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iPhone Accessibility: But Not For Me

Posted in Access and Disability

I spent last weekend with friends who use their matching iPhones to great effect. Though new in town, they were able to zoom in on (well, close) to my house with Google street view, and find a store we wanted to visit before I could complete my call to directory assistance. They also kept up with emails from home, and conducted searches just because they could, all while holding up their end of the conversation.

Tap, tap, tap.

I’m past the angry part. No iPhone for me. OK. I don’t really feel the need for a Google IV on a constant basis, but every once in awhile, it would be nice, as would a quick look at my email account while bouncing along on the #7 bus, or a recipe onscreen as I work in the kitchen. OK, I want one. So sue me.

But I have to say that this post from Disability Nation about AT&T’s plan to make iPhone accessible to deaf users, really did get my goat. AT&T (and other cell carriers, I assume) offers a data-only plan for deaf or hearing impaired users of its other phones. You get unlimited text-based features, and aren’t charged for a voice plan you can’t use. Right on! It should also be pointed out that cell carriers often subsidize the cost of Mobile Speak, an audio interface for compatible phone. That subsidy is needed by many, because Mobile Speak, low-volume product that it is, costs $300, otherwise.

These are perfect examples of inefficient cost-shifting.Why should a phone carrier subsidize individual purchases of expensive software for disabled users? Why should I go begging for such a subsidy? In the case of the iPhone and accessibility for blind and visually impaired users, where is the native interface, voice or text, that can be adapted to my needs, especially given the capabilities of Apple’s OS? I’d pay for that, or would support grants that would pay for its development. Why leave users completely out of the loop, or rely on carriers to subsidize what hardware vendors should have provided in the first place?


  1. Penny Pincher
    Penny Pincher

    Wow, that’s a can of worms you’re opening. I’m confused though. Are you saying that the hardware provider should determine the price for providing these items or that the government should be subsidizing it instead of the hardware maker or should it be strictly a free market thing? So if I call 800-411-SAVE for free directory assistance, that would be a market determining price (free). But if I call 411 instead, the carrier charges whatever they want, unless the government regulates the market.

    April 30, 2008
  2. Shelly

    I’m simply saying that phone hardware should be built with accessibility features included, or provide APIs or other hooks that allow others to provide it. The incentive for the hardware vendor is access to the disabled market. If government regulations on accessibility are used to require that some reasonable number of each provider’s products (not all) are made accessible, I’m fine with that. I think a better solution, however, would be for the government, or foundations, to make grants to developers or hardware developers to fund accessibility improvements.

    April 30, 2008
  3. I could not agree more. I am legally blind and own an iPod Touch. I still have some functional vision, especially with low vision aids, (otherwise the Touch would be a brick).

    Accessibility needs to be built in from the get-go. Retrofitting it never works correctly. The stupid thing is that Apple already has some features that help with accessibility, but they are not implemented universally. I have been ranting about this on my blog (I have come up with some guidelines for making iPhone apps accessible: and that is how I ran across yours.

    December 15, 2008

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