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Article: Update to Accessible Cell Phones for the Blind and Visually Impaired January 2010

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 August 2008

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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.  However, as will be further discussed below, the Apple's iPhone has been groundbreaking in that regard. 


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

a.       Code Factory has increased their product offerings and supported platforms.  Mobile Speak 4 has improvements to previous versions of the popular screen reader software.  Code Factory has a new screen reader called Oratio for BlackBerry smartphones that was released in February 2010.  Code Factory Oratio will first be compatible with the AT&T BlackBerry Curve 8520.  Code Factory Oratio will benefit employers by providing an accommodating solution for blind and visually impaired employees that leverages an organization's existing investment in BlackBerry infrastructure and technologies.  Oratio is a collaboration of Human Ware, Code Factory, and Research in Motion (RIM).  Code Factory also released Mobile Geo, a GPS navigation software for Windows Mobile-based Smartphones and Pocket PCs.

b.      In April 2009, Dolphin stopped directly selling a screen reader for Windows Mobile Smartphone (Smart Hal) as well as Windows Mobile Pocket PC (Pocket Hal).  Actually Pocket Hal was never mentioned in the press release.  Dolphin partnered with Nuance (TALKS) and offered a way for their clients to transition to TALKS for Windows Mobile.  One less independent software maker in the market.  What's sort of interesting about this development is that you won't find any mention of a Windows Mobile version of TALKS on the Nuance website.  That is because Verizon offers the Nuance TALKS for Windows Mobile.  Apparently this is a case of an exclusive dealership. 


c.       As mentioned above, Verizon has joined AT&T in offering a screen reader software for specific Verizon phones.  Like AT&T, they sell their software at a steep discount in exchange for a service agreement.

d.        AT&T now has LG cell phones that feature Voice Command. 

e.        LG has come out with Voice Guide (available on Sprint phones) and Menu Readout (available on Verizon phones) which is slight upgrade to Voice Command. 

f.       Nuance continued to make improvements to the cell phone voice solutions that they acquired in purchasing VoiceSignal in 2007.  The software is being marketed to cell phone manufacturers and software developers.     

g.         More consolidation in the cell phone industry.  T-Mobile purchased SunComm Verizon purchased Alltel.

h.    Google came out with their Android mobile operating system and started selling their own smartphone Nexus One directly.  A direct competitor to the Apple iPhone.

i.    Maybe the cell phone industry is at the point where every story somehow involves the Apple iPhone.  The last time I did an update to the original article, I wrote that the Apple iPhone was NOT accessible.  That was true at the time.  Well that situation has drastically changed.  With the iPhone 3GS, Apple offered VoiceOver screen reader software as well as Zoom magnification software.  The iPhone's out-of-the-box groundbreaking accessibility was universally admired.  From there, however, opinions differed widely.  The blind community is split in whether this out-of-the-box accessibility can really compete with add-on premium software such as TALKS or Mobile Speaks.  Apple has taken a different approach that no other screen reader has to this point.  The Apple VoiceOver screen reader expects the blind user to operate the phone in much the same manner as a sighted user would.  All screens, all features of all screens, are made accessible to the blind user.  The counterargument to this approach is that it's just not practical to expect the blind user to quickly and accurately use a touch screen, even with assistance from a screen reader, that was designed from the beginning for a sighted user.  It is left up to the users to experience and try for themselves and come to their own conclusions.          


What hasn’t changed for Blind and Low Vision cell phone users:

a.       I've been pretty pessimistic in my previous articles about what the cell phone industry was offering blind users regarding innovations and universal design.  Having been involved with accessible cell phones for many years, I finally have to crack and not be so pessimistic.   Between the impending release of Code Factory Oratio for the RIM BlackBerry operating system, the Apple iPhone VoiceOver/Zoom out-of-the-box accessibility, and Verizon joining AT&T in subsidizing screen reader software things have certainly come a long way from the Dr. Bonnie O’Day lawsuit versus Audiovox and Verizon back in 2003.  That doesn't mean that there isn't more that the industry needs to do, but I am hopeful that the industry will continue to innovate as much as it has done in the last 7 years.  Hopefully that means the next 7 years will be just as exciting for blind and low vision cell phone users. 


Link to the original article

Link to the update August 2008

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