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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Voice-Dialing and Information Services over the Phone: Weather, Traffic, Airlines, Taxis, and more


Message: hello fred!

I'm working with a blind 80 something year old Veteran who asked me about cell-phones. I don't know much about them. He would like one with voice input capacity.

I'd greatly appreciate any help with this you might be able to offer. location: California

Let me begin by saying that the majority of the phones on the market today are not accessible to the blind. Menu functions like checking the status of the battery, call waiting, the call list, and the address book are almost impossible to use. There are phones that speak this information, but they are very expensive, and if he's like me, spending several hundred dollars for a cell phone is out of the question. I always said that if I spent that kind of money, I'd drop the phone as soon as the purchase was completed.

Cingular Wireless has a plan where you can get the software free if you are blind or visually impaired, but the phone costs $249, which is a lot of money for a cell phone. The reason for the expense is that the phone must run a particular operating system to accommodate the speech software. Cingular does not offer a payment plan for this phone.

Now, there are things that can make cell phones easier to use. The first thing that most folks look at is the keypad. We want keys that are raised, with a dot on the "5" key for reference. Most "flip" phones have a keypad that is flat, which is difficult to use by the blind. How raised the keys need to be is a personal preference, depending on the sensitivity of the fingers.

Sprint offers its voice-dialing service, Sprint PCS Voice Command, for free to customers who are blind, visually impaired or physically disabled. The free service, which allows calls to be dialed by speaking the desired contact or phone number, also includes 10 free directory assistance calls per month. Sprint PCS Voice Command is currently available to Sprint customers for $5 a month.

To take advantage of this program, customers should contact Sprint to obtain an application form. The form requests basic customer information; in addition, customers are asked to have their doctor or ophthalmologist sign the form certifying the customer's eligibility. For more details about this offer, please visit www.sprint.com/accessibility, or to obtain an application, contact Customer Solutions at (888) 211-4727.

Sprint PCS Voice Command is enjoyed by many of Sprint's disabled customers who have difficulty dialing phone numbers or reading handset display information. Sprint PCS Voice Command uses next-generation speech technology that responds to any voice and works on any Sprint PCS Phone.

The Sprint PCS Voice Command personal address book holds up to 500 names and 2500 phone numbers. Sprint PCS Voice Command users can manage their personal address book online, by voice and through Sprint Directory Assistance.

This advanced service is network-based so customers who upgrade to a new phone or happen to lose their Sprint PCS Phone won't lose their address book and contacts. Plus, Sprint PCS Voice Command customers may also "Call the Web" for access to news, weather, sports, email and other information.

Cingular Wireless has a similar service called Voice Connect that will allow a person to speak the numbers they want to dial. To use this service however, one must enter *8 on their cell phone. They can then speak the number they want to dial, or enter names in to an address book. Once the names are in, you can say something like, "call mom" and the phone will call the number you've associated with your mom. The service does have some other features like getting the current weather conditions, a wake up call feature, getting sports and news, and your daily horoscope. If you are blind, you can get this service for free. You will have to show some documentation, but it's usually something simple. Blind users can also get the 411 service for free.

For more information on the various plans that Cingular offers, visit their home page for Disability Resources: http://www.cingular.com/disabilityresources.

VoiceDialer for Windows Mobile Pocket PC

Voice Dialer is available for Windows Mobile based Pocket PC's. The application lets you say the name of a contact you would like to call, freeing your hands from having to dial the number manually. VoiceDialer retrieves the names and phone number from your contact list and then dials the number.

According to SmartVoice, the developer, VoiceDialer is accurate enough to never need training, it will work the first time even if you have never used it before. They also say it can handle multiple users and accents. VoiceDialer contains text to speech to provide a complete eyes-free interface, allowing confirmations, and the ability to call to multiple locations including mobile, work and home.

Find more information on Voice Dialer by visiting the web site: http://www.smartvoiceintl.com.

1-800-555-TELL

A similar service can be found at 1-800-555-TELL. The phone line is provided by Tell Me (R). It lets you get information such as news, sports, weather, stock quotes, entertainment news and driving directions. The software is easy to navigate, it tells you exactly what you can do.

When you call, you tell it what kind of information you want to hear. An example would be to say "weather" and the system will get that information for you. If you are interested in sports, you say "sports", then say the sport you want to hear about. You could say a specific team such as "Braves". In the sports baseball area, you can also say "American League" or "National League" to get all the scores from a specific league. If you pick the taxi or airline option, Tell Me will directly connect you with a cab company in the area you choose, or will connect you with an airline representative.

This service is toll-free for U.S. citizens, the phone number is 1-800-555-TELL, or 1-800-555-8355.

Surf The World Wide Web with Your Phone

netECHO; by InternetSpeech lets people unleash the power of the Internet simply with the sound of their voice. netECHO; lets users give simple voice commands like "Yahoo," or "e-mail" to get the Net-based information they want.

Access is provided via any phone, and information on any web site, whether voice-enabled or not is available to the user. A computer is not required. InternetSpeech is a California corporation, founded in 1998.

See how easy netECHO is to use by checking out the demo.

Click this link to visit the netECHO home page: http://www.internetspeech.com.

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