When I purchased my first cell phone the only thing I felt I required to make
it accessible was that the keypad be raised so that I could tell each number
by touch. The rise in popularity of mobile phones, more recently, needs no explanation.
As a blind person who travels for business and social reasons, I would be lost
without my little Nokia handset.
I have encountered many changes in these little sets and in their usefulness,
which once I never thought would be important. Now I see a definite need to
be in a position to access many of their built in features. Friends and family
show me how they can use the address book, keep names and numbers stored, which,
at the touch of a button can bring up a person's contact details and have the
phone ring automatically. Others play games, which can bridge the gap in a long
journey. While still others can send text messages to friends and family to
stay in contact, such as to let them know they have arrived safely at their
destination. Even photos can be snapped with a cell phone and the images sent
via the airwaves. The possibilities are endless.
One day it might even be possible to use these simple devices as ways of finding
directions to and from town or even over long distances. I am aiming these thoughts
at those of us who are blind, of course, as we are always in the market for
something which simplifies our lives.
Recently, I came across an article which described how cell phones would soon
be able to conduct actual touch patterns. This will mean that I can use my phoneprovided
it is capable of this feature to reach across the miles and use it like an extension
of my hand to touch a friend many miles away. You could be skeptical of this
innovation and wonder if it might be just another ploy to spend money. Many
might laugh at this idea, but perhaps it could be employed to some real effect
given more of a chance for future experimentation.
In a recent article, by Alfred Hermida, in the January 21, 2003 issue of BCC
Monitoring International Reports, entitled Mobiles Get a Sense of Touch from
Immersion's Jeffrey Eid, it's suggested that "Within a year you could be
able to touch someone over your mobile phone."
A US company called Immersion has adapted the sensory technology used in gamepads
and joysticks to send physical sensations via a mobile.
"We're thinking in terms of virtual touch," Immersion's Jeffrey
Eid told BBC News Online. "Today you can't really physically touch someone
across the phone. With this technology you can." The company has been talking
to mobile manufacturers to build 'touch' into future phones.
The system developed by Immersion is based on the force feedback technology
commonly found in video game controllers.
"We don't look at it as just a toy; it can do some things to enhance
the interactivity of the phone itself", says Jeffrey Eid of Immersion.
"The company has miniaturized the technology so that it fits inside a mobile.
The technology works by making the phone vibrate in a number of ways. The
vibration in today's mobiles is of a single strength and frequency. With Immersion's
system, the strength and pitch of the vibrations can be controlled and varied".
On reading the above article, one might be forgiven for thinking it far fetched,
so we will monitor progress.
Recently, I heard a radio discussion about a cell phone called the Nokia 9211
in the US and the 9110 model in Ireland and the UK. I was fascinated by this
little gem as the guy detailed some of its features
read and access email
either directly or from our Microsoft Outlook program or Lotus Notes
have its own built in contact list on the PC via a cable or even infra red for
which it also has support, allowing us to use chat rooms, etcetera. This Nokia
comes with a full compliment of controls and settings for creating your own
user defined choices on anything from the Internet to email, to the hardware
itself and hardware it may be attached to.
You can, of course, add and delete emails, contacts and other kinds of files
on it. In addition, it comes with its very own version of Office, sporting a
spread sheet like Excel and pocket Word, which can create ".doc"
files that can be transferred onto a laptop or desktop machine. It has several
converters to create other file formats. It also has a cut down version of PowerPoint,
an email client like Outlook and, of course, where would we be without that
all important spell-checker? Media, too, is catered forwith a slim version
of the Real Player, which is nice and I am sure that we will be able to play
our mp3 files on it in the future.
This sounds like a truly accessible piece of equipment and something we blind
people have been yearning for now for some time. When you first open up your
unit it is important that you feel its potential as it "talks" using
the "eloquent voice" which people using the Jaws screen reader (www.freedomscientific.com)
will already have met.
All of the functionality the phone has to offer is accessible and no doubt
will improve over the coming years with new versions. The device is around 6"x2"
in size, so it should be comfortable to handle.
The software is created in Germany by a company there called TALX, and
details can be found at the following site: http://www.talx.de/index_e.htm.
As usual though, with this type of technologywhich is a combination of
two different products made by two different companies being brought together
by a third party and aimed at the accessibility marketit is expensive.
It is guessed that it will retail for around $800.00, perhaps more. This doesn't
surprise me as manufacturers will say that this is a small market and,
therefore, more expensive in which to produce such a product.