[AI] Fw: [VICUG-L] Smartphones Flunk for Blind Users

padmanabham padmanabam.muppa at gmail.com
Wed Jun 23 10:40:16 EDT 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Brad Keller" <kellerb03 at gmail.com>
To: "Talks Symbian Users List" <talks at talksusers.com>; "Mobile Speak List" 
<mspeak_mailing at codefactory.cat>; "Accessible Phones List" 
<blindphones at mosenexplosion.com>
Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 6:50 PM
Subject: Fw: [VICUG-L] Smartphones Flunk for Blind Users

Smartphones Flunk for Blind Users.

Blind users see digital divide in new generation phones.

By Jessica Portner on June 22.

Smartphones can be pretty clueless when it comes to blind or visually

For millions of consumers with normal vision, smartphones offer almost
effortless conference calling, e-mailing and Internet browsing. They make it
easy to find a gas station, a rental car or a recipe. Vast music libraries
video games are expected features for a device with a $200 to $600 price

But for many in the blind and visually impaired community, the absence of
physical buttons on most smartphones makes interactions with some devices
virtually impossible.

Nowhere is the digital divide in the smartphone market more pronounced than
between Apple and Google products.

Blind and visually impaired smartphone users offer near universal praise for
the iPhone, whose 3GS has a built-in VoiceOver screen reader that enables
functions with a few taps, swipes or other gestures on the touch screen. On
Google's Android phone, blind users can't e-mail or navigate the Internet.

Many consumers with visual impairments say they are being held back from
participation in the digital revolution, denied tools their colleagues and
competitors enjoy. Smartphones, they argue, are public accommodations, no
different from building ramps or Braille on elevators.

“Our electronic, digital universe is changing so rapidly that these phones
as essential to our daily life as a curb cut would be,” said Brian Bashin,
CEO of the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco, an advocacy
for the blind and visually impaired. “We shouldn’t have to play catch up
expensive modifications when it all should have been there right out of the

The Blackberry’s Oratio screen reader, for example, costs blind users an
$450 on top of the price of the Research in Motion phone.

This month, a House subcommittee held a hearing on the Twenty-first Century
Communications and Video Accessibility Act to direct the Federal
Commission to make Internet-enabled communications devices accessible to the
more than 25 million adults in the United States with vision trouble.

The FCC currently requires telecommunications manufacturers and service
providers to make their products accessible to people with disabilities. One
official said Google would likely not be liable under the current law
because it
is not the phone’s manufacturer.

Jenifer Simpson, a former FCC official who is now the senior director of
government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities,
frustrated that more companies are creating communications products that the
FCC doesn’t currently regulate.

The question she wants companies to ask is, “Can Grandma give you a phone
on the smartphone you want to buy her for Christmas?”

Joshua Miele, an associate scientist at the San Francisco-based
Eye Research Institute who designs educational tools for blind people like
himself, says the iPhone is a new paradigm for the more than 1.3 million
blind people in the United States.

“The most amazing thing about the iPhone is you go into the settings and you
turn on the screen reader and you can use every part of your phone, every
text-based application and you don’t have to pay anything extra,’’ he said.

VoiceOver, the iPhone’s built-in screen reader, is controlled though
instead of arrow keys or keyboard commands. It can be customized so that a
visually impaired person can easily magnify a web page or flip to a
white-on-black background.

The iPhone 4, unveiled this month, expands the roster of accessibility
including the ability to wirelessly connect to a device that displays

Youtube clip at URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQKtSR5Li1A

In contrast, Google’s TalkBack screen reader on its Android mobile operating
system doesn’t do enough talking, many advocates for the blind say. Android
works impressively for calling, listening to music, using global positioning
system data and applications like Facebook, but it won’t help blind users
dispatch an e-mail to their boss or scan a website while waiting at the

When Android was released more than a year ago, the disability community was
primed for more innovations. When a totally accessible smartphone failed to
materialize this year, advocates for the blind castigated Google as a
peddler of
expectations. The Android 2.2, released a few weeks ago, didn’t
enhance the phone’s accessibility to blind and deaf users.

Disability groups have been encouraged by some recent victories. The
Federation of the Blind last year reached a settlement with Motorola after
pressuring the leading manufacturer of cell phones to comply with Section
255 of
the federal Telecommunications Act. The act requires telecommunications
equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and
services accessible to people with disabilities. The agreement commits the
company to make the phone-related functions on its BREW line of phones
for non-visual customers.

Advocates for the blind say Google has done extraordinary work in other
pointing to the Google Books Library Project.

Steve Jacobs, president of the IDEAL Group, Inc., which develops
for the blind, said his customers are hopeful that Google’s Project
Eyes-Free ,
which invites software developers to create accessible applications for the
Android, will serve up exciting inventions soon.

“I believe Google will rise to that occasion,” Jacobs said.

T.V. Raman, a computer scientist and engineer at Google, agrees.

Raman, who lost his eyesight at age 14 from glaucoma, is revered by many
with disabilities for his pioneering work on Google’s search service that
people with visual impairments navigate the web. But the gifted innovator,
solves Rubik’s Cubes in Braille for fun, has also been faulted by some for
developing products only he could figure out how to use.

Raman defended Android in a recent interview as “still a young platform” and
said that the accessibility problems in the browser and e-mail will be

“There are rough edges,’’ he said. “The best way to silence that criticism
is to
go and build it. I wanted this yesterday as well.”

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