In the current version of iOS, such as can be found on iPhone 5*, the status bar is entirely transparent. There is no background at all, nor is this configurable. Boy, does he wish there was a background. We went through all the accessibility options (and changing those really does make the screen a lot easier to look at), but nothing.
So after discussing it with him, I said I didn't want to call Apple, but would be willing to use their Product Feedback page to let them know of his preferences. Which I then did.
And now, I am telling my (limited) audience the same, because, you know, soap boxy goodness.