Saturday, March 01, 2008

Disabled Cite Need to Improve Wireless Devices

(HealthDay News) -- The use and importance of cell phones and other wireless devices in the daily lives of disabled people is increasing, but some disabled users say there's a need for improved functionality of these aids.

That's acccording to to a U.S. survey by the Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC).

Wireless ownership among disabled people increased from 72 percent in a 2001-06 survey to 85 percent in a 2007 survey. More than 75 percent of the 1,208 respondents in 2007 said their wireless devices are easy or very easy to use, compared to about half of those in an earlier survey.

However, 73 percent of respondents in 2007 said they'd likely change wireless service providers, if necessary, to get additional features that enhance accessibility, such as: a feature to enable service dogs to call for help in an emergency; the ability to switch to voice carry-over during a call in case a voice becomes unintelligible or background noise is too loud; and the ability to scan and speak medication labels.

Among the other findings:
  • The percentage of respondents who used their wireless devices every day increased from 40 percent to 65 percent, and the number who consider their wireless devices "very important increased from 60 percent to 77 percent.
  • The most important wireless functions cited by respondents are: voice communication (78 percent); enhanced 911 (45 percent); text messaging (43 percent); e-mail (41 percent); and Internet access (35 percent).
  • The most important handset features listed by disabled users are: long battery life (63 percent); durability and toughness (61 percent); low cost (57 percent); and simple operation (56 percent).
  • Respondents noted a number of problems with wireless devices such as incompatibility with assistive technologies (especially hearing aids or cochlear implants), and poor handset design, including difficulties holding it, seeing the display and manipulating the controls.
    "The data these customers share through our research helps our wireless industry partners meet customers' needs and also helps identify applications useful to people without disabilities," survey project director Jim Mueller said in a prepared statement.

"We are not encouraging the wireless companies to make special products. We want products that will work for everyone."

RERC, a collaboration between the Georgia Institute of Technology and Atlanta-based Shepherd Center, promotes equitable access to wireless technologies and encourages universal design (useful for all ages and abilities) in future generations of wireless devices and applications. RERC is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

More information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about people with disabilities.

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