Vibration and lights: cell phones help handicapped

Berlin: For many people, cell phones 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 diminutive buttons are equally ill-suited suited for the elderly, or for people with motor skill difficulties.
Fortunately, cellular telephones with special functionality for the handicapped are now available, even if the prices remain high.
"High-end cell phones have a variety of functions that can bring enormous relief for those with special difficulties," says 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 cell phones, the user simply speaks the desired name. The phone then recognises 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 number 5 button to help a user orient himself, says Thomas Krieger, with an Association of Blind and Visually Challenged (DBSV) organisation in Europe.
Another helpful innovation is speech reproduction: "This means that a cell phone 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 cell phone use, either. "Hearing aids with an induction coil can receive the phone's signal directly," explains Marcel Karthaeuser, a spokesperson from a Europe-based association for the deaf.
All that is needed is an induction control loop that can be tied into the cell phone and a protection device to prevent signals from the phone and the digital hearing from disrupting one another.
Many of Nokia's cell phone models offer a so-called "loopsets" (LPS) for those with hearing damage, says Nokia's Nina Lenders.
"These are induction control loops for people with hearing aids," says Lenders.
For the hard of hearing, SMS short messages offer a completely new opportunity for self-expression, says Michael Huber, a telecommunications expert. "It is particularly practical for those with handicaps that SMS can be used in connection with land lines as well." - DPA