Cellphones for the sight impaired

29 September 2008

South African cellular operator Vodacom has launched three new Vodacom Speaking Phones to make cellular communication accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted.

“Vodacom is proud to be the first operator in South Africa to increase accessibility to cellular communication products and services in line with our specific needs initiative launched in 2004,” Vodacom Group chief communications officer Dot Field said in a statement earlier this month.

Text-to-speech software is loaded onto the Vodacom Speaking Phones that converts the information displayed on the cellphone screen to speech, including text messages and contacts.

The software also enables the user to check other information, including battery life and signal strength. Speaking phones are available on Vodacom Contract-, Top Up- and Prepaid packages and are available at participating Vodacom approved outlets.

“Vodacom Speaking Phone users will not pay extra for the text-to-speech software as Vodacom has subsidised this cost,” said Field.

Specific needs

According to the statement, the focus of the specific needs initiative was accessibility: access to the company, access to information and access to Vodacom’s products and services for all.

Karen Smit, a senior specialist for specific needs and employment equity at Vodacom Group and a disabled Vodacom employee herself, highlighted the need for such products and services within the cellular industry:

“We are proud to be the pioneers of this service in South Africa, and on the continent as a whole,” she said. “At Vodacom, accessibility is always top of mind and as a disabled person I understand how important independence, accessibility and mobility is.”

Vodacom will also continue to offer the “voice bill” service which allows visually impaired or blind customers access to their itemised billing electronically through reader software on their computers.

SAinfo reporter

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