[nfbwatlk] Fw: Accessible Devices Blind Users See Digital Divide In New GenerationPhones

Lauren Merryfield lauren1 at catliness.com
Thu Jun 24 12:15:25 CDT 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Accessible Devices" <parker2745 at accessible-devices.com>
To: "Accessible Devices List" <A-d at accessible-devices.com>
Sent: Thursday, June 24, 2010 6:10 AM
Subject: Accessible Devices Blind Users See Digital Divide In New 

> We found this article to be very interesting.
>    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 
> impaired
> users.
> 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 
> and
> video games are expected features for a device with a $200 to $600 price 
> tag.
> 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 
> all
> 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 
> equal
> 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 
> are
> as essential to our daily life as a curb cut would be," said Brian Bashin, 
> the
> CEO of the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco, an advocacy 
> organization
> for the blind and visually impaired. "We shouldn't have to play catch up 
> with
> expensive modifications when it all should have been there right out of 
> the box."
> The Blackberry's Oratio screen reader, for example, costs blind users an 
> extra
> $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 
> Communications
> 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 FCC
> 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, is
> 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 
> call
> on the smartphone you want to buy her for Christmas?"
> Joshua Miele, an associate scientist at the San Francisco-based 
> Smith-Kettlewell
> 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 
> legally
> 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 
> gestures
> 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 
> tools,
> including the ability to wirelessly connect to a device that displays 
> Braille.
> 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 
> airport.
> 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 
> substantially
> enhance the phone's accessibility to blind and deaf users.
> Disability groups have been encouraged by some recent victories. The 
> National
> 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 
> useable
> for non-visual customers.
> Advocates for the blind say Google has done extraordinary work in other 
> areas,
> pointing to the Google Books Library Project.
> Steve Jacobs, president of the IDEAL Group, Inc., which develops 
> applications
> 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 
> people
> with disabilities for his pioneering work on Google's search service that 
> helped
> people with visual impairments navigate the web. But the gifted innovator, 
> who
> 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 
> fixed.
> "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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