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Accessible technology – smartphones made easy
The internet is an integral part of everyday life and connects us to everything we need – from messaging family to banking and buying groceries.
But the problem for some people is that many smartphone are not easy to use – for older people, those with visual impairment or motor issues, the thought of learning to use a smartphone can be an intimidating.
Now, ground-breaking new smartphones from emporia Telecom promise to change the way people with accessibility issues interact with modern communications technology.
We spoke to Chris Millington, Managing Director of emporia Telecom, to find out more about its range of accessible smartphones.
What are the challenges faced by people with accessibility issues, when using smartphones?
Whilst some mainstream smartphones have accessibility features, they do little to assist those whose visual impairment is exacerbated by dexterity, circulatory and nerve issues. The majority of regular phones simply do not address the older audience who have moderate or severe impairments alongside vision loss.
Those with impaired vision can struggle to read small text within cluttered interfaces and rely increasingly on audio as a superior form of interaction with their devices. Unfortunately, most phones do not consider the older generation, as adapted audio assistance tools can feel like an afterthought to the people who rely on them. Many older people rely on hearing aid compatibility which many devices lack, meaning they can also struggle with hearing calls or notifications when away from their devices.
We want to create a world without barriers where anyone with an impairment can lead a full life and take advantage of technology rather than feeling excluded or forgotten.
How do your products address this?
To develop our TALKactive device, we worked alongside the Technology For Life team at the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) to develop specialised devices that cater to the needs of blind or visually impaired people and lower the barriers to technology. The phones all include a specially adapted voice assist function which offers voice support throughout all functions of the phone.
Accessibility to us also includes cost barriers. The addition of accessibility features to a smartphone can bear massive costs that will inevitably be passed onto the consumer. It is unreasonable to expect people to spend £1,000 on a device they can only use 5% of the functions. By using the Talkative, we were able to include the power and natural language of Google Voice to connect with people at an accessible price point. People need to be able to get a product they can use at a price they can afford.
The voice assist will ‘talk back’ each button when typing, as well as caller ID, new messages, menu navigation and even time and battery status when the phone is closed. This means that every aspect of the phone has been considered and visually impaired people can use a device that feels like it was made for them.
All our devices are catered towards deaf people, with hearing-aid compatibility built-in as well as extra-loud notification sounds that really make a difference.
By using a feature phone rather than a smartphone, the physical buttons, tactility and simplicity play a huge role for older people who have sight or hearing loss. These details work to negate much of the frustration and confusion often caused when impaired people use phones not specifically tailored to their needs.
How can your product help people to live independently for longer?
Nowadays, a mobile phone is undoubtedly the most important and powerful item that we carry. In today’s world living without a functional mobile phone is a huge hindrance to a person’s independence. By providing more accessible solutions to those with impairments, they are able to utilise the vast functionality of their mobile phone to a better standard. For some, impairments progress past the point where the average mobile phone becomes unusable.
Confidence is underpinned by simplicity and usability and plays a huge role in independent living. Our products allow users to feel confident in their use of technology and in their ability to have an independent life.
Have you seen a rise in demand for your product since lockdown?
Yes, we definitely saw a rise in demand across all of our devices during Covid lockdowns, from simple home phones to smartphones. As people became more reliant on technology and loved ones became less accessible in the real world, more and more elderly people looked towards technology to maintain connections.
The world changed a lot and the training book that comes with our smartphones broke barriers for the elderly and helped them get connected. Technology has also become part of our daily routine, with track and trace and contactless payments becoming more common, the older generation needed to have access to this too.
This change is one of the few benefits of the pandemic, meaning that thousands of our customers who may have previously been deterred by the thought of owning a mobile phone have become empowered by taking the leap. This has only accelerated our progress towards digitally enabling all seniors and helping them stay independent.
MAKING THE INTERNET ACCESSIBLE FOR PEOPLE WITH SIGHT LOSS
Jennie Mather, senior retail products manager at RNIB, worked alongside emporia to develop its products. She said: “There are 350,000 people in the UK who are registered blind or partially sighted, and 70% of these are aged over 65.
“The TALKactive phone has been designed with them specifically in mind. It was great to work closely with emporia during the development stages of the phone to really tailor features specifically for people with sight loss.
“This accessible, easy-to-use feature phone will enhance day-to-day life, and RNIB is proud to be its exclusive distributor.”
For more information about emporia Telecom, see emporiatelecom.co.uk