Persons with disabilities open new market for smartphones, tablets – ITU

Makers of smartphones and tablets can tap into the untapped market created by persons with disabilities, a new report has revealed.

The report believes mobile technologies and enlightened service packages can help persons with disabilities connect to new opportunities creating exciting new possibilities. They are estimated to be 15% of the global population.

Titled “Making Mobile Phones and Services Accessible for Persons with Disabilities,” the report released jointly by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) on the occasion of the United Nations Conference on States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York September 12-14, reveals a surge of interest in an as-yet untapped market, with new accessibility applications now being launched almost daily, offering unprecedented ways to empower persons with disabilities to communicate, access information and control their environment.

The report indicated that people living with disabilities, senior citizens and the illiterate are often marginalized from the ‘mobile miracle’ because devices are not equipped with the right kind of accessibility features, or because the price of accessible mobile phones and services is out of reach. That’s now changing, with a host of exciting options coming onto the market, it added.

It was also of the view that new screen readers can make mobile phones easily usable for the blind, those with low vision and the illiterate.

“Visual or vibrating alerts, relay services and hearing aid compatibility devices are making mobile phones accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing, while features such as voice recognition and auto text are proving a boon to those with physical disabilities,” the ITU said.

The report highlighted examples of pioneering solutions that include special text-only billing plans for the deaf and hard-of hearing so that subscribers pay only for messaging and data; a new SMS-to-Avatar translation system being developed by the University of Tunis which converts typed text into real-time, online interpretation in sign language with the help of a dictionary of words and signs; and new GPS-based devices and services that help blind and partially sighted people navigate streets using an interface that announces the nearest points of interest and the user’s current location, with links to Braille readers over Bluetooth.

Digital accessibility for persons with disabilities, according to the report, is a relatively untapped market segment that offers potentially lucrative commercial opportunities for mobile service providers, manufacturers and smartphone application developers.

A handful of leading mobile operators from around the world are already successfully addressing the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities, demonstrating the business case for promoting mobile accessibility, it observed.

Unfortunately, not all mobile operators and manufacturers are following suit, and affordability remains a major issue, especially for smartphone solutions and for subscribers in developing markets, the report added.

“ITU encourages all Member States to implement regulatory and policy measures to promote access and ensure the accessibility needs of all people are met,” said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General.

There are already six billion mobile cellular telephone subscriptions globally and the ITU estimates that by 2013, there will be more mobile cellular telephone subscriptions than human beings on the planet.

By Ekow Quandzie

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