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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2002 Issue  Volume 3  Number 2

Product Evaluation

Accessibility Features of the Sanyo 4700 Cellular Phone

Purchasing a reasonably accessible cell phone and a service plan that meets your needs can be daunting, at best, and completely overwhelming, at worst. This article reviews the access features and related issues for the Sanyo 4700 cellular phone, marketed and supported by Sprint PCS <www.sprintpcs.com>. It also provides a specific example of steps that can be taken to resolve some of the problems. My research suggests that this is the most accessible product currently supported by Sprint PCS. If readers find this format useful, I will use it to review the most accessible products supported by other major wireless providers.

Which Comes First: The Phone or the Provider?

Many people who are blind have purchased cell phones with some accessibility features only to discover that the phones are not supported by their local providers or are supported, but the providers do not have a plan that meets their needs. The Sanyo 4700, for example, is offered by Sprint PCS, which serves most major metropolitan areas but does not serve most rural regions. Therefore, it is generally best to purchase a plan and phone directly from a service provider, rather than through a third-party supplier. Keep in mind, though, that you are probably the first blind person the customer service representative has ever dealt with, and he or she probably has little or no training or information about any accessibility considerations you will need or that may be available from the provider and manufacturers.

This was definitely the case in the three major service provider stores I visited as part of this research. Despite these problems, I found the representatives to be helpful and interested. In all cases, once they understood the barriers that blind people face in setting up and using the phones, they were willing to go the second mile to ensure that my experience was as positive as possible. This is a vast improvement over just a few years ago when I was asked, "What would a blind person do with a cell phone anyway?" Having said all that, let's get on with the phone itself.

The Sanyo 4700

Adequacy of Tactile Markings

The Sanyo 4700 has an easily distinguishable number pad and function keys. The Power switch is recessed and located at the base of the unit away from the other keys. There are tactile markings surrounding the 5 key, function keys are shaped differently from number keys and are slightly recessed, and the menu key has a unique shape and texture.

Status Indicators

There are distinctive and unique tones when the phone is turned on or off. There is also a unique tone for low battery, which sounds about five minutes before the phone loses power. There is a verbal prompt when voice mail is received. If voice mail is received while the phone is turned off, the verbal prompt is spoken when the phone is turned on.

Dialing Options

As noted, the number pad is easy to identify and has unique markings near the 5 key. In addition, the phone supports voice dialing and 1-key dialing. The Phone Book and setting up these dialing features require assistance from a sighted person to program them. When using Voice Dial, the user is prompted to say the desired name. If the phone does not understand, it will verbally ask for the name to be repeated.

Caller ID

The Caller ID function is not accessible. However, there is an interesting work-around, called Voice Ringing, that I found useful. When Voice Ringing is activated, Caller ID information is associated with Voice Dial entries in the phone book. Thus, if a name and number are stored in the voice dialer, the entry will be spoken when a call is received from the associated phone number. For example, you could create a Voice Dial entry for "Jay Leventhal at AFB" and associate it with Jay's phone number. If Jay calls, your voice will announce "Jay Leventhal at AFB." However, if Jay calls from a different number that has not been stored, the phone will announce "Unknown Caller." Though not ideal, I found this limited Caller ID feature to be useful in screening calls.

Roaming Status

The phone has a Guard feature, which, when activated, requires the user to take extra steps when making or receiving a Roaming call. This feature is not accessible but can be used with practice and is useful to prevent Roaming when in a digital service area.

The Menus

Inaccessibility of on-screen menus is a significant issue with most cell phones, and the Sanyo 4700 is no exception. I asked the sales representative to set all features according to my preferences and to go over the menus with me in great detail while I took notes. This process took about an hour. It requires assistance from a sighted person to change the options, but the process is less cumbersome because of this orientation. Fortunately, options cannot be changed accidentally, since confirmation is generally required.

Documentation

Sprint PCS makes all user documentation available on its web site in pdf documents. The Sanyo 4700 User Guide could not be read using Acrobat Reader 5 with current versions of JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes, and was read but not correctly formatted when I sent it to the conversion site at Adobe.com. I used optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the pdf to text. But the text is not useful because all the key names are graphic symbols with no text representation. A typical instruction is thus rendered: "To place a call, press to turn on the Power, dial the number, and then press to place the call." The User Guide is thorough and has been useful to me in combination with all the notes I took during my orientation.

Next Steps

The next step was a call to Sprint PCS Customer Care to confirm my findings and ask for solutions. I explained that I am blind. I then described, using specific examples, how my lack of access to the documentation and to prompts and menus displayed on the screen interferes with my ability to make and receive calls. I mentioned Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and how I know that companies are required to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities when doing so is readily achievable. I asked if the representative could recommend a different phone that would better meet my described needs, or if there were features on this phone that might not have been explained to me. I also asked for documentation in a format I could use. I explained that this request would not be satisfied by merely converting the pdf document to text, since it contains graphic symbols to represent the names of keys. I said that I would be willing to contact the product manufacturer directly, but no contact information was available in the documentation or on the Sprint PCS web site. As was the case in the store, the customer representative did not have information on the accessibility of services or supported products. I am waiting for her to get back to me about these issues.

Meanwhile I know that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maintains a current list of Section 255 contacts for service providers at <www.fcc.gov/cib/dro/service_providers.html> and a list of manufacturers at <www.fcc.gov/cib/dro/section255_manu.html>. Sprint PCS has a listed contact, but Sanyo does not. In many cases, these contacts are lawyers who are responsible for defending the turf. In any event, it will probably be necessary for me to make this contact. Depending on the outcome of my efforts, it may also be appropriate for me to file a complaint with the FCC. AccessWorld will keep you posted on my progress and the outcomes.

Important Things to Remember

I write down everything as it happens. I documented my experience in the store, my process of learning how to use features of the phone, my experience in using the documentation, and my phone call to the customer service representative. I will be sending e-mail messages to the Section 255 contact and to the FCC (if necessary), and all this documentation can be used to support my case.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? I'll see. We've made a lot of progress regarding access to other products—we can do it again.

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AccessWorld, Copyright (c) 2003 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.

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