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Accessibility and Usability

This section was written in cooperation with the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC). Its mission is to "Promote equitable access to and use of wireless technologies by people with disabilities and to encourage adoption of Universal Design in future generations of wireless devices and applications."

Phones that Fit

Customers come in all sizes, ages, and abilities, and each customer wants to find the wireless product and service that best meets his/her needs. For example, we are often asked about phones with basic functions that are easy to operate, with larger keys and more legible display fonts. These are especially desirable for seniors or others who don't use their phones regularly but must rely on them in emergencies. However, these needs run up against a market moving toward ever-smaller phones packed with more revenue-generating data features.

Easy to See, Hear, Handle, and Understand

Cell phones are now used almost everywhere, so they need to be easy to use where the lighting is very bright or very dark, or where it's quiet or noisy. Multi-tasking users need a phone that is easy to use when their hands or their brains are busy doing other things. Each phone has features that might make it easier or harder for a user to see, hear, handle, and understand. As competition increases in the wireless industry, manufacturers and carriers are trying harder than ever to attract and keep your business. This means providing products and services to customers who might develop problems seeing, hearing, handling, or understanding their cell phone as they age. 

Accommodating All Ages and Abilities

For customers with disabilities, selecting the right cell phone means more than finding one with a fun camera or an MP3 player: it can be the cornerstone to independence. The right phone offers the freedom to be mobile and enables communication with friends or family at a moment's notice should the need arise. All wireless customers have many choices when looking for a phone that is compatible with their abilities and needs. Now, customers with disabilities also have choices in finding a phone that fits assistive technologies they might use, such as a hearing aid.

Hearing Aid Compatibility

For hearing aid users, electrical interference between cell phones and hearing aids has made it difficult for them to find a phone they can use. Federal regulation now requires that all wireless carriers must ensure that 50% of their phones are hearing aid compatible by February 18, 2008.

Phones are certified for this compatibility when they meet the Federal Communication Commission's M3 or M4 standard for interference (M4 is the more rigid of the two; most phones that comply are M3). A phone that has this certification doesn't ensure compatibility with any individual hearing device, but it does narrow the list to those phones that are most likely to work.