Paul SchroederGood news on the cell phone front. This week, AT&T Inc. announced their new partnership with Code Factory and their initiative to increase usability for wireless customers who are blind or have low vision. AT&T will now offer the screen reader and magnification software, Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier, on select Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 phones. Consumers with vision loss are advised to contact AT&T's National Center for Customers with Disabilities at 866-241-6568 with questions or for more information.

We have set up a page on our web site to compile information about cell phone accessibility and ways in which people with vision loss can address access concerns. As we more fully understand the AT&T offer, we will provide details on that page.

We're pleased to see that AT&T continues to show leadership in addressing the needs of the blind and low vision community. AT&T is to be commended for offering full-fledged screen access software, something that no other cell phone company is doing. However, we are disappointed that AT&T has decided to charge people with vision loss an $89 fee for Mobile Speaks or Mobile Magnifier. Though this price is a substantial savings off the market price of these products, this financial burden amounts to a "disability surcharge" for cell phone use that is available to customers without disabilities at no extra charge. (By the way, AT&T had offered the screen reader TALKS with a full rebate for the price of TALKS with a two-year contract).

I also want to note two other concerns:

  1. The phones that are offered with the screen access software tend to be expensive (even with a two-year contract).
  2. Some consumers do not wish to learn the commands of a screen reader. We hope that AT&T will do more to address the needs of consumers with vision loss who want a low-end phone with a simplified access interface.

Those concerns notwithstanding, I commend AT&T for its leadership and hope that other cell phone carriers and manufacturers will follow AT&T's lead and will offer more accessible wireless options for customers with vision loss, while keeping in mind these options should be made available at no additional cost to blind or visually impaired consumers.

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