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Friday, August 03, 2007

Blind Customers Take Action Against the Cell Phone Industry

Blind and visually impaired customers are taking legal action against the cell phone industry in an effort to improve cell phone accessibility. This week, 11 customers from across the United States filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which enforces Section 255, the law that requires phones to be designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. Complaints were filed against both the cell phone carriers and manufacturers.

"These complaints illustrate a market failure on the part of the cell phone industry to address accessibility," says Paul Schroeder, VP, Programs and Policy Group at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). "While some companies have taken steps, consumers with vision loss have few good options for accessibility, and almost no reliable information about accessibility."

There is a growing need for accessible phones given the increasing rates of vision loss, the foundation says. Experts predict that by 2030, rates of severe vision
loss will double along with the country's aging population.

For people with vision loss, finding a cell phone with a readable screen or with voice output of essential features like menus or text messages is almost impossible. 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.

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