Information on Accessible Cell Phones for People with Special Needs
It All Starts with Communication
The purpose of this page is to provide a brief overview of the various solutions available for blind and low vision cell phone users. In general this site will stick to providing a general rather than detailed overview without much opinion offered, leaving it up to the person who is interested to pursue further research on their own. When opinions are given, they are just that, opinions. I define a cell phone in the most broadest terms, something that can provide voice communications in a small portable package. I exclude laptops from this discussion. I also present multiple accessible cell phone solutions for the blind or low vision user rather than get hung up on what "accessible" means as there is no single product that can meet every blind and low vision user's requirements and budget.
Apple put their VoiceOver screen reader on the Apple iPhone 3GS. Voice Over was first seen on Apple Mac computers so there is a level of familiarity with it. What is so remarkable about this feature is that the screen reader comes at no additional charge and is intended to allow a blind user to user the phone just as any other user would. First a review of how other current third party screen reader programs interact with the touch screen is probably in order. Current third party screen reader programs for smartphones such as Code Factory Mobile Speaks do not attempt to have the user control the phone directly through the touch screen as a sighted user would. For example, Code Factory Mobile Speaks breaks the touch screen into 4 quadrants, in essence the screen becomes 4 virtual keys. Touching the screen at certain points causes the phone to perform other actions associated with the respective virtual key. How you touch the screen quadrant (long tap, short tap, slide tap, etc.) also causes certain functions to also occur. Unlike a sighted user, the blind user would not actually touch the battery indicator on the screen to obtain the phone's battery status. Instead, the blind user would use hotkeys on the keyboard to get that information. Apples claims on the iPhone accessibility page that the user won't need to memorize hundreds of keyboard commands or navigate the smartphone by endlessly pressing tiny arrow keys to find what you’re looking for. With VoiceOver, you touch the screen to hear a description of the item under your finger. You then use a gesture (double-tap, drag, or flick) to control the phone. A different approach. Some users will appreciate the universal design feature of VoiceOver but other blind users simply want to obtain information on their phone in the fastest, most reliable method whether that is touching the screen directly with the VoiceOver approach or using hotkeys with the Mobile Speaks approach. To be fair, to get to anything quickly on the iPhone, the user will in essence have to memorize what is on the iPhone screens so that still seems to be memorization.
From Apple's iPhone accessibility page, VoiceOver works with iPhone’s touchscreen directly. The user interacts directly with objects on the screen. It claims this is "natural". Not so sure about that but it is up to the user to experience and determine. For example, touching the upper-left corner of the screen, the iPhone describes what’s in the upper left corner of a web page, and as the user drags their finger around the screen, they’ll learn what is on the screen nearby. With VoiceOver, the user can hear descriptions of every item on the screen, including status information such as battery level, Wi-Fi and cellular network signal levels, the cellular network provider, and time of day. Again, the intention is that the blind user has access to all of the same phone features as the sighted user.
A great feature of VoiceOver is that it is included at no additional charge on the Apple iPhone 3GS. There is no charge for licensing. You can install and activate VoiceOver without sighted help using iTunes and a computer (with screen reader).
One feature I don't understand about VoiceOver is that when an item on the screen is selected, a black rectangle called the VoiceOver cursor appears around the cursor. Apple's iPhone accessibility page claims the VoiceOver cursor is displayed for the benefit of sighted users with whom you may be sharing your phone. I don't understand why a sighted user would need a black rectangular VoiceOver cursor. It seems like they would just look at the screen.
A key feature of the Apple iPhone is the lack of a keyboard. This missing feature is one that even sighted users debate. The tradeoff with no keyboard is the sleek thin smartphone design. That comes at the expense of a physical keyboard that a user can touch, feel, and navigate around. When the user is typing text, VoiceOver echoes each character on the keyboard as the user touches it, and again to confirm when the user enters it. VoiceOver also has a feature that can speak each completed word instead of and in addition to individual characters as they are typed. The Apple iPhone features word prediction and will offer suggestions about the correct spelling when a word is typed incorrectly.
VoiceOver works with all of the built-in software applications that come installed on the iPhone such as iTunes, Mail, safari, etc. Apple is working with third party software application developers to make their applications VoiceOver compatible. I do not know how well developers adhere to the VoiceOver standard.
Other accessible features of the Apple iPhone in addition to VoiceOver:
There are currently 2 manufacturers of screen reading software for cell phones: Code Factory and Nuance. Note: As of April 2009, Dolphin has partnered with Nuance and no longer sells their software directly. The cell phone screen readers work like a computer screen reader such as JAWS but of course these are intended to be installed and used on a cell phone. You need to make sure your phone has a compatible operating system and that the software works with your phone. You should always check with an authorized software dealer prior to purchasing a cell phone. The manufacturers have this type of information available on their websites. The cell phone screen reader gives what amounts to full access to all the features and functions of the phone. Third party software made for the cell phone may not be compatible with the screen reader. Again, you should always first check with an authorized software dealer prior to purchasing a cell phone if there is software that is important for you to use. Software support is included in the price of the software, there are no additional fees required but you should look at the manufacturer site for specific details. Each manufacturer has their own policy regarding replacing a license in case the phone is lost, stolen, or breaks. The software usually comes with a 30-day trial period so you should definitely try before you buy.
Code Factory’s screen readers consist of software applications installed on a mobile phone, which allow you to use the device even if you cannot read the screen visually. Information displayed on the screen is rendered in synthesized speech output generated using text-to-speech (TTS) technology and routed through the device’s speaker or a headset. Screen contents can also be presented in Braille if the mobile phone or PDA is connected to a Braille device with a refreshable Braille display. Speech and Braille output can be used at the same time, or independently, to perform many tasks on the phone, including the following:
Advanced features - These features are common to Mobile Speak for Symbian and Mobile Speak for Windows Mobile:
Mobile Speak features advanced Braille support. Mobile Speak:
Supported Braille devices are:
Mobile Speak is also sold in bundles:
Oratio is the first screen reader software solution that enables visually impaired users to access and operate BlackBerry smartphones using state of the art Text-To-Speech technology to convert the visual information displayed on the BlackBerry smartphone screen into a intuitive speech output. This enables its users to use BlackBerry smartphones to increase their independence and productivity in today’s competitive world. Oratio is a collaboration of Human Ware, Code Factory and Research in Motion (RIM). Note: The name was changed from Orator to Oratio to avoid any confusion with an existing product called Orator being manufactured by a telecommunications company in the USA.
Oratio will first be released in North America in English, supporting the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone from AT&T, available through online purchasing from www.oratio4bb.com for $449 US for a single license. Support for additional BlackBerry smartphone models and languages will be available in subsequent versions of Oratio.
Oratio was designed to support the core application found on the BlackBerry smatrtphones allowing visually impaired users to:
Note: Verizon sells Nuance TALKS for Windows Mobile at a steep discount for their HTC Ozone and Motorola Q9c (this phone can no longer be ordered from Verizon). You will not find information about this software at the Nuance website but must go to Verizon directly.
The significantly revised audio handling for handsets running S60 3rd Edition allows to use any TTS that is supported by TALKS during a call. Looking up a contact or note, or entering new ones, manage multiple calls, using call options to mute or hold calls, and much more can be done using the familiar TTS voice of your choice.
Now, TALKS gives users more freedom, by offering SIM-based licensing. When TALKS is registered to a SIM-card instead of being registered to a phone/IMEI, the user can move that SIM card from one phone to the other, as long as the SIM license is valid for the TALKS version installed to the new handset.
TALKS now support reading and even editing word documents, for instance, e-mail attachments, in QuickWord. QuickWord is a part of QuickOffice, and its view-only version is pre-installed on most handsets, while the version that allows to edit text is pre-installed on the Nokia E-Series handsets, or can be purchased otherwise.
Nuance TALKS Premium edition features:
Mobile Color recognizer and light detector (MCR) is a unique software developed to work with Mobile Speak for Symbian Phones. MCR can be used to determine the color (or different colors) of an object by taking a picture of it.
Mobile Geo is Code Factory’s GPS navigation software for Windows Mobile-based Smartphones, Pocket PC phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Powered by GPS and mapping technology from the Sendero Group , a leading provider of GPS products for the blind, Mobile Geo is the first solution specifically designed to serve as a navigation aid for people with a visual impairment which works with a wide range of mainstream mobile devices.
Mobile DAISY Player is an electronic book reader for Symbian-based and Windows Mobile-powered mobile phones. It allows both sighted and vision-impaired mobile users to take books in Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format with them wherever they go.
Available for Windows Mobile and Symbian operating systems. The games pack contains games that can be played with speech feedback
When using Wayfinder Access navigation software, a wireless GPS receiver and a Symbian enabled mobile phone we can bring you full freedom without the expense of a bulky package. Integrated with Nuance and Code Factory screen reader software.
There are currently 2 manufacturers of magnification software for cell phones: Code Factory and Nuance. You need to make sure your phone has a compatible operating system and that the software works with your phone.
Phones that come with built-in voice recognition software. The user presses a dedicated button on the phone and then uses their voice to make calls. These phones sometimes have a limited built-in screen reader so that some pages or items are read to the user. They do not currently offer anything close to full accessibility but the price is right for some users.
Press the Voice Command button followed by:
Just say "call someone" to phone a friend or family member that's listed in your phone address book. When prompted, state the name of the person you wish to call, and then your phone will retrieve the information. From there, you can say:
Use this command to dial a phone number. When prompted, state the phone number you'd like to dial, then say:
Say "listen voicemail" to be automatically connected to your voicemail.
This command gives you a list of phone calls you've missed. From there, you can say:
This command displays a list of text messages. From there, just say:
"Time and date"
Just say "time and date," and your phone will display the current time and date.
Devices have some menu read out capabilities. The device must be set to
“readout” in order for that functionality to work. Check your manual
for instructions on how to set our device for the readout mode.
LG Rumor 2 - Black Titanium (Sprint) - this phone, operating on Sprint’s CDMA network, offers several features that make it appealing to many blind and visually-impaired users:
LG Lotus - Black (Sprint) - this phone, operating on Sprint’s CDMA network, offers several features that make the phone appealing to many blind and visually-impaired users:
Motorola iDEN and PowerSource Phones
AT&T recently added LG Voice Command phones to their product offering. LG Trax and LG Shine II (AT&T) have the Voice Command.
knfbReader Mobile: The knfbReader consists of the kReader software with a TALKS or Mobile Speaks screen reader. The Nokia phone with software which places the functionality of a reading machine into a multifunction cell phone. The Mobile Reader products can be activated and ready to use with the touch of a single button on the phone. The Mobile Reader software is an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) TTS (Text to Speech) Symbian application. The application enables the camera to take pictures of printed material, convert the images into text files, and read the text files aloud. The user takes a photo of the print to be read and the character recognition software in conjunction with high quality text-to-speech will read the contents of the document aloud. At the same time, it can display the print on the phone’s built-in screen and highlight each word as it is spoken. The Mobile Reader is not intended to read the menus of the phone, for that purpose the user should also purchase screen reader software. Can be used with either Nuance or Code Factory screen reader. The software is available on a range of Nokia phones. The intended user should check with an authorized dealer prior to purchasing a cell phone.
Special designed Samsung built specifically for elderly users with larger buttons, larger screen font, and louder speaker. Sold only through Great Call.
Jitterbug Cell Phones. Easy large buttons. Loud sound.
Live 24-hour operator assistance.
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