for Explorers prone to intense focus or who use earphones to reduce distraction.

Once an Explorer is good at reading a message the next step is to encourage responses — typically by texting a question. There are many options here. “Y” or “N” are single letter responses to a yes or no question and the letter “k”is a widely recognized abbreviation for a neutral “ok” response. The iPhone’s autocorrect feature makes many Explorers more comfortable with longer text responses. Both Siri and the iPhone’s “speech to text” feature can be used to send verbal responses as text. Other Explorers may prefer to respond with emoji or even sound recordings (though the latter is a bit complex to do). There are many options to choose from.

The last step is initiating messages — typically a request for something. This is a small step beyond responding, and it’s easy to encourage by responding quickly and positively (when possible). Most Explorers, like most users, will send a new message by tapping on an existing message collection rather than by browsing contacts or typing in a name. Alternatively, saying “Hey Siri, text Mum to get me a snack” works better than most Siri functions (see iPhone setup – Siri to learn how to teach Siri who “Mum” is).

Once an Explorer can receive, respond to and initiate messages the last step is managing group or “Chat” type messages. These are hard for everyone — all of us have accidentally message a group of people when we meant to message a single person. This can be more than a bit embarrasing; I hope future improvements will make this easier to avoid. For many Explorers it may be best to avoid use of this feature in favor of a direct message. If a group message is being accidentally reused it can be deleted from an Explorer’s phone.

Messaging, by design, grabs the recipient’s attention. This isn’t too bad for a low volume of Messages, but every iPhone app is clamoring for attention. Almost all applications try to turn on all possible Notifications when they are installed.  Explorers will have low tolerance for unwanted interruptions and may end up turning off iPhone volume — defeating the value of Messages. The trick to prevent this problem is to regularly review the iPhone’s Notification settings and disable almost all notifications, leaving only those for Messages, Reminders, Calendars and the like (see Apple’s User Guide and Setting up an Explorer’s iPhone). 

Sadly this isn’t a one time chore, smartphone applications are alway fighting to enable Notifications, particularly when first installed. If an application’s Notification lust is truly annoying it may be due for deletion. 

Another way to reduce annoying Messaging interruptions is to enable the “Do Not Disturb” feature to accept messages only from “Favorites”, where a Favorite might be a Guide or sibling.  Our goal with Notifications is to make each one of them useful.

In the last resort an Explorer may be reminded that their iPhone is an important tool as well as a fun device, but I encourage optimizing Notifications first.

Smartphones for All: Preprint chapter – Calendars.pdf

I’ve updated the preprint of my book chapter on Calendars. You can read the PDF for free, my September presentation to the Down Syndrome association has other preprints.

This is one of my favorite chapters – iOS Calendars are a great tool for Explorers (and Guides as well). From the Key Points section (I’m adding these to all the chapters):

• The Calendar is a key tool to help Explorers learn and practice the fundamental life skill of planning.
• iPhone Cloud calendars are a huge improvement over paper calendars for all Explorers. They can be managed by Guides and they support sharing and alerts. They are always at hand. Explorers will lose paper calendars, but few will lose their iPhones.
• To support an Explorer’s use of a Calendar a Guide needs to use an iPhone Calendar themselves. They need to demonstrate use.
• When an Explorer asks when an event is, there’s always one answer – “It’s on your calendar”.
• Explorers can start with a simple Calendar managed by a Guide with event alerts. In time most will learn to add events, to work with Family Calendar Sharing (or the non-family equivalent), and to manage invitations.
• There is a longstanding and complicated Apple bug with Calendar invitations. If you send an iPhone calendar invitation to someone and they don’t get it you’ve run into the bug. There’s nothing you can do, Apple has to fix this. It’s just useful to know the bug exists. With luck you’ll never see it.
• It’s possible to substitute Google’s Calendar for Apple’s iCloud Calendar and still use the base iPhone This can be a good option for a Guide who is invested in Google Calendar but it’s technically trickier.

As always with preprints don’t worry about the typos and grammar blunders.

I’m mostly done with new chapters, moving to rewrites and updates. Editing on the way …

iOS 11 for Guides and Explorers – restrictions and simplification

With each release of iOS there’s obviously a lot of book updating to do. I very much hope I get my first edition out during iOS 11’s tenure — and then get updates out thereafter.

iOS 11 has made the iPad significantly more complex than it was, but the impact on the iPhone is smaller and generally positive. It continues to get harder to avoid two-factor authentication (how to disable it if you accidentally enabled). That’s a problem for Explorers because it makes Guide remote management harder — I’m going to have to figure out how to support the Guide role with two-factor enabled. (Apple, some help here would be appreciated!)

Restrictions haven’t changed much. There’s still room for a lot of improvement — particularly in control of cellular data use. There is a new restriction to lock “Do Not Disturb While Driving” — but very few Explorers will be driving a car.

The new Notifications review screen (pull down from top) now pulls down an image of a Lock Screen — with notifications overlying it. The image even says “Press home to open” even though the phone is actually … open. Nobody has been able to explain how this makes sense and I hope it will be quietly fixed in a future small update.

Sweeping down always shows Notifications, you then sweep right to see Widgets. In iOS 10 this screen defaulted to showing whatever was last used; the new behavior is consistent and easier to understand. If all Notifications are disabled and all Widgets removed the weird “not-lock” pulldown screen is only mildly confusing.

Sweeping up from the bottom shows the new Control Center. This is a real improvement! There’s no more left/right double pane, the background goes blank, and it can set it to only work from the Home Screen. Controls can be customized and many removed. (The behavior of the WiFi and Bluetooth Control Center controls has become more complex and confusing to expert users, but for Explorers the new “smart” behaviors should be fine.)

Siri is a bit harder to disable now. Instead of one switch there are three, but if all three are disabled it behaves the same way. Siri can also be disabled in restrictions along with voice dictation — that will be a better option for most Explorers. Of course some Explorers like Siri, so mileage will vary.

There’s a new setting for Emergency SOS that’s disabled by default. I suggest leaving it off. Accidentally activating emergency services can be traumatic for an Explorer — and may have legal consequences.

Which brings us to is a key tool for Explorers and iOS 10 made it unfortunately more complex. Things are not better in iOS 11.  Heaven help anyone, Guide or Explorer, who accidentally taps the App Store button. There’s no setting to disable this danged thing — even though the mass of iPhone users is pleading for one. There’s also a new bottom button bar that lists almost entirely useless Message widgets. These can be individually removed from Messages, but to hide the bar one has to know to gently drag the gray App Store icon downwards. The button bar will return though if one accidentally taps the App Store icon.

These changes to are not popular. There’s a chance Apple will fix some of this in a future version of iOS. I advise leaving a comment on – I’ve read that Apple actually monitors those. I’ve requested they add a restriction for Messages App Store and a setting to disable the bottom menu bar in Settings.

That’s all I’ve found so far, I’m sure I’ll see a few more things when I update the Settings chapter. If you see more things leave a note via Twitter or Facebook or email me at

Image management on iPhone is a mess for Explorers … and everyone else

Today I worked on my chapter on Photos and Video management for Guides and Explorers. Before I could write out about how to incorporate still images into Notes as a memory tool I felt I had to address issues with managing storage demands of video and still images for an Explorer’s iPhone. Ironically this hasn’t been a problem for our Explorers — #1 deletes liberally and #2 isn’t that interested in images. It’s been a problem for the rest of the family though!

I’ve been afraid of this topic. I knew it was ugly. Apple cultivates a deserved reputation for creating beautiful images, but Apple geeks know that Apple’s photo management strategy went off the rails years ago.  Thirty minutes of 4K video (10GB) can consume all the free storage in lower end iPhones.

Today I put out my first draft and I feel my fears were justified. It will be interesting to see if iOS 11 and updated iCloud features help — but I’m not too hopeful. Apple’s iCloud Photo Library is their “solution”, but it’s too expensive (Wifi and high quality broadband, $120/year data fee) for many Explorers.

I hope someone has a better solution. Here’s the draft for the storage management chapter (draft form, footnotes omitted):


iPhones in current use may have as little as 32 GB of storage (some of which is used for Apple’s basic apps) or as much as 256GB. Once upon a time this was a vast amount of storage, but 30 minutes of modern video may use all the local storage on a low capacity iPhone. Eventually video use will consume any amount of iPhone storage. Generous use of the still image “burst” feature will also use storage quickly.

There are no great solutions to this problem. Apple’s solution is to purchase iCloud Photo Library storage (see the user guide for how to do this). At the moment 2TB of iCloud Photo Library storage costs $120 a year and practical use of iCloud Photo Library requires high capacity WiFi. If an Explorer has the money to spend, and if they have high quality WiFi, then the iPhone will automatically move photos to Apple’s servers and free up storage on the iPhone. All the Explorers images will be saved — at least until they hit the 2TB storage limit (200 30 minute videos will do that).

With iCloud Photo Library there is an option for Guide to manage the Library. A Guide can use a web browser and an Explorer’s iCloud credentials to view their iCloud Photo Library. A Guide may then delete videos and images to free up space. Items deleted from the iCloud Photo Library will eventually be removed from the iPhone. Unfortunately there is no way to select more than one item at a time in the iCloud web view, so this is only practical for deleting large videos.

Apple’s iCloud Photo Library solution is not affordable for many adult Explorers. Technically inclined Guides may find Google Photos is a cost-effective way to manage iPhone images, but the complexity of using Google to mange iPhone storage use is well beyond what I can address in this book. Heck, it gives me headaches to contemplate it!

For an Explorer without WiFi the simplest practical approach is to go to Settings:Photos & Camera and turn off “iCloud Photo Library” and “My Photo Stream”. For simplicity I also recommend disabling “iCloud Photo Sharing”.

With these settings images will be stored locally. If the iPhone is backed up (see Chapter ___) then images will also be backed up, and they will use iCloud backup storage.

These images they need to be periodically deleted. This can’t be done remotely, a Guide or Explorer has to have the iPhone in hand to remove Photos. This is tedious, though deleting “moments” can help, or a Guide can go to Albums:Camera Roll and slide a finger over many images to select and then delete them.

What about images that an Explorer or Guide wants to keep? The simplest approach here is to select them on the Explorer’s iPhone and mail them one at a time to a Guide’s account for archiving. Another approach is to “share” them to, I’ll discuss that in the next section.

The bottom line is that image management on the iPhone is a mess. Apple’s iCloud Photo Library is a solution for higher income Explorers, but limitations in the web browser view make it hard for a Guide to help manage storage. Most Explorers will need to keep their images on their device, and either the or a Guide will need to periodically remove them. Only a few images will be saved by mailing them to a Guide or keeping then as Notes.