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my search for an accessible Verizon phone

I've been trying to upgrade from the LG 4500 to a more current cell phone. It's not working. The LG 4500 has a "voice commands" option which prompts you and allows you to speak commands to it. It also has an "announce mode" which allows the top two levels of menus to be read aloud. I hoped that this was a step in the right direction and that future phones would have better menu access.

I'm very disappointed. The newer LG models, including the supposedly accessible 5300 and 8300, have very little menu access. I can make calls and send text messages; but I cannot change my own settings or access my text messages without memorizing several levels of menus. There is no difference between the 5300 and the 8300 and any other LG phone on the shelf of the Verizon store. All have the same voice commands option, and the 5300 and 8300 have no special accessibility features.

I may have found a solution. I'm going to give it one last try before calling it quits. There is a software distributed by EnableMart called MobileSpeak Smart Phone that works with the Motorola Q (a Verizon phone). I'm going to call the Verizon store back around noon once the nice sales lady has gotten there and settled in and see if they have a Motorola Q that I can try. If it doesn't work out, I'll go back to the LG 4500 for another two years, and if something crummy happens to it I'll insist on being let out of the contract based on the lack of genuinely usable phones. With the truly accessible phones, I can get the number of the last caller, change my own settings, etc. Not so with the LG models. It's really fascinating to see what the differences are. Basically the LG phones are made for sighted people who want to be able to interact with their phones on the go without having to look at or touch them. So they have these extremely basic menus that you can access through text-to-speech and speech recognition, which really isn't what a blind person needs.

The reason why companies are not making cell phones accessible and why we are having so much advocacy trouble is really about two problems:

1. Sighted people assume that we cannot input using a keyboard or keypad since we can't see the letters/numbers on the keys. I run into this all the time with people asking me how I enter text into a computer, if I have speech recognition software, etc. Touch typing isn't taught in schools anymore, so no one realizes that people used to learn to type without looking at the keys.

2. They don't understand all of the stuff we want to access or why. It's not ok to assume that we have sighted help around every time we want to change a setting on the phone. Many of us live and travel alone. I don't want a stranger changing my phone settings, perhaps reading my text messages without my knowing it, making note of my contacts' info, etc. That is the situation I am in if I am away from home and need to do something as simple as find out that recent call that I answered just as the person hung up. It doesn't show as a missed call, which is accessible in the menus.

If you (a sighted person for this scenario) want to change a setting on your phone, you just whip it out, whiz through the screens and deal with the keypad and the touch screen, etc. And then if you want to do a call in voice command mode where it asks you to choose a command, then select a contact or give it a number, etc, that's very convenient for you and probably seems like a perfect solution for a blind person who needs to make a call: no need to look at the screen or hunt for numbers and perhaps dial incorrectly, etc. It doesn't work for me because I only have basic phone access; and like you, I paid for all the trimmings and expect to be able to use them. I'd even like to be able to take a picture of my new dog in May and send it off to my mom, who's sitting home waiting for it. (Another myth exposed: many blind people have at least a small bit of usable vision, even if we need things read to us.)

I should say that there is a third problem, and that is that we are viewed as a small and insignificant minority. This cell phone solution is going to cost me the cost of the Motorola Q plus $295 for the software. Fortunately, I can demo it for a few days to make sure it works. I fully support paying people who work so hard on making these things accessible--it takes a tremendous amount of work. But what is wrong with the fact that someone who lives on 30 percent of what this country considers poverty level income pays double the cost for a cell phone that is (hopefully) fully functional?

I won't go deeply into the difficulties of trying to get a job as a blind person. My long-standing unemployment history and hundreds of resumes sent out over an eight-year span resulting in a handful of unsuccessful interviews should speak for itself. It is characteristic of the problems of many people with disabilities around this country. I am well-educated, skilled for the jobs I apply for, well-groomed and dressed, and do not exhibit "mannerisms." The problem is that I compete against a full pool of sighted applicants who are as qualified as I am and who can start immediately with no hassle over modifications. Someone has to specifically want me in order for me to get the job.

Remedying the income problem is not an easy solution to the high cost of accessible software. There is no easy solution. Carriers need to recognize that accessibility is not optional and partial accessibility is not ok. This won't happen unless sighted people begin to understand what we are asking for and why on all levels of society so that they can begin to help with our advocacy efforts. It's great that we can speak for ourselves; but there are not enough of us to make a difference. We are easily ignored, easily divided, and our gadgets are easily thought of as "cool" without being truly understood.

If you want more information about Moble Speak Smart Phone, there is a good overview here: http://www.codefactory.es/mobile_speak_smartphone/mspeak_smartphone.htm with a link to a list of compatible devices. It is available for download from http://www.codefactory.es/mobile_speak_smartphone/mss_downloads.htmEnablemart's product page.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 23rd, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
MS Voice Command
You might want to try MS Voice Command to enable a few additional features via speech interface. MS Voice Command will allow you to start programs by Voice, get calendar information, get device status information such as battery level, signal strength, time, date, missed calls. It allows you to dial the contacts in your address book by name or to digit dial. VC 1.6 will optionally allow you to announce incoming email messages by subject and sender, as well as announce the full content of incoming SMS messages (This is not the default setting, so you must change this to enable). VC can announce the name or phone number of incoming callers. All of this can be done via a bluetooth headset for privacy.

There is a retail version, but you're better off getting a device that Microsoft Voice Command built in. There are a handful of Windows Mobile devices that have this now. If you get it built in, you don't have to go through th retail installer which can be problematic, and the bluetooth functionality is guaranteed to work. There are two versions out there, 1.5 and 1.6. The Bluetooth functionality and the email/sms reading functionality are only on 1.6.

If you find a Windows Mobile device that does not have Microsoft Voice Command, and you think it should, _please tell the mobile operator that you want to see it in all of their windows mobile devices_

Mar. 23rd, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC)
Re: MS Voice Command
This sounds like what is already on the LG phones. It still doesn't allow for full access to the menus, which is what I very much need. Take a look at your phone and note what you actually have to do in order to find your text messages. Unless I want them announced as soon as they come in (which for a number of reasons I don't), I have to go through menus to get to them. If those menus are not read to me, I cannot read my text messages; so even if the messages themselves are read to me once I get there, getting there is the problem.
Mar. 23rd, 2007 05:48 pm (UTC)

I was taught to read without looking at the keyboard! We weren't allowed to look at all. Instant fail!

You have certainly opened my eyes. I'm glad to know that you are someone who seeks change rather than just seeking pity. I'm not going to say I feel badly for your situation, because I can tell that you are so strong that you don't need that -- you just need help in making a change. You've got me on your side, love!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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