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January 6, 2003

Special cellphones now being made for special people

From: Taipei Times, Taiwan - 06 Jan 2003


For many people, cellphones have become a standard part of everyday life. Yet for those with poor eyesight, the tiny little displays on cellphones can represent a real problem.

The buttons are equally ill-suited for the elderly, or for people with motor skill difficulties. Fortunately, cellular phones with special functionality for the handicapped are now available, even if the prices remain high.

"High-end cellphones have a variety of functions that can bring enormous relief for those with special difficulties," said Michael Hubert, from the Research Institute for Aid to the Handicapped (FTB) in Wetter, Germany. "Speech recognition, for example, is helpful both to the blind and to people with motor skill problems."

In speech-enabled cellphones, the user simply speaks the desired name. The phone then recognizes the name and uses it to dial the appropriate number automatically from its directory.

Almost all current cell phone models come with a little bump on the No.5 button to help a user orient himself, says Thomas Krieger, with an Association of Blind and Visually Challenged (DBSV) organization in Europe.

Another helpful innovation is speech reproduction: "This means that a cellphone confirms which button has been pressed or reads an SMS [short message] aloud," Krieger says.

Cell phones with these special functions are often expensive, though. "Most blind people cannot work, so they often do not have enough money to take advantage of all the advances in technology," Krieger adds.

Users of the Nokia Communicator, a cell phone that allows for both telephone and Internet usage, can also buy add-on software such as TALX from the Firm Brand and Groeber Communications in Wittingen, Germany. The software allows the phone to reproduce aloud any text shown on the screen. Another add-on component allows users to receive and enter data in Braille script.

Those with hearing disabilities are not necessarily excluded from cellphone use. "Hearing aids with an induction coil can receive the phone's signal directly," said Marcel Karthaeuser, a spokesperson from a Europe-based association for the deaf.

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