2001 Conference Proceedings

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Accessibility And Mobile Phones

Tommi Salomaa, Dominik Jaworek, and Maini Williams
Research and Technology Access
Nokia Mobile Phones, Irving, TX, 75039
E-mail: tommi.t.salomaa@nokia.com


Accessibility in general

By accessibility people mean different things. Buildings and facilities can have good or bad accessibility. Also modern devices and appliances can be accessible to some people, while others with certain impairments might not be able to make use of these. It is only in the last few decades that more effort has been diverted into making our world more equal to all people. Public buildings are required to have access to wheelchairs, elevators have Braille writing on the control panels, different sounds and displays provide information in order to level out the playing field.

The Law

Since the introduction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Section 255, all mobile phone manufacturers are required to take into consideration the accessibility of the devices they make. Though restricted by the limitations of technology, great effort and research is applied in order to make these devices accessible to all. Adding accessibility to a product for certain disabled groups does not make it less accessible to other users, quite the contrary, in most cases other users can benefit from these new features.

This paper will discuss the different forms of impairments people might have and how these can be overcome with the help of technology. With the added features in modern mobile phones, these devices can be used in many versatile ways and can open new communication possibilities to people with disabilities.


Most impairments are not capabilities people have or don't have, but rather different levels of disabilities caused by natural causes or external trauma. Depending on the level of the impairment, the person is limited in his or her capabilities and might need additional help in the daily activities. Whatever help modern technological advances and medical improvements can offer, is a critical factor in making peoples lives more independent.

Some of the different physical impairments people suffer from are discussed in the following with descriptions on how they prevent people from access to many modern telecommunications products. Usually some solutions exist to improve the usability of these devices, but naturally there are limitations how accessible they can be made and still keep them practical enough to use in general.

Visual impairments

Visual impairments are very common. A great number of people need corrective lenses in their daily lives, while some people can manage with only part time use of these. When the level of optical imperfection becomes too great or people are totally blind, even optical devices can no longer provide sufficient help.

Another form of visual impairment is color blindness. While most telecommunications devices have so far been equipped with black and white or at least monochrome screens, newer and more multimedia oriented devices provide color screens as the user interface. With certain color combinations problems can occur to people with problems distinguishing colors from each other.


Totally deaf persons would not normally use a mobile phone for audio communication. But there are less severe levels of hearing impairments. For these people hearing aid devices are available and they usually amplify the sounds perceived in the surroundings to correct the deficiency in hearing.

Motoric impairments

There are several kinds of motoric impairments as well as levels. They can vary from minor spasms to total loss of motoric capabilities.

Neurological problems, like Cerebral Palsy etc are closely related to motoric impairments, depending on whether the impairment is caused by the muscular or neural system.

Paralysis and loss of extremities

Also the inability to move extremities has several levels. Depending on the level of paralysis and capability to use of extremities, people are hindered from daily activities in different ways. Not only movement is hindered, but also the capability to use hands in daily routines.


Loopset LPS-3

The Nokia loopset is a wearable device that is worn around the neck and it uses inductivity to communicate with a telecoil hearing aid. It basically acts like a hands free kit for people with normal hearing. The audio signal from the phone is induced into the telecoil hearing aid and the microphone placed in the small box located under the persons chin captures the speech from the user.

A Nokia cell phone with a loopset

Hands-free kit LPC-3

Different impairments can limit a person's ability to hold a telephone close to the ear for different reasons and these persons can benefit from the use of hands-free kits. They are designed to be operated as simply as possible and incoming calls can be answered without any action by the user. This device is also a good example how a product is bringing accessibility to all users, not just the ones with certain impairments.

A picture of an ear piece for cell phones

Voice commands & recognition

With the advances in technology providing more processing power and features to mobile phones, voice interactivity brings a range of whole new possibilities and accessibility to mobile phones. The use of hands and fingers is minimized and even visually impaired people can benefit in many ways from these new technologies. Browsing through menus is no longer necessary to make selections and accessing the phone becomes faster in general. With the addition of voice feedback, devices become more intelligible and usable to previously excluded users.

A cell phone screen with a text that says "Please speak now"


The Short Message Service offers a text communication possibility to mobile phones, which resembles closely two-way paging. The phone keyboard can be used to type messages that can be sent to other mobile phones. Currently these work only within the same network (GSM, TDMA etc.), but nothing would prevent the building of messaging bridges between the different networks. The latest addition to SMS is picture messaging, where simple graphical icons can be sent as a message.


T9 is a predictive input method used for SMS in the latest mobile phones to make typing of text faster and more efficient. The device holds a database of words and rules, making it possible to predict the word being typed and reducing the number of keystrokes needed. This technology is created by Tegic Communications in Seattle.

Vibration alerting

For deaf people who wish to communicate with the above mentioned SMS system vibration alerting can be used to notify the user of incoming messages. Normal users also benefit from this technology, when they wish to be notified of messages or incoming calls in places where audible alerting is not wished.

Communicators and other data products

Text interfaces (terminal, fax, email...)

The data communication methods provided with the current cellular networks offer a wide variety of possibilities. In addition to the previously mentioned SMS system, data connectivity can be used for faxes, emails, file transfer and text terminal connections. The Nokia data products, such as the family of Communicators, take use of these network properties and offer all these services in one product. With the integrated system of a large display, full qwerty-keyboard and mobile phone, it is a very powerful communications tool with a variety of uses.

Cardphones manufactured by Nokia bring the same connectivity to laptop users as does the communicator. With the addition of data capabilities to the latest mobile phones, also they can be used in conjunction with laptops and similar devices to achieve wireless connectivity.


Braille keyboard and pads assist visually impaired people to recognize keys and buttons and help in making correct selections. These are currently only available in the laptop and PC world in general, but most likely to spread in one form or another to the mobile phone market.

TTY terminals provide deaf people with the possibility to communicate with people with normal hearing over the POTS with or without the help of interpreters. This system is currently being developed to the cellular networks and should be available in the near future.

With the introduction of touch screens to PDAs and portable devices, the ease of use has greatly increased. These benefits have mainly affected the non-disabled people, but offer still a relief for some disability groups. With the integration of the display and input device, usability and accessibility is increased. These are also not yet present in mobile phones, but with the introduction of interactive multimedia features they are expected to be introduced also into this field.

Voice interactivity in devices creates not only a more human UI, but is invaluable to visually impaired people. While this helps disabled people to use for them previous unavailable devices, it is also an addition in using devices without any eye contact to them for all people.

Special input methods are needed when disabilities are of a certain kind or level. Certain companies manufacture devices to ease the communication of highly disabled people and sometime in the future these concepts could be introduced to the mobile phones.


Nokia Web pages, Phone accessories

Tegic Web pages, T9 information

Telecommunications act of 1996, Section 255

TTY specifications

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