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Essentials for Cross-Disability Accessible Cell Phones

Making mainstream market phones more usable by more people


With the advances in technology over the years, more and more features are showing up in cell phones that have the potential to make the phones more usable for everyone.  However, we also find that the choices continue to be limited when looking for fully accessible cell phones that can be used by, for example, people who are blind, or have low vision, people with multiple disabilities, or people with cognitive disabilities.

To be sure, there are some cell phones that are more usable by one group or another. Some can load “special software” (at extra and sometimes high cost) that is designed for people with specific disabilities.  Others have a limited set of built-in features useful for individuals with disabilities that address the needs of users to varying degrees.  However, in many cases, people do not want an expensive smart phone or a “special phone for special people”.  Instead, they want to choose from the same range of phones as everyone else and get a “regular phone” at a regular price.

For phone designers, it is not possible to build all features into all phones.  However, there are a number of features that could be built into most phones making them usable by a much wider range of users.  Often, these are features that would not interfere with use by mainstream users and in fact may be attractive to mainstream users in some situations.

What minimum capabilities could/should mainstream cell phones have, given today’s technology, that would allow a greater number of people to access them?  What should the “floor” be for accessibility of mainstream cell phones?  What are the “essentials” for accessibility?

This document was created to help address those questions.  

It is an attempt to capture the basics of what is important in making cell phones more accessible across a wider range of users and abilities and why these capabilities and features are important.

The report is organized by components that mainstream cell phones should have and describe the important aspects that make the difference in accessibility.  Recommendations, techniques and ideas gathered from consumers, researchers, industry and experts in the field of accessibility are listed.  

It should be noted that individual guidelines or recommendations, while important, may not themselves make the phone more accessible.  In the end, it is how well these (and other) techniques are integrated in the overall design that will determine if the phone will be usable by a greater number of people.

Most of the ideas offered in this document have already been seen on mainstream devices in some fashion since the features, or the underlying capabilities needed by the features, appeal to mass-market consumers as well.  With careful design and understanding of the problem, these “mainstream capabilities” can be implemented so that they make the cell phone accessible to a larger consumer market.