Orange phones talk to blind users

Blind people in France can get a new service from Orange - a software application designed to make their mobile phones talk to...

Blind people in France can get a new service from Orange - a software application designed to make their mobile phones talk to them is part of a new package of services for visually impaired people.

The Talks software causes the phone to speak the menu options and text messages out loud.

The way that even small phone screens can present a lot of information simultaneously, through icons, titles, and menus - and the function of a phone's buttons change depending on what is displayed on the screen - poses little problem for sighted users, but visually impaired users need the audible cues provided by Talks.

"We need to know quickly where we are, and what options are available to us," said Widad Cherchali, a blind user of the software.

France Telecom, Orange's parent company, will give the software away through its network of retail stores.

Specially trained staff will be available at some shops to help visually impaired customersto install it on their phones, said François-René Germain, group vice-president of France Telecom's elderly and disabled people directorate.

Talks runs on eight of the smartphone models Orange sells, including the Nokia 6600, the Siemens SX and the Samsung SGH-D700. It was developed by the blind German programmer Torsten Brand.

The software consists of two layers: one, phone-dependent which creates messages relevant to a phone model's particular functions, and another language-dependent, which translates those messages into speech, said Gilles Candotti of Ceciaa, the software's French distributor.

However, having the program running continuously reduces battery life, perhaps by as much as 20%, he said.

France Telecom will also offer a package of services for visually impaired customers. "Dixit" includes limited free calls to directory enquiries and text message dictation services, and free large-print or braille bills.

It already offers hearing impaired users a reduced price on text messaging, through a service called "Mot-a-mot".

The launch of the new services and software is timed to coincide with the UN's annual International Day of Disabled Persons, on 3 December, said Germain.

Although the software is available in 17 languages, including English, French, German and Italian, Orange is only offering the deal in France for the moment, he said.

Peter Sayer writes for IDG News Service

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