June 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 6

Editor's Page

Is It Accessible Now?

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld Readers,

We all know the cell phone commercial where the guy with the glasses asks, "Can you hear me now?" With the constantly shifting sands of the cell phone industry, including the introduction of new technologies, mergers of cell service carriers, changing rate plans, and the appearance and disappearance of specific cell phone models, a better question for those of us in the vision loss community may be, "Is it accessible now?"

If you're looking for a cell phone that is completely accessible "out of the box," good luck. At this moment, AccessWorld is aware of two—that's right, two—cell phones that provide built-in speech output support for all the phones' features. Those two phones are the Haven, a clamshell-style feature phone offered by Verizon Wireless, and the iPhone, offered by Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

In the rest of the cell phone market, many models do not offer the ability to adjust display font size or to use speech output at all. Others offer adjustable display fonts and partial speech output. However you look at it, real built-in cell phone accessibility is hard to come by.

It's very disappointing and frustrating to me that at this point in time there is such a lack of built-in speech output functionality for mobile devices. By law, telecommunication devices must be accessible to people with disabilities, but in practice most simply are not. When cell phone manufacturers don't include accessibility features in the designs of their products, they are overlooking millions of potential customers. Likewise, when cell service providers sell inaccessible cell phones, they perpetuate this disservice.

The Haven cell phone is a very basic feature phone and, comparatively speaking, very inexpensive. It's unfathomable to me why the same type of technology used in the Haven is not employed in all feature phones, regardless of manufacturer or service provider. In the same vein, when the iPhone with its many, many features is fully accessible via built-in speech output, I'm unable to justify the inaccessibility of the many other smartphones on the market. When taking into account the complexity of technology that enables feature phones and smartphones to perform all the tasks they currently do—placing calls, text messaging, e-mailing, web surfing, and receiving Twitter and Facebook updates in real time—is it really that complex or expensive to provide speech output for these features?

Come on…Really?

In this month's issue focusing on cell phone accessibility, we try to provide some clarity. Darren Burton offers an overview of the current state of cell phone accessibility and what the major service providers are doing in the area of access. J.J. Meddaugh reports on Mobile Accessibility, the access solution for the Android operating system, and Morgan Blubaugh and Tara Annis evaluate the Accolade offered from Verizon Wireless.

For readers who are brand new to the iPhone or who are considering its purchase, be sure to read Deborah Kendrick's review of Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users, by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau, as well as Janet Ingber's article, My Trials and Tribulations Learning the iPhone with VoiceOver.

We at AccessWorld would like to hear from you and encourage you to send a letter to the editor. Please let us know what cell phone you're currently using, and tell us about any access features it may or may not have—don't be surprised if your letter just happens to be published in our next issue!

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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