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Article: Update to Accessible Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired August 2008

Updates to items from the original article Accessible Cell Phone Solutions for the Blind and Visually Impaired March 2005:

Note: Some of the items presented below may make more sense if you first read the previous articles.  Information presented in a previous update is not repeated.

Link to the original article

Link to the update January 2010

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The basic premise is still true that blind and low vision cell phone users have essentially two choices:

a.       Buy third party screen reader or magnification software for their compatible cell phone.

b.      Buy a cell phone with built-in voice recognition and voice output features.


What has changed for Blind and Low Vision cell phone users:

a.       Code Factory has increased their product offerings and supported platforms.  There are versions of their screen reading software compatible with Windows Mobile Smartphone and Windows Mobile Pocket PC operating systems as well as the Symbian operating system.  Code Factory also added to their product mix with software add-ons like a Daisy Book Reader and the upcoming Mobile Geo. 

b.      The company Scansoft changed their name to Nuance and their product TALKS has been updated through the years.

c.       Dolphin now offers a screen reader for Windows Mobile Smartphone (Smart Hal) as well as Windows Mobile Pocket PC (Pocket Hal)

d.      Wayfinder Access navigation software is now supported by both Nuance TALKS as well as Code Factory software.

e.       Cingular became AT&T and AT&T stopped selling Nuance TALKS and started selling Code Factory software.

f.        The knfbReader Mobile product was released.  It is a Nokia N82 with software which places the functionality of a reading machine into a multifunction cell phone.  The Nokia N82 can be used with either Code Factory Mobile Speak or Nuance TALKS.


g.       All the major cell phone carriers have an accessibility page on their website that contains information for their blind and low vision users.  Only a couple had that a few years ago.

h.       The Owasys 22C screenless cell phone did get FCC approval and has been sold in the US for a few years now.  Iím not sure how popular it has been or how many have been sold.

i.         There have been continued mergers in the cell phone industry.  Verizon bought Alltel, Sprint bought Nextel, T-Mobile bought SunCom, and Cingular bought AT&T and eventually became AT&T.   

j.        There are some dedicated phones for senior citizens now on the market.  They can be useful for certain low vision users especially those who are also elderly.  The most popular choices seem to be Great Callís Jitterbug and the Verizon Coupe.

k.      The company VoiceSignal was bought by Nuance in 2007.   VoiceSignal sold an OEM version of their voice recognition software that is called Voice Command on LG phones.  The product is now sold under the name VoCon Mobile to various mobile phone manufacturers.  It would be interesting to see if Nuance is willing to sacrifice their TALKS product by offering a better version of their voice recognition software.

l.         The cell phone industry is still very dynamic.  One of the biggest changes has been the release of the Apple iPhone which is not accessible to blind or low vision users.  There is an ongoing battle over smartphone dominance with Apple, RIM (Blackberry), Windows, Palm, Nokia, and even Google now in the mix.  Accessibility has taken a back seat in the war to win over customers.  One good thing is that Microsoft has a huge cash pile to support its Windows Mobile product line (which does support third party accessible software) into the future.     


What hasnít changed for Blind and Low Vision cell phone users:

a.       The built-in voice recognition cell phones such as those offered by Verizon and other CDMA carriers havenít added much if anything to their accessibility.  There was always hope that more menus would be accessible in the built-in software but that hasnít happened yet.

b.      You still get what you pay for.  AT&T still sells screen reader software (although from a different vendor) really cheap.  But if youíre the type of user who is going to need product support, it's best to pay more and get your software from an authorized dealer.

c.    Accessibility is still an afterthought in new product design.  The Apple iPhone is not accessible for blind users and offers very little to most low vision users either.  It is a visually based device so it can be argued that it is not intended for a blind or low vision user anyway and what makes it so innovative is that it is so visually based.  The problem with that argument is that the iPhone IS the biggest change to hit the cell phone industry in years and blind and low vision cell phone users are left out.  But my biggest problem with regards to blind and low vision accessibility is that it continues the trend that the manufacturers of cell phones are not responsible for accessibility. 


Link to the original article

Link to the update January 2010

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