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Disabled Seek Better Cell Phone Features, Survey Finds

Requested features include allowing a service dog to call for help in an emergency and compatibility with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

While people with disabilities are increasingly using mobile devices, they want new and improved capabilities that address their specific needs, according to survey results released this week by Shepherd Center, a nonprofit Atlanta hospital.

The survey, a collaboration between Shepherd Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that mobile device ownership increased 72% to 85% among people with disabilities between 2001 and 2007. More than three-fourths of respondents said their devices are easy or very easy to use, compared with half of those who responded in an earlier survey.

The survey was conducted in April and completed by 1,208 people with disabilities. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Respondents said they use mobile devices for many of the same reasons as the general population, including convenience and a sense of security. But there were some device features people with disabilities found to be especially useful, such as a camera on a cell phone for making reminders and text messaging to communicate with the hearing-impaired.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents cited voice communication as the most important mobile device function, 45% said Enhanced 911 was most important, 43% cited text messaging, 41% cited e-mail, and Internet access came in fifth with 35% of respondents considering it the most important function.

Although people with disabilities are mostly satisfied with their mobile devices, many suggested additional features that would help them meet their needs. These include a feature that would allow a service dog to call for help in an emergency, the ability to switch to voice carryover during a call when voice becomes incomprehensible or there is too much background noise, and the ability to scan and speak labels on medication, according to Shepherd Center.

Respondents also said they would like to see more devices have compatibility with hearing aids or cochlear implants, a better design that would make a device easier to hold, improved screens for easier viewing, and enhanced controls.

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