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January 15, 2008 / Marco

How does “accessibility” fit into Nokia’s strategies?

These days, thanks to Symbian S60 screen readers, we’re allowed to use cell phones and take advantage of the latest enhancements which companies like Nokia incorporate into their cell phones. However, apart from the features screen readers provide, do you think Nokia is playing a constructive role in making the situation better? I think the answer to this question is at least partially manifested in a web site called Nokia Accessibility.

Set up by Nokia, this web site outlines the features Nokia incorporates into its handsets to help people with various types of disability. Under the section titled Vision, Nokia provides a list of features which have been either designed or tweaked with the visually impaired in mind. They are:

While Nokia deserves our praise in this regard, in my opinion a lot more should be done to improve the aforementioned items and features. For instance, the TTS engine Nokia ships with many handsets is inferior to commercial ones. Just take a look at how the Nokia TTS sounds when used with a screen reader like Nuance TALKS. True, some Nokia handsets have RealSpeak voices, but this is not the popular trend to equip each and every top-selling handset with an engine like this. Moreover, recent releases of the Nokia PC Suite are poorly accessible to say the least, and Nokia simply provides the following instructions to make using the PC Suite with Windows screen readers a smoother experience:

  • Disable the autorun when PC Suite is loaded. (You can’t use JAWS or a screen reader with autorun on any of the devices.)
  • To disable the autorun, press and hold the shift key while the CD is being recognized. Then choose “manually install” PC Suite with help from JAWS.
  • When PC Suite finishes installing, connect the phone to the PC, go to Explorer, and find the third-party text-to-speech software installer.
  • Install the text-so-speech application.

Yes, the typo also comes from Nokia! At any rate, I’m sure many of you have noticed that even installing Nokia PC Suite with its graphical buttons which must be labeled first is a pain in the neck.

Nokia Audiobooks and Nokia Conversation are new concepts whose material applications are not, currently at least, totally compatible with Symbian screen readers. Also, the PDF files Nokia provides for its products are accessible to Windows screen readers; however, they make use of graphics rather than text blocks to mention keys and hot keys, thereby preventing visually impaired users from reading them.

At the end of the day, I hate to be called an “accessibility hawk” by you. I’ve been using Nokia handsets for years, and I truly believe in what Nokia has done to help people with disabilities, and compared with other companies, it’s well ahead of the game. However, it shouldn’t stop here. As for software issues, I think Nokia’s Accessibility department should work with screen reader developers so as to release a product with fewer accessibility glitches. As a case in point, when 3rd Edition Nokia handsets were made available, visually impaired users lost the ability to use their screen readers on a call, and it took more than a year for screen reader developers to fix this glitch, partially at least. And currently Nokia Search is inaccessible to all Symbian screen reader users. Here the bottom line is that screen reader manufacturers shouldn’t start work on a particular handset when it just reaches the market. In the first place, how long did it take for Nuance and Code Factory to release their products for 3rd Edition cell phones?

What else do you think should be done to alter the current situation?

Related Info: Company with a wide range of inaccessible products



Leave a Comment
  1. Per / Feb 23 2008 9:02 am

    This is a nice article. Thank you. Maybe the following is interesting for you as well:

    There is an open letter to Nokia, Google, the Open Handset Alliance and to other companies, organisations, politicians and persons from the r&d sector. Mobile technology could be a great chance for the many blind and visually impaired people around the world but it must be accessible and affordable.

    The open letter informs about screen reader software for the S60 and Android platform, satellite navigation for blind pedestrians, access to map data, GPS receiver, self-help, commonalities of blindness and illiteracy, accessibility, corporate responsibility, suggestions for Nokia’s PR and the importance of free software and affordable cell phones for the many blind people from developing or newly industrializing countries.

    It could be very helpful if other parties would spread the ideas and report about the mentioned topics as well.

    Nokia, Google & Co: Don’t be evil, be accessible!

  2. Amir / Feb 23 2008 9:11 pm

    Thanks for your comprehensive comments. I also hope accessibility becomes an undisputed trend in the near future.\

  3. JS Dillon / Mar 12 2009 5:41 am

    Okay, I don’t see it. What typo?

    … “Yes, the typo also comes from Nokia! At any rate, I’m sure many of you have noticed that even installing Nokia PC Suite with its graphical buttons which must be labeled first is a pain in the neck.”

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