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Share Your Smartphone Strife with the FCC

October 6 2010 | by


I am in the market for an accessible smartphone. I’m blind, and have been a shopper in this marketplace for a number of years now. Still, as a Verizon customer I find the experience endlessly frustrating.

It’s not for lack of trying. After subscribing to several e-mail discussion lists, talking to friends and trying out their phones, and making more trips than I’d like to think about to my local Verizon store, I still don’t have an accessible smartphone – and the iPhone isn’t on the Verizon network yet.

Here’s what I want: I want a smartphone with buttons that I can readily distinguish that allows me to go online; browse the internet for working, reading, listening to music, and connecting with family and friends; and survive as a person who is blind in the increasingly complex milieu that we call “life.”

There’s more. I want to be able to read my e-mail and reply quickly and easily, send and read text messages, and be able to access every single menu item on the phone via spoken output. Oh, and by the way, I want to make and receive calls too.

A blackberry smartphone

And one other thing, I don’t want to pay any more for my smartphone than anybody who has a Blackberry, Droid, or iPhone. I don’t believe I should have to pay extra for a screen reader, like TALKS or MobileSpeak. I don’t mind paying for apps that maximize my capabilities, like GPS or the Kindle app, because everybody pays for those. But everybody doesn’t pay extra for the opportunity to read what’s on the screen!

When I go to meetings with sighted colleagues, I find they are connected in real-time to their smart phones. Ask them a question like, “What does a First Class stamp cost?” (I can never remember…), or “What should the temperature of a medium-rare burger be? — and they can respond, literally, in seconds! That’s because they can see the screen, so they don’t need spoken output to access the information, giving them immediate access to answers.

Would that I, and the several hundred thousand other Americans who are blind and visually impaired, could do the same!

Right now, that’s not the case. If I want that same information, I have to connect my desktop or laptop computer to the Internet, do a Google search, and wait for the results. There’s no smartphone on Verizon’s network that can give me these capabilities unless I’m willing to add hundreds of dollars to the cost of the phone and data plan for the privilege of using a screen reader that will make this information accessible to me.

As more and more people without disabilities take their smartphone connectivity for granted, those of us with disabilities are sliding further and further behind. Our lack of access puts us at a disadvantage in terms of working on an even-level platform with sighted colleagues, for finding jobs and for communicating with potential employers with social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission wants to hear my story, and others. The FCC has been collecting and accepting comments from individuals and groups about the current experience of people with disabilities with finding and using mobile phones. This initiative will help them understand the relative level of accessibility of mobile phone technology currently available in the marketplace, and help build a record that informs their activities, including possible rulemaking.

It hasn’t been easy for those of us with vision loss who are not assistive technology or Internet wizards to send our stories to the agency via an online form. The good news is that the FCC has streamlined the process for filing comments and has extended the original Sept. 30 deadline for accepting comments to October 15.

If you want to tell the Commissioners about your experience, you can now e-mail your comments to one of the following recipients at the FCC:


Paste your comments, of any length, directly into the body of the e-mail message, and also include your full name, your postal service (mailing) address and the applicable docket number. That number is: CG Docket No. 10-145.

This is a really important step for all of us who are blind and visually impaired, or have another sensory or physical disability that prevents you from finding or using a mobile phone effectively. So take just a few minutes and e-mail the FCC. The Commissioners can hear you now!

  • codeman38

    fcc.govAlas, the docket in question is only with respect to people who are blind or have low vision; otherwise, I would totally speak my mind about the fact that mobile phone providers require voice plans of over 300 minutes a month to be bundled with data plans.

    Some of the providers do offer an opt-out, but it’s difficult at best (requiring a form to be signed by a licensed doctor or counselor, verifying that the user has a diagnosed hearing/speech disability), and impossible at worst. And in the case of Verizon, it must be a hearing impairment, if I’m reading their rules correctly; someone with a speech impediment that severely affects phone communication cannot get the voice minutes taken off.

    It just surprises me that phone providers don’t make this an option– I’ve seen plenty of hearing smartphone users complain that the minimum required voice plan was overkill!

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