Mobile Phone Accessibility: Improving, But Gaps Remain, ACCP Researchers Say

Researchers from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy recently released their 2022 accessibility report for mobile phones.

Researchers from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy recently released their 2022 accessibility report for mobile phones.

Researchers from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy recently released their 2022 accessibility report for mobile phones.

Mobile phones are becoming more accessible, but shortcomings remain, including fewer features for people with cognitive impairments, emerging issues like vehicle connectivity, and surprising hurdles like poor battery life, according to the latest biennial analysis of cell phone accessibility by Georgia Tech’s Center. for Advanced Communication Policy (CACP).

“Not all mobile phones are created equal when it comes to accessibility, especially when it comes to a specific disability,” said research scientist Salimah LaForce, who authored the report (pdf) with Dara Bright, ACCP Research Associate. “For example, people with visual impairments usually have a wide range of phones that will meet their access needs. But for other disabilities, like dementia, the features are less common and sales reps are often less aware of the ones that exist.

Battery life is particularly an issue for people who are deaf, the researchers note. They often rely on brightly lit and battery draining phone screens to communicate using sign language or text. Lack of WEA support can be a serious security issue in itself. But phones that don’t have such support often lack other up-to-date accessibility features, said researcher Salimah LaForce, who authored the report (pdf) with ACCP Research Associate, Dara Bright.

CACP research goes to the FCC

CACP conducts biennial review for submission to FCC as part of review mandated by Federal Technology Accessibility Agency under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) of 2010. The Center can be the only university research objective. organization to broadly examine cellphone accessibility across a range of disabilities and report its findings to the FCC, LaForce said. The work helps influence regulatory policy and, ultimately, can contribute to wider adoption of features that benefit people with disabilities – and those without. It’s work that aligns perfectly with Georgia Tech’s goal of positively impacting people’s lives.

For their most recent review, the researchers looked for 54 accessibility features on 153 phones and found that:

  • Over 95% of the reviewed phones rated had headphone jacks, Bluetooth, speakerphone capabilities, GPS, adjustable font, and alternative biometrics to unlock the phones.

  • Less than a third of phones had accessibility features such as a physical keyboard, braille display support, sound cues or eye tracking. Four out of ten had easily replaceable batteries.

  • While features such as real-time text, automotive connectivity and simple displays increased by 49 percentage points or more among the models reviewed, the presence of configurable audio and two-way video has declined since the launch. CACP Exam 2020.

  • Phones provided under the government-subsidized Lifeline program also showed improved accessibility across a range of features, including screen magnifiers, simple displays, car connectivity and Braille access.

WEA supports an accessibility predictor

The survey found that more and more cell phones – 92% in the most recent review – can receive Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages. This is an 18% increase over 2020. WEA Access is a critical capability in its own right, which helps keep users safe in the event of severe weather or other disasters. But, according to the researchers, it’s also a key predictor for other accessibility features. That’s likely because WEA-enabled phones are often newer models, LaForce says.

And while most phones now offer the newer WEA 3.0 standard, many that only support earlier versions of WEA – with their shorter messages, fewer supported languages ​​and less geo-targeting accurate – are subsidized Lifeline phones. According to the report, this inequity can hit people with disabilities particularly hard because they often depend on phones and subsidized services.

The review also identified emerging accessibility issues on the road, citing potential problems with disabled motorists trying to access the plethora of mobile phone-powered services that cell and automakers are jointly integrating into cars.

“Systems that require motorists to press buttons or perform other physical tasks to connect their phone to their car are not accessible,” LaForce said.

More transparency needed

Another significant issue is the lack of transparency, Bright said. Few cell phones come with manuals, and there’s little standardization among phone manufacturers when it comes to naming features or describing how they work.

“Users shouldn’t have to dig or rely on secondary sources to find this information, which is crucial for people with disabilities trying to find a phone that meets their needs,” Bright said. “This is something we urge the FCC to address.”

Ultimately, LaForce and Bright view the issue as a civil rights issue.

“When I walked into that space, it became very apparent to me,” LaForce said. “Having accessible communications is important. It is important in their work. It is important in their education. It is important for their safety. And it’s important in their daily life, to be able to get things done and to stay in touch with those who are dear to them.

Visit the ACCP website to learn more about the Centre’s inclusive approach to technology design.

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