How can mobile communications improve communication for people with disabilities?

Communication is one of our basic needs – and possibly even more important for people with disabilities. Mobile communications today can both protect and extend the personal freedom of people with disabilities as well as give them more confidence.

Using mobile phones has become a natural part of many people’s lives and something we take for granted. However, this is not necessarily the case for people with disabilities: mobile communications help them overcome the barriers their disability poses, particularly with the devices available nowadays that make their life easier and allow them to communicate with other mobile phone users.

The mobile phone adapts

Voice recognition software makes it easier for visually impaired and blind people to use phones: spoken commands allow them to navigate the different functions of the device and dial numbers. Some software is so developed that it can even “understand” full sentences or questions and react accordingly. Special programmes and apps – applications for smart phones – will read out text messages and transform spoken replies into text. The interplay between speech recognition and a mobile phone camera is especially helpful for blind people: software can read what the camera is pointed at, such as signs or menus. There are also mobile phones that do not have a display but a strip with little pins that make Braille characters perceptible.

Hearing-impaired and deaf-mute people can also use mobile phones. Visual signals indicate incoming calls or messages. Some mobile phones allow the volume to be increased to a suitable level for a hearing aid. It is also possible to set up a wireless connection between the phone and the hearing aid via Bluetooth. Smart phones offer additional features. For instance, combining the phone’s camera and fast internet access allows deaf people to communicate in sign language via video calls.

Applications for daily use

People with physical or sensory limitations can download useful smart phone apps. These include applications that show routes through a city or a parking lot or restaurants and museums withdisabled access. Users can contribute their personal experience and add to the lists. Smart phone cameras can be used as a magnifying glass with the help of an app that enlarges the pictures. Apps can also translate words into sign language in a video, which is especially helpful for relatives and friends of deaf-mute and hearing-impaired people.