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for the Blind

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Cell Phone Industry Fails to Meet the Needs of Consumers With Vision Loss

AFB Calls Upon Industry to Prioritize Accessibility on the Anniversary of ADA

Washington, DC (June 26, 2007)—On the 17th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is reminding the cell phone industry of its obligations to meet the needs of customers who are blind or visually impaired. Consumers with vision loss from across the country are expressing frustration and preparing to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which enforces Section 255, a part of the Federal Communications Act requiring all phones to be made usable for people with disabilities.

Right now cell phone manufacturers and carriers are not taking the law and accessibility seriously, which means the overwhelming majority of phones are not fully usable for people who are blind or have low vision.

"Given today's technological advancements—advertised constantly by cell phone carriers-it is particularly shameful that access features are not being made available," said Paul Schroeder, VP, Programs and Policy Group at AFB. "Cell phones are an essential part of modern life, and it's time manufacturers and carriers start providing phones that work for everyone."

With the U.S. population rapidly aging, and the vision loss numbers expected to multiply, cell phone companies will likely see an increased demand for vision loss-friendly phones. Yet, very few carriers offer phones with features such as large font screens or voice output of menus or text messages.

Some companies, like AT&T, have taken the lead on providing accessible phones. But too often the handsets and services are not designed to be user-friendly for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Earlier this month, AFB initiated a campaign called 255 Action to help people with vision loss understand access requirements, and if necessary, file complaints. As part of that campaign, AFB sent letters to leading cell phone service providers and manufacturers asking what they are doing to meet the needs of people with vision loss.

Frequent complaints from blind and visually impaired cell phone customers include:

  • cell phones do not provide for audio output of information displayed on the screen;
  • the visual displays on most phones are hard to read;
  • numeric and control keys are not easy to distinguish by touch; and
  • product manuals or phone bills are not available in braille, large print, or other formats they can read.

We hope to soon see more accessible phones on the market," added Mr. Schroeder. "It is not just the legal—and right—thing to do, it's also a smart business decision."

For more information on AFB's Cell Phone Accessibility Project, visit http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=4&TopicID=327.

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The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB is also proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the over forty years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. For more information visit us online at www.afb.org

Media Contact:
Adrianna Montague-Gray
AFB Communications
212-502-7675
amontaguegray@afb.net

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