CACP researchers find cell phone accessibility: improving, but gaps remain

Researchers from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy recently released the 2022 Accessibility Report for Mobile Phones.

Researchers from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy recently released the 2022 Accessibility Report for Mobile Phones.

Researchers from the Center for Advanced Communications Policy recently released the 2022 Accessibility Report for Mobile Phones.

Cell phones are getting more accessible, but there are still gaps — including fewer features for people with cognitive disabilities, emerging issues like car connectivity, and sudden roadblocks like poor battery life, according to the latest biennial analysis of cell phone accessibility. by Georgia Tech Center. for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP).

“Not all mobile phones are created equal in terms of accessibility, particularly when it comes to a particular disability,” said a research scientist. Salima Laforcewho wrote the Report (pdf) with Dara Bright, CACP Research Associate. “For example, people with visual impairments typically have a wide range of phones that cater to their accessibility needs. But for other disabilities, such as cognitive disabilities, the features are less common, and salespeople are often less familiar with those that exist.”

The researchers note that battery life is a particular problem for deaf people. They often rely on brightly lit phone screens that drain battery power to communicate using sign language or text. Lack of WEA support can be a serious safety issue in and of itself. But phones that lack that support also often lack other modern accessibility features, Research Scientist says. Salima Laforcewho wrote the Report (pdf) with Dara Bright, CACP Research Associate.

CACP research goes to the FCC

CACP conducts the biennial review for submission to the FCC as part of the Federal Agency’s mandatory review of technology accessibility under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) of 2010. The center may be the only target university research organization to review the accessibility of technology. Access cell phones widely across a range of disabilities and report their findings to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), LaForce said. The work helps influence organizational policy and may ultimately help with broader adoption of features that benefit people with disabilities — and those who don’t. It’s a business that fits right in with Georgia Tech’s focus on making a positive impact on people’s lives.

In the latest review, researchers looked at 54 accessibility features on 153 phones and found that:

  • Over 95% of phones evaluated have headphone jacks, Bluetooth, speaker capabilities, GPS, adjustable font, and alternative biometrics for unlocking phones.

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

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

  • Phones offered under the government-backed Lifeline program also demonstrated improved access across a range of features, including screen magnifiers, simple displays, car connectivity, and access to Braille.

WEA Support Predictive Accessibility

The survey found that more and more cell phones – 92% in the latest review – can receive Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages. This is an 18% increase over 2020. Access to WEA is an essential ability in and of itself, which helps keep users safe when severe weather or other disasters strike. But according to the researchers, it is also a leading indicator of other accessibility features. That’s likely because phones that support WEA are often newer models, says LaForce.

And while most phones now offer the latest WEA 3.0 standard, many phones that only support previous WEA versions — with their shorter messaging, fewer languages ​​supported, and less precise geo-targeting — are Lifeline phones that are supported. According to the report, this inequality can particularly affect people with disabilities as they often rely on phones and subsidized services.

The review also identified access problems arising on the road, citing potential problems with disabled motorists trying to access a large number of mobile service cells and car manufacturers jointly building cars.

“Systems that require motorists to press buttons or perform other physical tasks to connect their phone to their vehicle are inaccessible,” LaForce said.

More transparency is required

Another important problem, Bright said, is the lack of transparency. Few cell phones come with guides anymore, and there is little standardization among phone makers when it comes to giving names to features or describing how they work.

“Users should not have to search or rely on secondary sources to find this information, which is critical for people with disabilities trying to find a phone that meets their needs,” Bright said. “This is something we strongly urge the FCC to address.”

Ultimately, LaForce and Bright see the case as one of civil rights.

“When I came into this space, that became very clear to me,” LaForce said. “Having accessible connections is important. It matters in their work. It matters in their education. It matters in their safety. It is important in their daily lives, being able to get things done and staying in touch with those they care about.”

Visit CACP’s website Learn more about the Center’s comprehensive approach to technology design.

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